Friday, July 8, 2011

Council leans toward May vote on government model

Petition for November vote still in circulation

Randy Hall

Hoping more time will produce more information, Ketchum city officials have voiced support for a May vote on the form-of-city government question, a change from their initial approach, which was to study whether it should be put to voters at all. The council will vote at its July 18 meeting on a resolution putting the proposition to voters next spring.

The mayor and City Council are in the process of forming an advisory committee to study three models of city government: the traditional strong-mayor structure, a council-manager form and a hybrid of the two.

Changing the form of government would shift administrative and executive governing powers from the mayor to a city manager. A mayor would still hold legislative powers. Under a council-manager form of government, however, the mayor is selected from and by the council.

The advisory committee, whose members are yet to be named, was to be tasked with studying the merits, drawbacks and feasibility of each type, creating a study on its findings and reporting back to the city and to the public.

In a change of plans announced during a council meeting July 5, the city is changing the committee's focus. Rather than studying the pros and cons, committee members will concentrate on the election process.

"That changes the scope of what we're asking the committee to do," Mayor Randy Hall said.

Ketchum resident Anne Corrock, in the meantime, is continuing on a different track. She is behind an initiative petition to put the question to voters in the November election. An issue can be put to voters either by initiative petition or by a council's resolution.

The petition is part of the reason for the committee's change of direction, Councilman Larry Helzel said in an interview. A November vote, he said, does not provide enough time for the public to become informed about the matter.

"That would be disruptive and not in the city's interest," Hall said at the meeting. "Not everybody is being told what the ramifications are when they sign the petition."

According to Ketchum city attorney Stephanie Bonney, a key issue is the wording of state law that pertains to the change-of-government question. Under Idaho code, cities that put the issue to voters are required to have an election for the five council members at the same time. Because it's a general election in November, citizens also will be asked to vote for the two council members up for election that day.

According to state law, if the proposition fails to receive a favorable vote, "the election of officials at the same election shall be declared null and void." Bonney said the intent of lawmakers was probably to declare the election of the five council members void, but the way the law is written, it also nullifies the election of the two council members who are on the regular, general election ballot.

She said incumbents would hold office until a new election is called for the two council seats, which would be in May.

Seats held by Larry Helzel and Curtis Kemp are up for election in November.

A third possible option is to have a three-part ballot in November, with some candidates' names appearing twice. But Bonney said that would likely create voter confusion.

The city is essentially setting up a choice for voters—make the decision in May instead of in November.

"If this question goes on (the ballot) in May, there's no issue," Bonney said.

Hall also said a November vote on the issue would create uncertainty with government at a time when the city is trying to entice developers to invest in Ketchum.

Corrock has been advocating for a council-manager form of city government based on her belief that the mayor has more duties than he or she can fulfill.

Corrock said she is pushing for a November vote on the issue because November elections typically have a much higher turnout.

"The people I speak with agree that the proposal of the council/manager form of government needs the greatest voter turnout possible," she said. "And now, with the discussions going on in Boise over the prospect of changing the (Republican) presidential primary election from May to earlier in the year, the turnout at a May 2012 special election could be compromised even more."

Council-manager supporters have until Aug. 15 to collect 213 signatures for the issue to appear on the November ballot.

Corrock said that as of this week, they had more than half the needed signatures.

"Most of the people understand the council/manager form of government, and others are interested in learning about it," she said. "People are happy to be given the opportunity to participate in choosing which government is best for the future of Ketchum."

Rebecca Meany:

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