Letter: Times editorial misfires
Ignoring both history and efficiency, The Aspen Times continues to advocate for special elections to fill vacancies in the City Council. The appointment process has been part of the City Charter since 1970 — yes 44 years — and has gotten the job done. Critically, it incorrectly equates the most recent experience with failure of the process. More properly, that council struggled to fill a vacancy between two highly qualified people and did so within 30 days is evidence of success. There can be no credible argument, and The Aspen Times makes no attempt, to demonstrate that an election is more efficient than the appointment process. In short, The Aspen Times utterly fails to make a case for substantive change.
With the issue on the table, let’s hope that council compares and contrasts new proposals with the prevailing process to determine whether such is regressive or a step forward. Let’s also hope that the closed mindset of The Aspen Times is not the default position taken by the council.
The charter requires, “Within thirty days after a vacancy occurs, the remaining council members shall choose by majority vote a duly qualified person to fill such vacancy until the next general municipal election after such vacancy, when such vacancy shall be filled by election.” While a starting point — subject to revision — the draft presented to the Election Commission can be used as a foil to easily show that a special election process is inferior to the current process. As proposed, it delays filling a vacancy by potentially four times the length of time (30 versus 120 days). It is cumbersome and costly since special elections are expensive (to say nothing of low turnout). It potentially subjects candidates to serial elections in short order (potentially a few months apart). On all accounts, the draft comes up short as defining any meaningful improvement.
An alternative that improves the process of filling vacancies by appointment is the use of approval voting. How does it work? Using the last election as a guide, there was a field of 11 seeking appointment. Each member of council would have a ballot listing all 11 people and would have 11 votes to distribute. Each council member could distribute those votes on their ballot in any manner adding to 11, i.e., all 11 votes for one person, one vote for each, or any other combination adding up to 11. The four ballots would be tallied (44 potential votes) and the individual gathering the most votes would be the winner. One ballot and done, the final tally made public. To implement, the only change to the charter is replacing “majority vote” with “approval voting.”
Of course there may be other alternatives, and each should be compared and contrasted in a robust manner. Change for the sake of change is not good governance, needed is real improvement. More importantly, at the same time council is considering amending the charter to deal with vacancies, the fundamental issue of term limits based on cumulative years of service on council and as mayor also should be considered.
Neil B. Siegel
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