After eight votes, Superior's City Council failed to elect a new president Tuesday, April 16, but a single vote resolved its leadership.
Councilor Craig Sutherland, elected vice president despite what some councilors described as push-back from the mayor, will serve as the acting president until the Council makes a decision about its next president.
Councilors Dan Olson, Brent Fennessey, Jack Sweeney, Keith Kern, Esther Dalbec and Sutherland voted for Sutherland over Councilor Tylor Elm for the vice presidency.
The reorganization takes place every third Tuesday in April, following spring elections. Newly elected or re-elected officials are sworn in and the Council elects a new president and vice president to provide leadership. The president is responsible for appointing Council committees and serves as acting mayor when the mayor cannot fulfill the duties of office.
Councilors Ruth Ludwig and Brent Fennessey were nominated for the Council's top post.
However, councilors couldn't reach a consensus on how to vote, or who should serve as their next president.
Repeatedly, Mayor Jim Paine broke a tie to keep councilors from voting by secret ballot as Sutherland repeatedly pushed for it, hoping to get past the impasse. He described the mayor's refusal to move onto the vice president vote as "punishment" for not making a decision on the presidential vote.
"We were elected with a secret ballot," Sutherland said. "Mayor Paine, you were elected with a secret ballot."
Sweeney, Fennessey, Sutherland, Kern and Dalbec gave their support to Fennessey in four separate votes before the Council decided to move the election to the end of its meeting. Councilors Jenny Van Sickle, Warren Bender, Ludwig and Elm favored Ludwig, while Olson abstained from voting. That dynamic didn't change despite eight rounds of voting.
Six votes were needed to elect a president.
Olson said he saw agendas on both sides of the council presidency after hours of lobbying that exceeded his experience working for a union.
"I, myself, have had more lobbying today (Tuesday, April 16), in the last six hours, then I've seen in 15 years working at Laborers International," Olson said.
"I think we owe it to the public to resolve this decision," Paine said.
After the third vote failed to elect a new president, Olson asked the mayor if he intended to exercise his right to break a tie, and abstained again when Paine affirmed he would.
Olson favored letting a deck of cards decide the council presidency if there was a tie. He suggested a motion to cut the cards in the event of a tie, but Paine and City Attorney Frog Prell advised him the Council couldn't take away Paine's statutory right to break the tie.
"Councilor Olson famously knocked out Councilor (Tom) Bridge with a queen of diamonds over a three of clubs," Prell said. Olson won the council presidency in 2009 when then-Mayor Dave Ross decided not to break a tie between Olson and Bridge. In 2010, Ross reconsidered his position on voting for council leadership, and Olson lost a leadership bid when Ross cast a tie-breaking vote for vice president in Bridge's favor.
"It should never go to a deck of cards," Paine said Wednesday, April 17.
After four terms as council president, Olson said it's not a glamorous job.
"I don't believe an issue as important as the potential acting mayor in the event that I cannot serve should be left to chance," Paine said.
By law, the Council president serves as acting mayor when the mayor can't fulfill the duties because of incapacitation or absence.
"Mayor, I am pleading with you that the most transparent thing to do - will allow the process to go through that we have done in the past - and allow a cut of the cards," said Olson, who accused the mayor of "holding this whole thing up."
Paine said the matter could have been resolved if all the councilors had voted because they clearly had opinions on who should be president.
"Mayor Paine, I just want to express that if you say you won't break a tie, this could end right now with a cut of the cards," Sutherland said Tuesday night.
"That is not the statutory process," Paine said. "The public elected me to exercise the authority of the mayor. The authority of the mayor is to break ties."
It wasn't until Wednesday afternoon, April 17, when city officials determined who would lead the Council in the absence of a president.
"I am of the opinion that Vice President Sutherland should immediately assume all duties and responsibilities of council president and should exercise those duties and responsibilities until/unless a council president is elected," Prell wrote in an email to councilors. "Vice presidents ... are described as 'second in command of an organization' and tasked with 'assuming the role of decision-maker in the absence of the president.' Councilor Sutherland has been duly elected as Council vice president."
Paine was still concerned Wednesday because committee appointments expire April 24, and the tradition of the president and vice president working together to make those appointments would not occur.
Committees study issues to make recommendations to the Council.
Sutherland said he plans to work with Ludwig and Fennessey to make committee appointments quickly, if allowed.
"We're still at quite an impasse," Paine said.