SUNSET — A slip-up over the open city positions this election cycle in Sunset will keep the name of a City Council incumbent off the ballot, though she wants to hold onto the seat.
Sunset City Recorder Sue Hale, meanwhile, is offering apologies over the mistake, apparently a periodic occurrence around the state during municipal election years. “Total mistake on my part that I feel terrible about,” Hale said.
Norm Noyes won election in 2019 to a seat on the Sunset City Council but stepped down in 2020, paving the way for selection of a replacement. Council members ultimately picked Nakisha Rigley and she took office Dec. 4 last year. Rigley thought she’d serve through the term Noyes won, the end of 2023, and that’s what Hale told her. So when the filing period for city elections this year came, June 1-7, she didn’t take any action.
Turns out, the final two years of the term Noyes won are to be on the ballot, per Utah law, and Hale scrambled to get out a notice last Tuesday, late, about the election. With the formal filing period over, though, any candidate — including Rigley — will now have to vie as a write-in hopeful. “A Council term of two years was inadvertently left off the Election Notice before the filing dates. ... Because the error was not discovered until after the Declaration of Candidacy filing period was over, the seat will be filled with a Write-in Candidate,” the notice reads.
The turn of events has Rigley shaking her head — Hale has served as clerk for 21 years, thus “it’s kind of weird you would miss it,” she said — but also vowing to campaign for the seat. Rigley came forward with the information about the turn of events to let the public know that she’s eager to keep serving on the City Council, that the absence of her name on the ballot was a mistake.
“Since I was not informed soon enough that I would need to run, I was not able to file for my candidacy on time or even prepare a campaign. But that doesn’t mean I’m not going to fight for my seat,” Rigley, serving public office for the first time, said in a Facebook post. She went on, saying, “I’ve only just begun this work for our amazing community, and it would break my heart to have to end it after only a few mere months.”
Hale said she’s gone through similar elections in the past, when two years of a City Council term are up for grabs, without problem. This go-round, though, she said she “had a lot going on. I just forgot it.”
Mayor Howard Madsen said Hale will get a reprimand in her work file over the matter, but she won’t be fired or face additional punishment, though a repeat occurrence would subject her to hard scrutiny. “She knows too much and she’s too good a person to fire over this,” Madsen said.
At the same time, Madsen offered words of praise for Rigley. He said he cast the tie-breaking vote that propelled Rigley to the council post last December. “She’s got my vote and support,” he said.
Shelly Jackson, deputy director of elections in the Utah Lieutenant Governor’s Office, says Hale’s error isn’t unprecedented. Election officials looked into the matter and deemed it was an “honest mistake.”
“It almost always happens once a municipal filing period,” Jackson said. There’s no other remedy, she said, than to issue the sort of notice Sunset put out last Tuesday, informing the public that the two years are up for election.
Write-in candidates still have to file a declaration saying they’re vying for office, and the deadline to do so for the two-year council seat is Aug. 30. Any write-in hopeful’s name won’t appear on the ballot. Instead, backers will have to write the name of the hopeful they favor on the ballot itself.
Rigley said openness and fostering communication between elected officials and constituents are priorities. “The biggest, most important thing to me is transparency and community trust,” she said. “I think we need to really talk with the citizens.”
The Sunset mayoral post and two four-year City Council terms are also up for election this cycle and those posts made it, on time, onto Sunset’s formal election notice. Madsen is facing a challenge from Beverly Macfarlane. Five are vying for the two four-year council seats: incumbents Nancy Smalling and Scott Wiggill as well as Ronald Wilson, Ryan Furniss and Eric Hunter, according to the candidate filings.