Council denies election commission’s request | AspenTimes.com

Council denies election commission’s request

Carolyn SackariasonThe Aspen TimesAspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN – Aspen’s elected officials on Monday night voted to deny the city election commission’s request to hire an outside attorney to determine its authority before it addresses a citizen’s claim that his voting rights were violated in the May election. Officials also denied another resident’s request to release all of the election’s ballot images so they can be reviewed independently.The Aspen City Council didn’t agree that the city attorney’s office has a conflict of interest in advising the election commission, which is made up made up of local Republican Elizabeth Milias, local Democrat Chris Bryan and City Clerk Kathryn Koch.Bryan and Milias argue the city attorney’s office is conflicted in giving an opinion since it gives advice to the council and the commission’s position may go against the city’s in the future. Furthermore, since the city attorney’s office helped form procedures and methodologies in Aspen’s first-ever Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) election, it has a conflict of interest in advising a public body that is charged with overseeing Aspen’s municipal elections, Bryan argued.The council disagreed, and voted to send the matter to the Colorado Bar Association Ethics Committee, which will be asked to make a determination on the conflict of interest issue, and what the commission’s authority and jurisdiction is. City Attorney John Worcester wrote in a memo to the council that there is no conflict of interest in his office because the city charter states “the city attorney shall be the legal representative of the city” and represents the public organization, which includes the election commission.Bryan said he is concerned that he doesn’t know what authority he has to address several issues that have arisen from May’s election, including local attorney Millard Zimet’s Aug. 30 complaint filed with the city that claims he was deprived his right under Colorado law to have a secret ballot in the IRV election.Also to be addressed is former mayoral candidate Marilyn Marks’ pending Colorado Open Record Act request for all of the 2,544 ballots images cast by Aspen voters 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.”I’m not trying to hit a hornet’s nest,” Bryan said, adding he is trying to be cautious before reviewing such serious matters. “I need some guidance before plowing through these issues and rendering an opinion.”Milias and Bryan suggested that Glenwood Springs-based Leavenworth & Karp P.C. be the independent counsel to provide a legal opinion on what the commission’s scope, jurisdiction and authority is regarding those issues because the city charter and the state statute are unclear.In a letter to the commission, attorney Loyal E. Leavenworth states that he agrees the jurisdiction and statutory authority should remain independent of the city attorney, who reports directly to the City Council. Leavenworth estimated that it would initially cost between $5,000 and $7,500 at hourly rates varying from $180 to $280 to advise the election commission of its authority, jurisdiction and responsibility to review and address the post election issues brought forward.Mayor Mick Ireland said he took exception to the fact that Milias and Bryan chose an attorney that agrees with their position, and without consulting Koch. He added that with staff cuts and public services being curtailed in a tough economic climate, the city didn’t need to spend money on outside counsel.The commission’s main role up until now was to oversee election night results, and the IRV procedures. Because it is charged with oversight of Aspen’s municipal elections, it will likely examine in the future the IRV process and ways to improve upon it.The council also agreed Monday to form a citizen commission to review the IRV procedures and issues associated with them before making a recommendation on how Aspen municipal elections should be conducted.Aspen voters will be asked this November an advisory question whether IRV should be retained or another method should be pursued, including systems used in the past.The IRV system allows voters to rank their candidates in order of preference. Winning requires securing majority support. In the mayor’s race, all first rankings counted. If no candidate wins a majority of the votes, the candidates with the fewest votes are eliminated. In the instant runoff, all ballots cast for them are added to the totals of whichever candidate is ranked next on that ballot. A similar approach is used in the council race, but all first and second rankings are counted in the first round, and two candidates ultimately are elected.csack@aspentimes.com