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(Michelle Higginbotham / American Press)

Westlake council has split vote over at-large system

Last Modified: Monday, February 04, 2013 10:12 PM

By Natalie Stewart / American Press

WESTLAKE — The ongoing battle over a would-be ordinance requiring members to be voted in at-large rather than by a designated seat continued Monday after a 2-2 tie vote at the Westlake City Council meeting.

The issue has appeared on the agenda each month since October and Council Members Lori Manuel and Dan Racca vote in favor of it each month.

As of now, each council member is elected after running for a designated seat, choosing someone to run against and winning that election. With the at-large system, the five candidates with the most votes would be elected.

Last month, he council was jolted back to square one when it agreed to return to an at-large system with the stipulation that voters had to cast a vote for five candidates — a move they agreed would make the election “fair.” But City Attorney John Van Norman informed the council that the decision to place the stipulation on the election was illegal under a state statute.

Councilman Wally Anderson, who voted against returning to an at-large election, questioned whether state lawmakers had been contacted about amending the statute for Westlake.

“We keep rehashing this item. Every meeting we decide what we need to do and we keep going back because we seem to be hitting a wall,” he said. “The only way to make this fair is for (voters) to vote (for five candidates).”

Van Norman said there is the possibility that the city could get a special interest bill passed, but he has concerns over whether voting machines are capable of handling the council’s proposed stipulation of making sure each voter chose five candidates.

“Therein lies a downfall because if you say that the vote doesn’t count, that’s just for the City of Westlake,” he said. “That could cost to run these elections on their own without being part of a statewide or national election … but to have someone’s vote not count, that isn’t going to work.”

Anderson asked Mayor Dan Cupit if he had contacted state legislators about the issue to which Cupit said, “Have you asked them? You have the right to ask them the same as I do.”

Anderson told the mayor he hadn’t contacted state officials but added, “I will.”

Manuel said she received phone calls “every day” from people saying “we know the council doesn’t want to change because it’s protectionism and it discourages people when they have to name someone to run against” but it’s what the people want … the people of Westlake want a change.”

Anderson said “those aren’t the same calls I get.”

Councilman Bob Hardey also voted against returning to the at-large system.

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