When Gordon Haight was elected mayor pro tem of the City Council May 5, it was the first time in a number of years the council has filled the office legally.
Haight replaces former council member Michael DeMass, who relinquished the mayor pro tem post when he resigned from the council April 30.The mayor pro tem chairs council meetings and acts as temporary mayor to conduct certain city business matters in the absence of May-or Donna Evans.
Haight is the first council member in years to hold the acting mayor post legally because of a flaw in the city's mayor pro tem election ordinance.
According to official city minutes, previous mayors pro tem have been elected by secret ballots - which are strictly prohibited by the Utah Open and Public Meetings statute.
Section 52-4-1 of the Utah Code indicates the intent of the law is that public officials' "actions be taken openly and that their deliberations be taken openly."
The open meetings act manual prepared by the Utah Attoey General's Office, responding to the question of whether members of a public body may vote by secret ballot, replies "no" and elaborates "the minutes of open meetings must show the vote of each individual member on all matters."
Obviously, the votes of past secret ballots were not reported in meeting minutes.
"It is clearly evident," the attorney general wrote, "that the Legislature recognized that a secret ballot would destroy the accountability of individual members of public bodies to their constituents and, therefore, precluded secret voting under the Act."
But there was no attempt at skulduggery by past councils.
The flawed city ordinance actually directs the council to elect an acting mayor by secret ballot and past councils acted on that, even though the state's open meetings statute has been in effect for more than 20 years.
Advised of the conflict between state law and West Jordan's ordinance, City Attorney Greg Curtis drafted a memo to council members last week explaining the problem.
Council members followed Curtis' recommendations and elected Haight by an open vote.
A revision of the flawed city ordinance is pending.