Aspen seeks new members for election commission
November 24, 2009
ASPEN – It appears the make-up of the city’s election commission, which has been mired in controversy in recent weeks, will soon change.
With no discussion, the Aspen City Council on Monday voted unanimously to advertise for new members in order to comply with the city charter.
The board consists of a Democrat and Republican who live in Aspen, as well as City Clerk Kathryn Koch, who serves as chair.
The charter requires that the election commission serve a two-year term, and be appointed in July and leave their posts in July after the last election. But the current commission wasn’t appointed until March, and was convened mostly to help oversee the city’s first Instant Runoff Voting method. Per the charter, the commission should have been disbanded and re-appointed this past July.
The re-appointment of the commission was suggested by City Councilman Torre earlier this month but at the time, he couldn’t get support from his colleagues. Council members said they wanted to learn more about recent allegations that commission members allegedly engaged in private meetings via e-mail with a person who is suing the city.
The council met in executive session Monday afternoon before the regularly scheduled meeting. Mayor Mick Ireland said the election commission issue wasn’t discussed.
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The council did however receive a memo from the city attorney’s office offering an opinion as to whether commission members Elizabeth Milias and Chris Bryan violated open meeting laws or engaged in improper actions by privately communicating with City Hall critic Marilyn Marks.
Marks last month filed a lawsuit against the city in an attempt to force it to publicly release ballot images from the May election. Marks intends to use the ballot images so they can be checked against how the scanning machines interpreted them as part of an independent review to be conducted by an outside group.
The council wouldn’t release the confidential memo, citing the attorney-client privilege. Ireland also said because the city is in litigation with Marks, the memo wouldn’t be released to the public.
The city attorneys’ review of the alleged ex parte communications was prompted by former City Councilman Jack Johnson, who filed a Colorado Open Records Act request for the commission’s electronic communications.
Based on his interpretations, Johnson said Marks and the two commissioners conspired to further her goals in private without public participation.
For months Marks had been requesting that the city release the ballot images. When the city denied her request, she lobbied the election commission, via e-mail communications, to help assist her.
Marks said she sees nothing wrong with advocating to a citizen group, which is a public body charged with overseeing Aspen’s municipal elections.
Current members of the commission are eligible to apply for another term.