Steamboat Springs Steamboat Springs City Council members Ken Brenner, Susan Dellinger and Steve Ivancie voted in favor of appointing Karen Post to the council on Tuesday. Council member Towny Anderson voted for candidate Steve Hitchcock.
Councilman Loui Antonucci would not reveal whom he voted for, but during the meeting Tuesday, he referred to numbering the candidates on his secret paper ballot one through five in order of preference. Only one of the ballots obtained by the Steamboat Pilot & Today on Wednesday contained such numbering. That ballot gave a vote to Hitchcock.
Councilman Paul Strong also would not reveal whom he voted for when contacted Wednesday.
"I feel uncomfortable doing that because it was done by secret ballot," Strong said. "If there's legal problems there, I'd be happy to tell you, but if not, then I think it would be disrespectful to the other council members to share that."
Post was appointed to the council by a 4-2 vote to replace council member Kevin Kaminski, who moved out of his district. Hitchcock received the other two votes.
The council members did not make those votes public Tues-day night. Rather, they used paper ballots to make the decision. The Steamboat Pilot & Today challenged the legality of that method Wednesday under Colorado Open Meetings Law.
An attorney for the Steamboat Pilot & Today said the paper ballot used by the City Council could have violated Colorado Open Meetings Law.
"Yes, a secret ballot by a City Council to fill a vacant seat on that council is likely to be found to be a violation of the Colorado Open Meetings Law," attorney Chris Beall wrote in an e-mail Wednesday. "Despite the absence of specific language in the COML dealing with secret ballots, the argument that they are illegal is based on the legislative declaration at the start of the statute: 'It is declared to be a matter of statewide concern and the policy of this state that the formation of public policy is public business and may not be conducted in secret.'
"On the strength of this legislative declaration, in combination with the prohibition against the adoption of any formal action at a closed meeting, we think a fair reading of the COML's open meeting requirement is that an open meeting be fully open in all respects, including the identity of every council member's vote."
City Clerk Julie Jordan provided a copy of the ballots to the Steamboat Pilot & Today, saying they are "clearly public record." But Jordan questioned whether the paper ballot process violated state law, citing various interpretations of the relevant state statutes.
Brenner and Dellinger said the council commonly uses paper ballots.
"I wouldn't call it tradition, but it's typical," Brenner said. "When we put people on our boards and commissions, we usually use a paper ballot."
Anderson said the breakdown of the council's vote might surprise Steamboat residents who see the council as divided among members with different views on issues such as development and housing.
"There's a clear division in the community, and I knew that this council was unfairly being pegged this way," Anderson said. "This isn't the council that you think it is, and yes, we do work together. Maybe this (vote) is a turning point. I knew that we didn't break out the way everybody thought we did, and we never have, but people want to see us a certain way. Karen (Post) earned it, fair and square."
Council members praised Post, a psychotherapist and 36-year resident, on Wednesday.
"With her skills at facilitation and listening, I think that's going to be huge for us," Dellinger said.
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