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For the week of January 24 through 30, 2001

Ketchum changes council elections

Candidates must file for specific seats

"It passes with three in favor, one absent and me objecting." 

-Mayor Guy Coles

Express Staff Writer

With little fanfare and almost no public comment, the Ketchum City Council last week unanimously changed the way the city conducts city council elections, requiring candidates to run for specific council seats rather than for either of two available seats.

Councilman Maurice Charlat was absent at the meeting on Tuesday of last week.

Previously, the two candidates who received the most votes were elected to the two available seats.

The newly adopted method is the same way elections are conducted in Hailey and Sun Valley. Numbers are assigned to each of the four council seats, and candidates choose seats based on the number assigned to them and, theoretically, to the incumbent they most wish to challenge.

The council waived the three readings commonly used to adopt or adjust ordinances, triggering concern from Mayor Guy Coles, who said he would like to have waited to receive input from a full council and from more of the public before adopting the changes.

"It passes with three in favor, one absent and me objecting," the mayor said.

The mayor votes only to break a tie between council members.

Councilman David Hutchinson, who spearheaded the drive toward immediate action, said heís always thought the newly adopted measures are the "fair way to do it."

"All weíre doing is bringing ourselves into conformance with what most jurisdictions do in the state," Hutchinson said. "Lets get it out of our hair."

In a subsequent interview, Hutchinson pointed to three benefits from the newly adopted rules.

It will help candidates avoid running against other candidates they support, allow voters to choose more specifically who they support rather than casting a second ballot for someone they donít know well, and help voters avoid unintended consequences by casting a second vote for a person who could ultimately defeat the person they most want to elect.

The new election regulations will require winning candidates to garner greater than 50 percent of the votes cast for a council seat. If no candidates receive more than half the total votes cast, a runoff election will be held between the two candidates receiving the highest number of votes.

Sun Valley Mayor David Wilson said he thinks the numbered voting system creates a more issue-driven election.

Sun Valley adopted similar regulations in 1996.

"We felt it would then allow for an issue-driven campaign for a particular seat versus a popularity contest for the top two vote getters," Wilson said.

Some, however, donít support the system.

Sun Valley resident Milt Adam unsuccessfully ran for a seat on the Sun Valley City Council in November 1999 against three other candidates. Only one candidate, Lud Renick, filed for the other open seat.

Both seats were vacated by prior council members.

"Itís rather unfair," Adam said in an interview. "You had to select a position you were going in for, and, at the time, you didnít know who had signed up for which seat.

"I was out there campaigning, and Lud Renick didnít have to. I just donít think democracy is served well in that sort of situation."

Hutchinson acknowledged that in elections for vacated seats, Ketchumís newly adopted system becomes less necessary.

"If they are vacated seats, itís just luck of the draw," he said.

Revising the way the city conducts elections has been on the cityís books for a long time, Hutchinson said.

In the fall of 1999, the city council considered the matter, but decided not to vote on the issue because it was too close to the November election, Hutchinson said.

Public comment, he said, was not prevalent during the fall 1999 consideration of the matter.


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