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City Council to Review 50 Percent Threshold in Mayoral Elections 

Published June 7, 2010 at 8:53 a.m.

When voters rejected instant runoff voting in March, they decided to return to the previous method of electing mayors— whoever receives 40 percent of the vote, or more, wins.

The City Council tonight will take up a measure to increase that threshold to 50 percent.

Councilors Joan Shannon (D-Ward 5) and Mary Kehoe (D-Ward 6) will introduce the resolution, which would amend the city's charter to require "that a mayor be elected by a majority of the voters at the annual City Meeting or in a subsequent election(s) if no candidate receives a majority of voters cast at the annual City Meeting."

The resolution asks the council's charter change committee to hold hearings on the idea and come back to the full council by August 9. In the March election, all Progressive and Democratic candidates (including incumbents) supported the use of instant-runoff voting, while the Republicans did not. Independent Karen Paul (Ward 6) did not support instant-runoff voting, but did support moving to a 50-percent majority.

The repeal of IRV was defeated soundly in Wards 4 and 7 (the New North End), while barely surviving in the city's other five wards.

Ever since the financial scandal involving Burlington Telecom first surfaced, there have been a steady calls for Mayor Bob Kiss to resign, as there is no legal way to remove him from office until the next mayoral election in 2012.

However, the charter change committee is also considering changes to the city's election laws that would allow the either the impeachment, or recall, of the mayor and individual city councilors.

Whether to keep instant-runoff voting was seen as a partial referendum on Mayor Kiss himself, not just on how votes are counted in the Queen City. Voters approved use of IRV in 2005, and it went into effect for the 2006 mayoral election. It was used again in 2009. Kiss won both elections. The difference is that in 2006, Kiss led his challenges in all rounds before surpassing 50 percent.

The results of the 2009 election sparked an outcry that IRV had somehow robbed Republican Kurt Wright, or even Democrat Andy Montroll, of the mayor's office. Wright led Kiss after the tally of first choices and after the elimination of the fourth and fifth place finishers. But with the field reduced to three, Wright remained short of a 50-plus percent majority. When third place finisher Montroll was eliminated, Kiss accumulated a large share of Montroll supporters' second-place votes and defeated Wright 52 to 48 percent.

Also tonight, councilors will vote on the mayor's candidates to head up the city's various departments. Of the re-appointments, the most controversial is Chief Administrative Officer Jonathan Leopold.

Leopold is not expected to win a positive vote from the council, but the vote would merely be a public rebuke of the mayor's top aide as Kiss can keep Leopold in that position without council approval.

Last fall, city councilors voted 8-6 to put Leopold on paid leave while his actions, and those of BT's leadership team, were investigated. Mayor Kiss vetoed the measure, and the council could not muster a two-thirds vote to override his veto.

City Council President Bill Keogh said he expects Leopold will only garner the support of three, maybe four, councilors.

"There is not a lot of trust in the administration on the part of the council, by and large," said Keogh. "That's why you see all of these ad hoc committees on the Moran Plant and on Burlington Telecom."

Leopold, said Keogh, is a major source of that distrust and many councilors say they cannot be sure they are receiving a straight answer from Leopold when they ask him questions about the budget or other city operations.

"It all started with Burlington Telecom, but it's gone beyond that now," said Keogh.

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About The Author

Shay Totten

Shay Totten

Shay Totten wrote "Fair Game," a weekly political column, from April 2008-December 2011.


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