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Produced & Maintained by Idaho Mountain Express, Box 1013, Ketchum, ID 83340-1013 
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Copyright © 2002 Express Publishing Inc.
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For the week of Jan 29 - Feb 4, 2003


Council moves to head off advisory vote

New ordinance proposed for Ketchum election procedures

Express Staff Writer

In a decision that may short-circuit a potential May 27 ballot issue in Ketchum, one of the resort city’s longest lasting debates is headed for another round of public hearings.

The Ketchum City Council voted Jan. 21 to reconsider an earlier decision that would have established a May 27 election in which the city’s citizens would vote for the method of voting to employ in electing city council members.

"This really stinks to high heaven," declared Mickey Garcia, who has followed the complicated issue from its unassuming beginnings two years ago. "Last time (Jan. 6) you were talking like it’s going to election. Now, suddenly, it seems as though you’ve talked amongst yourselves and figured it out."

Councilman Maurice Charlat, who on Jan. 6 declared, "Let the voters decide," made a motion Monday to reverse the Jan. 6 decision and prevent the need for a spring election. The motion passed 3 to 1, with Councilman Randy Hall voting against it.

Charlat followed the first motion with another that directed the city’s attorney to draft an ordinance that would repeal a provision establishing designated seats in city council elections.

That motion also passed 3 to 1, with Hall voting against it. A first reading of the new ordinance was scheduled as a part of a special council session tonight at city hall.

But the path leading to last week’s succinct votes meanders through a confusing political labyrinth. It began more than two year ago.

In January 2001, the Ketchum City Council unanimously voted, with Charlat absent, to waive three readings and adopt election procedures that require city council candidates to declare which seats they will run for. Prior to that, elections were conducted in at-large formats—Idaho’s default format—whereby two candidates receiving the most votes were elected to available seats.

Charlat was clearly against the change, as were about a dozen outspoken and persistent residents who descended on city hall to protest the council’s hasty vote.

On April 16, 2001, after the city council backtracked and held three hearings on the subject, the issue appeared resolved when Ketchum City Council members declined to second a motion by Charlat to repeal the designated seats system.

Indications were that the debate had ended, but the following autumn, several mayoral candidates, including Mayor Ed Simon, vowed to return the city to an at-large voting format. What’s more, Ketchum voters used the new system for the first time during that election to select council members Baird Gourlay and Chris Potters.

Last fall, Simon’s efforts to take the debate to the voters as an advisory issue in the November general election were thwarted by opposition from within the city council. In October, Ketchum resident Anne Corrock, one of the leading opponents of the per-seat system and one of the city council losers in the November 2001 election, took matters into her own hands.

On Dec. 23, Corrock returned an initiative petition containing 250 Ketchum voter signatures to Ketchum City Clerk Sandy Cady. In order to force city action on the issue, she needed signatures totaling 20 percent of the number of voters who participated in the last election. That number was 210.

"The city council shall have 30 days to pass an ordinance substantially as proposed by the petition (to determine results of elections pursuant to open seating)," Cady wrote in a letter to Corrock. "It the event the council passes such an ordinance, the initiative petition shall be null and void.

"In the event the council does not enact an ordinance pursuant to open seating, an election shall be ordered to be held on May 27, 2003."

Upon receiving that information, the city council voted 3 to 1 on Jan. 6 not to take action on Corrock’s petition. The vote meant the city would hold an advisory election in May.

After reversing the Jan. 6 vote to disregard the petition and establish an election, the city council has until Feb. 4 to repeal the per-seat regulations. To confuse the matter further, that requires the city to adopt an ordinance—the creation of an ordinance to repeal an ordinance.

If the city council fails to repeal the per-seat system by Feb. 4, state law calls for the issue to be turned over to voters.

Despite a majority of public comments advocating the at-large voting format, some citizens said the council might not have heard from the silent majority "because it is a no-brainer."

"I have always been very alarmed at this (at large) voting method," said Ketchum resident Sandy Strong. "I hate the thought that both of my votes don’t count."

Arguments for and against the two voting systems basically boil down to a discussion on so-called bullet votes, which occur when a person intentionally casts only one vote when he or she is asked to cast two.

Research by the Mountain Express indicates the bullet vote is alive and well in Ketchum.

In 1999, when Charlat and Hall clearly won city council seats over Sue Noel, 173 of 748 ballots contained only one vote. It is unclear how many single votes were cast intentionally, but Charlat received the lion’s share of single votes, with 98. Hall received 48, and Noel received 27.

Despite the numbers, Charlat said he is not aware of any bullet vote campaigning on his behalf in the 1999 election.

Hall said the numbers say otherwise.

"The system was broken. It’s clear that there’s organization and manipulation in my opinion," Hall said in a 2002 interview. "The fact of the matter is, he’s (Charlat) an asset to this city council. And we know he would be there whether there was a bullet vote campaign or not, but his supporters didn’t take any chances."

Designated seat voting is not without flaws, either.

The designated seats system can discourage candidates from challenging incumbents, and uncontested candidates become more likely, said Jim Weatherby, Boise State University political science professor.

Council members have glazed over other alternatives, like a system called instant runoff voting, which requires voters to rank candidates in order of choice. Instant runoff voting allows voters to vote for their favorite candidate without fear of helping elect their least favorite candidates, and it ensures that the winner enjoys true support from a majority of the voters.

However, such a system is not possible without amending Idaho law.

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The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.