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Johnson City moves closer to moving municipal elections to November ballots

August 8th, 2014 12:08 pm by Max Hrenda

Johnson City moves closer to moving municipal elections to November ballots

Mayor Ralph Van Brocklin (file photo)

While thousands of Johnson City residents had cast or were casting their votes in Thursday’s election, their City Commissioners gave them another item to consider when election time rolls around again in November.

During Thursday’s meeting, commissioners voted 3-1 in favor of a third reading of city ordinance 4547-14, which created a referendum that would allow voters to determine the date for municipal elections.

City elections are held in April of every odd-numbered year. If passed by voters, the referendum would move those municipal elections to the same date as the general election, the first Tuesday in November. In prior interviews with the Press, City Manager Pete Peterson said the move could potentially engage more voters, and he estimated the move could save the taxpayers around $75,000.

In an effort to save more money, during previous meetings, the commission discussed the possibility of consolidating polling locations. Before Thursday’s vote, however, Peterson told the board that would conflict with a state statute.

“We talked to the Election Commission here in Washington County,” Peterson said. “They can consolidate early voting in one location, but we are unable to consolidate polling places on election day. That’s the ruling out of the state election committee.”

After Commissioner Jeff Banyas made the motion to approve the ordinance, Mayor Ralph Van Brocklin — who would cast the dissenting vote — said he had reconsidered his position on expanding the electorate.

“As I look at what’s been occurring with the election that is concluding ... I see a lot of misinformation out there and a lot of voters reacting to misinformation,” he said. ”The reason they’re reacting to misinformation is that they really haven’t followed their candidates very carefully and they haven’t followed the issues very carefully.

“It may, in fact, not be advantageous to have a larger electorate out there voting that doesn’t really understand the candidates, has not been following what the candidates say and do and making the decision, as opposed to a smaller electorate who obviously has been paying a lot of attention to what we’ve been doing and what we’ve been saying.”

Despite Van Brocklin’s objection, the three commissioners voted in favor of adding the referendum to the November ballot. Vice-Mayor Clayton Stout was not present for Thursday’s meeting.

During the discussion for that ordinance, however, commissioner David Tomita discussed the possibility of amending it to include a provision that would add a referendum

“I’d just like to throw out an amended version of the same ordinance that would allow the appointment of unfilled terms rather than a special election,” Tomita said. “It would seem that we’re sort of defeating the purpose of what we’re trying to do, and that’s saving money.”

According to City Attorney Jim Epps, however, the language was too drastic to add it to the existing ordinance.

“That would be a material change to this ordinance,” Epps said. “Instead, what we’ve done is we have prepared another ordinance just for this question. That would bring this particular question to the voters.”

After a 10-minute recess that was called to allow commissioners time to read the ordinance, it was approved unanimously. Before the vote was taken, Commissioner Jenny Brock expressed her support for both election ordinances.

“I support this ordinance to let the citizens weigh in on this — on both these ordinances that we pass tonight,” Brock said. “And to look at the direction that we can move on this to enhance the election process for the city.”

The ordinance will need to be approved on two more readings before a referendum would be added to the November ballot.

Follow Max Hrenda on Twitter @MaxLHrenda. Like him on Facebook at facebook.com/jcpresshrenda.

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