City considers eliminating election wards for at-large seats
Date posted: February 4, 2014
SHERIDAN — Members of Sheridan City Council voted Monday to amend an ordinance regarding changes to ward boundaries and then voted to table the ordinance since the amendment was a significant alteration to government operation.
Ordinance 2142 was on third reading, so tabling it will allow two more weeks for community input and study of the issue by government officials.
The amendment eliminated the city’s three wards, which each have two representatives on City Council, and changed all six council seats to at-large representation and election, meaning city councilors will represent the entire city and will not be required to live within a particular area of the city.
The ordinance was originally proposed to make a slight alteration to a ward boundary line in order to prevent split ballots in elections.
However, at the Jan. 20 Council meeting, when the ordinance was on second reading, Mayor Dave Kinskey asked city Clerk Scott Badley to report at the next meeting about the history of wards in Sheridan, why they are used, and whether or not the city could use an at-large system instead.
City Attorney Greg Von Krosigk presented a brief history of wards in Sheridan to the council and explained five options for altering the ward system. Badley was sick and was unable to make the presentation.
Von Krosigk said the city of Sheridan has utilized many forms of government in its history. Discussion of a ward system was held in the 1930s, but council minutes indicate the first adoption of seven wards with one councilor each occurred in 1957. In 1972, three wards with two councilors per ward were established.
Ward boundaries were altered in 1980, 1987, 1992, 1993 and 2002, eventually switching from an east-west to a north-south orientation, Von Krosigk said.
Within the past couple years, questions have been raised about whether the current ward boundaries would meet constitutional tests for population distribution with annexations and population changes. The idea of one person, one vote is the “overarching guiding principle and ultimate goal of all redistricting efforts,” according to a report by Badley and City Attorneys Pence and MacMillan.
Kinskey noted that answering that question with certainty would require $10,000 to $15,000 to be spent on consultants and analysis of census block data. He decided not to spend the money to analyze the wards in the past and said he would still hesitate to do so. Changing to an at-large system could eliminate the need to evaluate the constitutionality of the current wards.
Councilors discussed a variety of options for changing the ward system including electing one councilor from each ward and electing three at-large and reducing the number of wards from three to two with two councilors elected from each ward and two elected at-large.
Von Krosigk said the first option would be unconstitutional because only 1/3 of councilors, or two total for Sheridan, can be at-large if the system is a mix of wards and at-large representation. The second option is a possibility, but it would be expensive and difficult to align with legislative districts.
Councilor Shelleen Smith said she liked the idea of going at-large because it would allow councilors to move to a different spot within the city if needed. In the current ward system, a councilor must remain within his or her ward to maintain his or her seat on the council.
Councilor Kristin Kelly said she agreed with Smith’s sentiment, but at the same time she liked getting to know her ward and representing a particular area of the city.
Councilor Alex Lee said he didn’t feel strongly either way and that only two city residents had given him input on the issue, one for going at-large, and one against. Lee did express concern about the cost potential councilors could incur running a city-wide campaign versus one within one ward.
Kinskey said he had received no input, but that he thought the pool of candidates would be deeper if all city councilors were elected at-large.
Lee made the motion to table the ordinance for later consideration.
“We had an ordinance that was on third reading, Ordinance 2142. In that ordinance that was before us was changing of a boundary line. Through the adopted amendment, it changed the ordinance from a boundary line to eliminating the wards all together and making the council and the mayor all at-large,” Lee said. “I’m not opposed to that. What I did was I made a motion to table to a date certain being Feb. 18. The reason I did that was for me, fundamentally, on a third reading of an ordinance, I’m not comfortable with making such a sweeping change in an ordinance like that.”
Anyone with input or thoughts on whether the city should eliminate its wards and go to an at-large representation system should contact their city councilor or the mayor.
In other business:
• Issue: Ordinance 2143 will create a Downtown Development Authority. A DDA will enable greater efforts and funding resources to be focused on business and economic development efforts in a specified downtown district.
• Discussion: Downtown Sheridan Association board member John Smith said no new developments had occurred since the last meeting and councilors had no further questions.
Kinskey said that a few people had expressed concern about him voting on the DDA since he owns property with the DDA boundary on the northwest corner of Brundage and Brooks streets. He said he didn’t see his vote as a conflict of interest, but since concern was expressed, he would recuse himself from the vote.
“I don’t believe voting to promote our downtown vibrancy is a conflict, but if there is any question whatsoever, I will recuse myself,” Kinskey said earlier in the week.
• Action: The remaining five councilors voted unanimously to approve the ordinance on second reading. It will need one more reading to be final.
• Issue: To date, two people have submitted letters of interest for the open city council seat left after Levi Dominguez’s resignation. Planning Commissioner Thayer Shafer and city resident Val Burgess have both expressed interest, Assistant City Clerk Brenda Williams said.