ROCK SPRINGS — A measure to end the use of a secret ballot to determine appointments to the Rock Springs City Council made it through its first reading Tuesday night.
According to City Attorney Richard Beckwith, the city ordinance detailing how the Council fills a vacant Council seat is the only law on its books allowing for the use of a secret ballot. Other Council activities and votes are dictated by statutes related to public meetings.
Wyoming’s statutes allow for a governing body to discuss certain topics in an executive session, which is a closed-door meeting not accessible to the public or press. Those topics include employee matters, potential litigation, potential real estate transactions, and to consider the acceptance of gifts and donations where the donor requested in writing to be kept confidential. One thing any governing body cannot do is take a vote during an executive session — all actions by a governing body must be done in public during an advertised and scheduled meeting of the body.
The Council recently appointed David Thompson to fill an unexpired term for Ward II, making that appointment Oct. 17. Thompson was the only applicant seeking appointment and he was confirmed by a secret ballot vote. With only one option to choose from, the outcome of that ballot wasn’t a secret.
“We all voted for him,” Councilman Larry Hickerson said.
Mayor Max Mickelson said he learned of the secret ballot process after speaking to Beckwith about how the Council should fill the vacancy, saying he found the process to be objectionable.
“I don’t think that government officers should conduct any business secretly,” Mickelson said. “There’s just no way for me to talk about it without being very clearly opposed to it and negative to the idea.”
He said he realizes other residents and Council members may have differing views on the subject and wants to open dialog about the process through the ordinance change’s readings. He admits Thompson’s replacement was an easy choice for the Council to make, but said he understands the decision would have been more difficult if they had multiple applicants to consider.
“There are going to be times where we have to make publicly uncomfortable decisions, and from my perspective that is our job and duty,” Mickelson said.
Mickelson isn’t the only voice on the Council supporting the end of the secret ballots. Councilman Tim Robinson agrees with making it a public vote.
“I think transparency in government is absolutely imperative to a functioning democracy and I sing kudos to whoever’s idea it was,” Robinson said.
The second reading will occur during the Nov. 21 Council meeting.