One citizen, one vote… unless you’re the president of the Hartford City Council protecting your mayor from a recall vote.
In a well-attended and heated meeting last night, six members of the Hartford City Council voted 4–3 to reject a petition filed by citizens calling for recall of Mayor Bill Campbell.
Mayor Campbell excused himself from the discussion of the petition and did not vote. The third and fourth votes to reject the petition came from council president Doyle Johnson. The council cites SDCL 9-8-7 to justify the presiding officer’s double vote:
President and vice president of council–Election and duties. At the first regular meeting after the annual election in each year and after the qualification of the newly elected aldermen, the council shall elect from among its own members a president and vice president, who shall hold their respective offices for the municipal year.
The president of the council in the absence of the mayor shall be the presiding officer of the council, and during the absence of the mayor from the first or second class municipality or his temporary disability shall be acting mayor and possess all the powers of the mayor.
In the absence or disability of the mayor and president of the council the vice president shall perform the duties of the mayor and president of the council [SDCL 9-8-7].
I find that interpretation incredible. The U.S. Senate provides for the president pro tempore to preside over the Senate when the Vice-President is absent, but no one imagines (does one?) that in such a situation, the president pro tempore would get to cast a second vote to break a tie.
This two-vote absurdity runs counter to the idea of a quorum. SDCL 9-8-8 says that a majority of members of the council must be present to do business. If three members of a seven-member council meet, they can’t do business. The council president can’t gather two sympathetic councilors when the mayor’s out of town, invoke SDCL 9-8-7, declare his trio a quartet, and start passing ordinances.
Furthermore, SDCL 9-8-10 says that passing an ordinance or proposal requires “the concurrence of a majority of all the aldermen.” Possessing “all the powers of the mayor” under SDCL 9-8-7 does not entail becoming a second alderman with a second vote that can break a tie and form a majority of all the aldermen. Even when the mayor is absent, SDCL 9-8-10 says that nothing passes unless it gets the vote of four different people.
The petition needed 264 signatures; citizens collected 314 signatures, 286 of which were valid. The Hartford City Council appears to have used an absurd interpretation of state law to deny the will of the people. If the three-person minority of the council thinks the petition against Mayor Campbell is too vague, petitioners should perhaps try something more specific: petition to recall Councilors Johnson, Ryan Bortnem, and Bill Haugen, Jr., for their malfeasance in violating the fundamental principle of one citizen, one vote.