Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Sun Valley to vote on open-seat elections

Special election to decide May 24 how council members are elected

Express Staff Writer

Sun Valley residents will resolve the way in which the city elects its four-member council at a special election Tuesday, May 24. The polls will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at Sun Valley City Hall. Absentee ballots are currently available from City Hall.

At issue is a request by citizens to resolve a longstanding debate over 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.

The matter is going to voters as the result of an initiative petition requesting the city restore open-seat elections. The petition signed by 169 Sun Valley voters and submitted by Sun Valley resident Milt Adam demands that the city terminate its designated-seat election system and return to an open-seat format.

The designated-seat system asks the electorate 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. Incumbents are not forced to run against each other.

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.

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.

In April, the council decided to hold a special election on the matter rather than pass an ordinance that would have established open-seat elections. When an ordinance comes forth as part of the petition process, the council can adopt it or send it to voters.

The election stems from years of debate concerning the structure of City Council elections in Sun Valley.

The council debated the matter in October 2004, after 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.

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