Wednesday, April 27, 2005

SV election debate will go to voters

Council declines to support open-seat petition

Express Staff Writer

After years of debate, Sun Valley residents will resolve the way in which the city elects its four-member council at a special election May 24.

The City Council opted to hold a special election rather than pass an ordinance that would have established open-seat elections.

A request to restore open-seat elections came before the council Thursday, April 21, as the result of an initiative petition submitted by Sun Valley resident Milt Adam. The petition, with signatures from 169 Sun Valley voters, demands that the city return to an open-seat election format.

After Adam succeeded in gaining adequate citizen support for his petition, the council was presented an ordinance to repeal the city's system of designated-seat elections. The council decided to take no action on the proposed ordinance, choosing instead to present the matter to voters.

At issue is longstanding debate about the format under which city council elections are held. The city presently operates under a designated-seat system, but some citizens—including Mayor Jon Thorson—have been trying to persuade legislators to adopt an open-seat election format.

In 1995, Sun Valley approved the designated-seat system. Under the system, the electorate is asked to vote every other year for two candidates to fill specific, numbered seats on the council. The policy requires the candidates to run for a designated seat.

Under an open-seat election system, all council candidates would run against each other, competing for the same open seats. Those candidates who received the most votes would gain the seats up for consideration.

The council received Adam's petition to restore open-seat elections at the end of March. The petition garnered the required 20 percent of Sun Valley's general-election voters' signatures, or 119 of the 594 registered city voters.

"Open-seat elections allow voters complete freedom to vote however they want and for whomever they want," Adam said in a March press release. "Designated-seat (separate seat) elections restrict voters' freedoms, benefit incumbents seeking re-election, and allow gaming the system to gain advantages including running unopposed, which has happened too frequently."

Adam has twice lost bids for council seats since 1999. In the last city election, in 2003, he lost to incumbent Lud Renick.

The council addressed the petition on Thursday with a public hearing. Adam sat quietly in the audience.

Council members' stance on the issue remained consistent to their previous decisions on the matter. Councilman Renick did not attend the meeting.

"Why would you want a system that is flawed?" Councilman Blair Boand said.

Boand spoke specifically to the concerns over "bullet voting," the practice of voters selecting only one candidate for two or more open seats.

Thorson played the other side of the coin.

"The incumbent is advantaged by assigned-seat voting," he said. The mayor noted that under the designated-seat policy, incumbents do not have to run against each other.

"People should be running against us for our actions individually," Council President Ann Agnew responded.

The council has debated the matter twice in the last two years. In October 2004, Thorson asked the council to abolish the designated-seat policy. The council rejected the proposal without taking a formal vote.

The proposal also came before the council, via Adam, in August 2003. The council then also declined to change the system.

The May 24 special election will be held at Sun Valley City Hall.

The city has estimated the cost of the special election to be $2,600. The expenses occurred by the election will be covered by the city's Legislative budget, but the city could seek additional funds during mid-year budget appropriations to meet election expenses.

Sun Valley Elections

Since the city of Sun Valley adopted the designated-seat election format in 1995, four council seats have been filled by unopposed candidates. Three of the four unopposed candidates were incumbents. In the same period, three incumbents have lost their seats.

The results:

· 1995 election:

For Seat 1, challenger James Dowen (229 votes) defeated incumbent Joseph Humphrey (177 votes).

For Seat 2, incumbent David Wilson ran unopposed, apart from eight write-in votes.

For Seat 4, challenger Linda O'Shea (219 votes) defeated incumbent Suresh Shivdasani (200 votes).

· 1997 election:

For Seat 3, incumbent Kevin Laird (111 votes) ran unopposed.

For Seat 4, incumbent O'Shea (115 votes) ran unopposed.

· 1999 election:

For Seat 1, for which the incumbent did not run, Latham Williams (206 votes) defeated Nicholas Parker (61 votes) and Milton Adam (59 votes).

For Seat 2, vacated after Wilson ran unopposed for mayor, Lud Renick (268 votes) ran unopposed.

· 2001 election:

For Seat 3, incumbent Laird (263 votes) defeated challenger Susan Bailey (185 votes).

For Seat 4, challenger Ann Agnew (244 votes) defeated incumbent O'Shea (220 votes).

· 2003 election:

For Seat 1, challenger Blair Boand (355 votes) defeated challenger Matthew Colesworthy (213 votes). Incumbent Latham Williams vacated his seat to run for mayor.

For Seat 2, incumbent Renick (299 votes) defeated challenger Milton Adam (265 votes).

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