Voters to decide on runoffs, mayoral term
July 17, 2007
ASPEN Aspen voters most likely will have to decide in November whether to eliminate runoff elections and change the term of mayor from two years to four.The City Council on Tuesday directed staff to draft language that, if voters approve, would change the home-rule charter so that Instant Runoff Voting would occur at the polls – instead of holding another election a month later if candidates don’t receive the majority in the May election.City officials agreed to deal with the details of just how ranked-choice voting -or Instant Runoff Voting – would work until after the question is posed to voters this fall – in an effort to not confuse them at the outset.City Clerk Kathryn Koch and City Attorney John Worcester will draft a proposed ballot question and present it to the council at its Aug. 13 meeting. The deadline to place a measure on the November ballot is Sept. 7. If the majority of voters elect to eliminate runoff elections and go with some sort of IRV system, the City Council then will pass an ordinance that outlines how to present ranked voting.Using Instant Runoff Voting could be complicated if there is more than one council seat race. One option would be to have two ballots for the same elections – a regular ballot for the first round of voting, and then a secondary ballot if one or two candidates didn’t receive the necessary 45 percent of the vote. But that’s not the only alternative, and staff will continue to work on different scenarios this year.”There are choices to how the mechanics work,” said City Councilman Jack Johnson, who has been researching the issue for a couple of years. “With two seats open, it’s not as easy. … It’s not hard to understand, it’s hard to communicate.”The runoff system, which was first employed in 1999, is part of a “majority” election in which a mayoral candidate must garner 50 percent of the vote, plus one, to win, and City Council candidates win by 45 percent, plus one vote.Four more years?Mayor Mick Ireland successfully lobbied his colleagues to ask voters if they want the same mayor for four years, instead of the current two-year term. Staff will draft ballot language to pose to voters in November.Ireland’s reasoning is that it’s difficult to get anything meaningful done in the city in two years, and it’s also difficult to prove to voters that the issues they elected the mayor to tackle have been dealt with to their satisfaction.”I think that whoever sits in the mayor’s seat be in office long enough to be judged by the results,” he said.As a result, mayors might find themselves campaigning for the seat again shortly after their elections.That’s partly because there’s more emphasis on the mayoral race and the position itself than it needs to be, in some council members’ opinion.”I think the mayor’s seat is completely overblown,” Johnson said, adding that the general public believes the mayoral seat has more power than it does. “I agree the term is short, but I don’t know if it’s too short for the public.”Ireland, who just came off of two intense political campaigns against Tim Semrau, agrees that the process is over politicized. Ireland would still have to run again in 2009 if voters were to pass a four-year term for mayor.Aspen has elected mayors to two-year terms since 1971, with the logic being that the electorate has an opportunity to turn the majority every two years. That’s because two council seats are up every four years, and they are staggered so that each election has two council seats and the mayoral seat up for grabs.In general, the council seemed indifferent on the issue but will turn it over to voters for the final say.”I would have to defer to the electorate’s opinion on this,” said City Councilman J.E. DeVilbiss.DeVilbiss also suggested the idea that perhaps the mayor should be elected or appointed by the council and do away with the mayoral election all together. But that idea was short-lived in the discussion.Still an offseason electionThe City Council also batted around the idea of moving the election from May to either April or June, when more residents are in town to vote. But after debating both months, the council decided that neither was more beneficial. If the election were to occur in June, many people would miss the debates and the candidates’ stances on issues because campaigning would occur during May, when a majority of residents leave town for the offseason. If the election were to happen in April, the campaign would occur during one of the busiest times of the season. But again, the council seemed indifferent on the issue and, after a short discussion, decided to keep the election in May, when town has settled down and the issues can be focused on more intensely. City Hall might conduct a Web survey to gauge where residents stand on the issue and how to address it in the future.Underpaid, overworkedThe City Council also discussed giving future council members raises, on the suggestion of former council candidate Andrew Kole, who thinks serving in office is a full-time job, and therefore elected officials should be paid accordingly.Council members agreed, saying the city’s elected officials work harder than what they get paid for. And serving the public adequately takes time away from officials’ jobs and family life.”I knew what I was getting into and I didn’t know what I was getting into,” Johnson said. “I don’t know how people with families and a real job do it. … It’s what I do all day long.”Although the council doesn’t need voter approval to raise the salaries of elected officials, the City Council agreed that it would go to voters regardless. But first a citizens group might form to study the issue and bring back a proposal to council before it makes any decisions. City Council members can’t raise their own salaries but can for future officials.”I know I got paid, I just don’t know what I get paid. … It takes a heck of a lot of time to do the job well,” said DeVilbiss, a retired judge. “I would not be embarrassed to ask the city of Aspen to raise our wages.”
After months of controversy over whether City Council candidate Toni Kronberg met the qualifications of residency, changes to the requirements to run for office boils down to three semicolons.The City Council agreed on Tuesday to let City Attorney John Worcester amend the City Charter so that section 3.5 of the municipal code has three semicolons, which will separate the three requirements to prove that a candidate is a resident of Aspen. As it stands now, it’s debatable on whether a candidate has to be a registered voter, a U.S. citizen or has been a resident for the past year – or all three. The use of punctuation will eliminate the question, Worcester told City Council.Kronberg is under investigation by the 9th Judicial District Attorney’s Office, after City Hall conducted its own investigation on whether she was an Aspen resident for the 12 months before she ran for a council seat in May. City Hall was responding to community members who filed three complaints after the May election, questioning whether Kronberg lives in Aspen and has for the past year. The only proof City Hall requires is a signed affidavit from a candidate that he or she is a resident. The controversy triggered city officials to consider changing residency rules to require more proof. But the council on Tuesday agreed that providing proof of residency is adequate when registering to vote, which is a requirement to run for city office.”If you [aren’t qualified], you are at risk,” said Mayor Mick Ireland. “You swear that you have lived in the city since you are registered to vote.”Worcester said the changes to the charter should be adequate, but he wants to make sure that requiring a candidate to be a registered voter for a year is constitutional. He will research a previous court case that addresses that issue and present his findings to the council.City Clerk Kathryn Koch said she was satisfied with the change and the process in which residents can challenge a candidate’s qualifications – as long as it’s within three days after a person files a petition. Anything longer than that can hold up the election because officials have to make a decision quickly. In Kronberg’s case, the challenge occurred after the May election and shortly before the June runoff election.