New Ward System Approved by Laramie City Council
The Laramie City Council voted 7-2 in favor of changing the ward system and setting the election procedures for it on Tuesday night. Voters passed a change to a three ward system by a plurality in a special election back in November.
For the past ten years, the Laramie City Council has been elected through a seven ward system, with one council member being elected from each ward with two councilors elected at large. In the new system, three councilors are to be elected from each ward. As stated in the petition which brought up the special election, the new ward boundaries were determined by the Statutory Ward Boundary Committee. The petition also stated that all city council members would be able to sit for the rest of their term, even if it meant a temporary unbalance of representation in the three wards.
Not so, claimed Mitch Edwards, a member of the public who spoke in opposition of the holdover of city council members being forced into wards, which he claimed did not elect them. Edwards cited several state statutes to support his argument that since three new wards were created, three councilors from each ward should be elected at the next general election.
City Attorney Dave Clark countered by citing state statute 15-11-205, which deals with election of council in city manager government having alternate method of representation. The statute reads, "At the first election in a city manager form municipality, after adopting an alternate method of representation, councilmen shall be elected equal in number to the number of council terms expiring. Offices expiring shall be filled by candidates from wards having the lowest number designation and not having a holdover member on the council. At the second election, candidates will be elected from wards not having holdover members. Councilmen shall be elected for the regular four (4) year term."
Councilor Joe Vitale put an amendment on the floor which would have put all nine council members up for election in the next general election.
"To me, the public was very clear when they voted," said Councilor Joe Shumway. "They wanted to have three wards, and then those that had been elected will stay in office, those whose terms expired will run for re-election."
Councilor Karl McCraken disagreed saying, "There's a major change in the representation of who represents whom... I would rather be on the side of conservatism and the conservative side would say, 'The people voted for someone, that person is no longer there, therefore those people in other wards are being represented by other people, so all nine should come up (for re-relection).' That's more conservative to me."
Amongst the discussion, Councilor Klaus Hanson was used as an example of a misplaced council member, who ran unopposed in the last election, but would keep his seat through 2014. In the midst of the debate, Hanson made a surprising announcement.
"I'm officially declaring that as of December I will resign my term of office from this council because I'm disgusted with the whole process," claimed Hanson.
After multiple council members spoke in an attempt to get Hanson to change his mind, the councilor said that he may run again, but that he would most likely resign from the council in December or January so as not to be a holdover from the old ward system.
Mayor Scott Mullner wrapped up the discussion on the amendment saying, "I would hope that we, as a council, would want to stand on the arguments that the attorney for the city has made because it would be much easier, I believe, for him to argue and defend those in court as opposed to something else if we change it."
The amendment failed with only 3 votes in favor, bringing the main motion back to the floor.
Councilor Erik Molvar expressed his displeasure with the timing of the special election which brought about the change to the ward system, but said he would ultimately vote the way the people voted. Councilor Roger McKinley also talked about a disappointment with the special election, especially the fact that there was only one polling place and it was not in a central location, and a result he would vote against the new ward system.
With the passing of the ordinance, five members of the council will be up for election in the next general election, with four members holding their seat through 2014. If Hanson resigns his seat, then six seats would be open in the next election. As of 4 PM on Wednesday, the city clerk's office had not received a formal resignation from Hanson.