Secret ballots on Ogden City Council's agenda

Dec 21 2010 - 9:49am

OGDEN -- The city council will consider tonight whether to switch to secret straw poll balloting to nominate and tentatively choose its chairman and vice chairman.

The council's current rules call for the chairman and vice chairman to be nominated and elected to a one-year term during a regular public meeting each January.

However, the council is considering changing those rules to nominate and tentatively select its leadership with an anonymous, written straw poll ballot during a public study session.

The secret straw poll results would be ratified by the city council with a roll call vote during a regular public meeting, Bill Cook, the council's executive director, said Monday.

Some council members have suggested using the straw poll method because it has worked well for the Salt Lake City Council, said Cook, who didn't offer any other rationale for the possible change.

The Salt Lake City Council has been using the straw poll system for several years, said Jennifer Bruno, the council's deputy director. The system works well because it makes the selection of chairman and vice chairman less political, she said.

Cook declined to identify Ogden City Council members who seem to favor the straw poll system. However, he acknowledged that the current public process for electing a chairman and vice chairman is more transparent.

City Council Chairwoman Caitlin Gochnour said it's important that the council consider the straw poll system. "This is an effort to depoliticize the election process and strengthen the working relationships of Ogden City Council members," she said in a prepared statement.

City Councilman Brandon Stephenson said he supports implementation of the straw poll system.

"It makes the election of officers less political ... and gives the council ability to vote how they believe," he said. "It allows less animosity and keeps those elections from being a polarizing event that keeps us from being able to do the work of the council."

Mayor Matthew Godfrey said he was unaware until contacted by the Standard-Examiner that the council is considering changing its procedure for selecting a chairman and vice chairman.

While the current selection method allows the public to know who council members support for leadership posts, the anonymous straw poll system may enable members to freely vote their conscience without fearing pressure or reprisal, he added.

Utah's open-meeting laws prohibit an elected public body from taking votes in secret, said Jeffrey J. Hunt, a Salt Lake City attorney who specializes in First Amendment issues.

Although it could be argued that the straw poll method is technically legal because a final vote for chairman and vice chairman is done in open session, the process prevents the public from observing the council's deliberations, Hunt said.

The council must decide tonight whether it intends to implement a straw poll system, because it is set to elect a chairman and vice chairman Jan. 4, said Cook. Tonight's meeting will get under way at 6 p.m. on the third floor of the Municipal Building, 2549 Washington Blvd.


This topic is being discussed at The Weber County Forum.

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