Wednesday, June 1, 2005

Objections voiced at election results

Bellevue Council raises eyebrows at family association on election board

Express Staff Writer

Results from Bellevue's special election May 24 seeking a levy increase have stirred concerns among the Bellevue City Council.

During a procedural measure to canvass and certify the votes of the special election, council members last Thursday objected to the family connections that link two election-board members to the author of an informational pamphlet that urged voters not to approve the city's proposed tax increase. The council ultimately voted in favor of the election results, but raised their eyebrows to the family association.

"I have a problem with it when we had a very vehement letter that was passed around the city which originated—was generated by—Dennis Wright, our county commissioner," Councilman Jon Wilkes said during the council's meeting. "Not only did he generate this letter, but his mother and his wife sit on the election board."

In a letter to the Mountain Express editor, Wright named himself as the author of an anonymous flier entitled "Bellevue Property Owners—You're about to get hosed again! You can prevent it!" The message was circulated throughout the city days prior to the special election to consider an increase in the city's property-tax levy rate.

"I wrote and distributed an informational handout because several Bellevue residents asked me to," Wright wrote. "I regret it contained some minor errors, but I feel this is insignificant considering the serious issues at stake."

Voters rejected the tax increase 207 to 121.

Wright, who represents Bellevue and southern Blaine County on the three-person Blaine County Commission, is a former mayor of Bellevue. Wright's mother, Lillian, and wife, Norma, worked as members of the Bellevue Election Board during the special election. Since 2001, Lillian Wright has worked seven elections, including five city elections and two special levy elections. Norma Wright has worked four city elections and two special elections.

Dennis and Norma Wright did not return phone calls from the Mountain Express.

Lillian Wright said she did not want to discuss the issue. However, she did say that she believes she performed her election responsibilities fairly and without bias.

"I take exception to both of the Wrights serving on the election board," Wilkes said. "I think it's erroneous that they should be there and let their feelings be felt to those of the public who are walking into vote."

The election board consists of citizens appointed by the city. The city clerk, serving as the chief election officer, hires the members based on their own interest in serving. The city then issues a letter approximately 15 days prior to the election to appoint board members.

Lillian and Norma Wright worked at the polls May 24 and counted ballots with Susan Ramsey, the Bellevue Marshal's Department administrative assistant.

"Just to have this family connection and their known disgust of the current council and previous (council), I think that it's not correct to have them on the board. I think we can do better, find someone else," Wilkes said.

City Clerk Dee Barton stated that it is difficult for the city of Bellevue to find people to work an election.

Outgoing Councilwoman Joanna Ehrmantraut said that is not the primary issue.

"They (Lillian and Norma) should have backed away. They should have decided not to do it," she said.

Instead, the Wright women worked last week's election and earned $75 each.

"Had you heard they made some statement or something when people were coming into vote?" Ehrmantraut asked.

"I saw it last time," Wilkes said in reference to the 2004 levy election, which also saw a proposed tax increase rejected by voters.

The council finally chose to canvass the votes and certify the election results. Ehrmantraut made the motion to approve the election results. Ehrmantraut, Vivian Ivie, Tammy Eaton, and Shaun Mahoney voted in favor of the motion. Councilmen Wilkes and Christopher Koch opposed the election results.

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