Oak Creek Town Board votes no on secret ballots

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■ Approved, 5-0, accounts payable for July 2011

■ Approved, 4-1, a lease for a small triangular-shaped parcel of land owned by Rosa Hageman at the rate of $1,000 per year. Town officials said the property is used for snow storage and other town use. Wesley Woodford opposed.

■ Approved, 5-0, a resolution to place a new question on the November ballot, which would allow the town to publish legal notices in the newspaper only by title to save money.

■ Appointed, 5-0, Jeff Graber to the Oak Creek Planning Commission.

— Future votes on Oak Creek Town Board vacancies will now be conducted by paper ballot with board members required to sign their names at the top of the ballot.

In a 3-2 vote Thursday night, the Town Board decided to end the practice of secret ballot voting on board appointments. Board members Chuck Wisecup and Wesley Woodford opposed the new policy. Johrene Meyers-Story, Bernie Gagne and Wendy Gustafson voted in favor it. Dawn Smith was absent.

During the brief discussion before the vote, Gagne stated that he would write his name on the ballot no matter what the board decided.

“I’m all for an open ballot,” he said. “If you want to have paper ballots, I’m going to sign my name to it. I think that’s what open records and elected officials are all about, is about standing up for a vote. I don’t care if someone gets their little feelings hurt.”

Wendy Gustafson echoed Gagne’s stance, saying she was in favor of paper ballots simply because they streamline the process when there are multiple applicants or multiple seats open.

“I like the idea of paper ballot, because it goes faster,” she said. “If you have four people apply for two openings, you write down the names. I don’t care if we are required to have our names on them or not.”

The issue first arose when the board voted on applicant Dave Maris via paper ballot on June 23. The ballots did not have the voting board member’s name at the top. That vote ended in a tie, and a decision on Maris’ appointment was tabled to a later meeting.

Oak Creek officials said secret ballots have been used for decades to fill board vacancies.

The Steamboat Pilot & Today objected to the Town Board’s use of secret ballots, arguing that they violate the spirit of open meetings laws and governmental transparency.

Last week, the Colorado Court of Appeals upheld a lower court’s ruling that boards can use secret ballots in a case brought against the Fort Morgan City Council.

Woodford cited that court case when he voiced his concerns Thursday night. He said he’s served on various boards for 40 years and that’s the way he’s always seen appointments handled.

“I think it opens up an opportunity for the board to be coerced or intimidated if people know how they’re voting,” he said. “The secret ballot is the way it’s traditionally done. It’s been upheld now twice in the courts. I’m comfortable with it, it seems like the natural way to go. But each individual board can decide how they want to vote.”

Mayor Nikki Knoebel, who did not vote because the board had a quorum without her vote, said she supported the new policy.

“I was standing behind keeping it open,” she said. “The biggest reason is so everyone would know how who voted for whom. As long as they have the names on it, anyone can look. It is a small town, it still can hurt feelings, but at least they can look at it after the meeting.”

— To reach Nicole Inglis, call 970-871-4204 or email ninglis@SteamboatToday.com

Comments

Scott Wedel 3 years, 1 month ago

So now the next obvious step towards public accountability would be for the Mayor to once again start voting on town issues. People serving as Mayor had been voting for years, in fact some mayors would vote first and then encourage the rest of the board to go along. But now the Mayor serves while almost never voting on any issue.

Apparently, it only took 100 years of Town history before someone had a new interpretation of the office of Town Mayor and decided on this crazy scheme that the Mayor only votes when needed to satisfy a quorum or to cast the deciding vote. Which has introduced a new form of secret ballot by the Mayor because now how the Mayor would have voted remains secret except under the less common cases of lacking a quorum or it would be the deciding vote.

Regardless of the court decision and whether or not it will be upheld by the Colorado Supreme Court, the one reaction to the decision that should have been noted was the Colorado State legislators that said they will work to pass a law making it clear that secret votes by public officials are not allowed.

And this is a heck of a view of representative democracy: “I think it opens up an opportunity for the board to be coerced or intimidated if people know how they’re voting,” Yeah sure, it is so much more democratic for elected officials to have secret ballots so a majority of them can tell affected people that they voted for them when they actually voted for someone else.

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Scott Wedel 3 years, 1 month ago

BTW, kudos to Bernie and Wendy for saying they would put their names on ballots regardless.

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