Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Council voices support for May special election

Some citizens want change in form of government

Express Staff Writer

Without committing themselves to a November vote, a May vote, or any vote at all on the issue of a change in form of government, the Ketchum City Council nonetheless expressed its desire for a special election on the issue.

Ketchum has a "strong mayor" form of government, in which the citizen-elected mayor is the city's chief administrative officer. Under consideration is a council-manager form of government, in which the administrative head is a hired city manager.

Also being debated is when a vote on changing the form of government should occur. That question has become as controversial as the form-of-government issue itself.

The council voted 3-1 at its meeting Monday on a resolution stating its intent to hold a special election in May, with Nina Jonas voting against it.

"It's an alternative to the highly disruptive and destabilizing effect (a vote) in November would have," said Councilman Larry Helzel.

Under state law, the council cannot take action on a future election until after the filing deadline passes for the next regular election, which is the November election.

The issue of when to hold the election was prompted by Ketchum resident Anne Corrock, who is leading an initiative petition on the matter. She wants the question to be put to voters in November, when turnout is generally higher.

"We want to take to the people the campaign, an active campaign, as to why this makes sense to do this in May rather than in November," Helzel said in an interview. "We want to be able to demonstrate to them just how disruptive this is going to be. There's a more orderly method to bring about a change in government. We embrace the idea of an informed electorate. November just doesn't make sense."

The city argues that a November date is complicated by the fact that if people vote to keep the form of government, it invalidates the general election vote on the two City Council seats. If voters opt to change the form of government, all five council members are removed from office. There would then have to be another election to vote for a new council.

A May vote would allow the city time to ask the Legislature to change the relevant statute's wording to allow for staggered elections on council seats, rather than voting for all five seats at once as state law currently requires.

Helzel said that approach would conform to the intent of the Legislature that changes in government be gradual. If all seats were up for election at once, he said, it would be "a wholesale recall and then a free-for-all for replacement."

Mayor Randy Hall said a change in government in November sends a message to developers that agreements they entered into with the city may be changed if a new mayor and council are in place by winter.

"There is a much more sensible way than that which is being circulated by initiative petition," Helzel said.

Corrock has said she believes a council/manager form of city government is preferable because of the expansion of duties faced by elected officials.

She told the council that there are ways to work around the issues, and the city is simply stalling.

"A lot of time is being wasted that could be used to educate (the public)," she said. "The feeling out there is this is being put off. Let's get on with the education."

Helzel said that while he supports a citizen's right to launch an initiative petition, he feels Corrock's efforts are disingenuous.

"It's a very thinly disguised recall," he said. "It's an opportunity for a clean slate, to clean house, with one election."

Corrock was involved in an effort to recall Mayor Randy Hall in 2008.

"It's no secret that the people who started this whole process are the exact same group of people who tried to recall Mayor Hall," Helzel said, adding that citizens elected the mayor and council. "We're not an illegal government."

Rebecca Meany:

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