Posted: Tuesday, June 10, 2014 10:30 am | Updated: 10:42 am, Tue Jun 10, 2014.
By CAROLYN DRYER, Editor the Peoria Times
It was not exactly a complete reversal; it was more in the neighborhood of compromise.
Vice Mayor Ron Aames called for a special council meeting June 4 to reconsider a May 20 decision to have a secret vote to fill the council vacancy in the Mesquite District. The vacancy occurred April 23, when former Councilmember Cathy Carlat resigned to seek the office of mayor.
The vote was 5-1 to stay with the city’s vacancy replacement policy. Mayor Bob Barrett was the dissenting vote, and he made it clear at the May 20 meeting he was not prepared to face the wrath of the Arizona Attorney General if the council went ahead with a secret ballot.
Because he was the dissenting and losing vote, Barrett could not call for reconsideration. Aames made the call, and at the June 4 meeting, an amendment was brought forth by City Attorney Steve Kemp that appeared to placate both sides of the policy issue.
Instead of a secret ballot, Kemp’s amended vacancy policy called for each councilmember and the mayor to receive a ballot with their name at the top. Then, each applicant for the vacancy would be listed. Councilmembers and the mayor would check the name of the individual they have selected to fill the vacancy, and the city clerk would open each ballot and read off the names chosen. At that time, the city clerk would also read the name of the councilmember who voted for that particular applicant.
If an applicant does not receive four votes, a second round of balloting would resume.
After the second ballot, if an individual does not receive four votes, the city attorney would look to the mayor for a decision: Proceed with a third ballot, or call for another special meeting after the Aug. 26 election to go through the process again.
Because there could be a situation at the Aug. 26 election, whereby no candidate receives 50 percent plus one of the votes cast in the district, a runoff with the top two vote-getters would be held during the Nov. 4 general election.
However, if a candidate does receive 50 percent plus one vote in the Mesquite District election Aug. 26, that individual would be seated immediately following a canvass of the votes in September.
Kemp told council, “I recommend this change strongly to you. It removes any risk of noncompliance to the (open meeting law).”
There was not a lot of discussion on the amended vacancy replacement policy. It was a unanimous vote to approve. The meeting lasted fewer than 20 minutes.
There were two Mesquite District candidates at the meeting: Ben Toma and Bridget Binsbacher. Both have also applied for the interim appointment to fill the vacancy left by Cathy Carlat’s resignation.
Toma said, “I believe that openness is a good policy. I think the only precedent they had previously is vice mayor and pro tem. I think the idea is you are voting for your peers.”
Binsbacher said she was “very pleased” with council’s decision.
“I believe all the candidates and citizens in Mesquite District deserve a public vote,” she said. “Tranparency – do the right thing for Peoria.”