By: Camden Kelliher
On November 5th, residents of Sheridan, Wyoming took to the polls to participate in a special election and on November 7th the Sheridan City Council certified the results. The election was over Charter Ordinance 2202, which was passed to clarify the roles of the City Administrator and Mayor. The City Administrator position was only created in 2015 by Charter Ordinance 2158, and since then critics have claimed that it takes too much authority away from the Mayor. The current Mayor of Sheridan, Roger Miller, ran his campaign around the idea of strengthening the “mayor form of government.” However, Sheridan residents must not have felt as strongly as their elected Mayor, because they voted to keep Charter Ordinance 2202.
There is actually a long back-story to the City Administrator role in Sheridan, which Northeast reporter Catherine Wheeler explained to Wyoming Public Media in an interview. In 2008, Sheridan residents had the first opportunity to voice their opinions on the role when they voted in a special election. This election asked if the residents wanted a City Administrator, to which they answered no. Then in 2015 the Sheridan City Council passed Charter Ordinance 2158, which effectively created a City Administrator for Sheridan. However, the Ordinance lacked a thorough description on the duties of the City Administrator and how responsibility would be split between the newly created City Administrator and Mayor. As an example, the Ordinance contained the language below:
“The City Council and Mayor shall deal with the administration of the city through the City Administrator. The Mayor and governing body shall issue directives to the City Administrator concerning the policies and/or operations of the city to be accomplished.”
With language like this throughout the sparse one page description of the duties and authority of the City Administrator, it is not difficult to understand why Sheridan needed more clarity on what the City Administrator role entails. Thus, the Sheridan City Council passed Charter Ordinance 2202 earlier this year. This updated Ordinance is not significantly different from Charter Ordinance 2158 except that it contains an additional provision explaining the responsibilities of the Mayor to clarify the confusion on split responsibilities.
Unsurprisingly Sheridan residents organized a citizen petition that gained the required 642 signatures to trigger an election over Charter Ordinance 2202. It would have been reasonable to predict that Sheridan residents would take issue with the Ordinance, as they voted no to the Administrator position in 2008. However, in this special election they were only voting on 2202 specifically. This means that even if the majority of voters voted against it, the City Administrator position would still exist because 2158 would still be on the books. So, to oversimplify, this special election asked voters to decide if they wanted a City Administrator with a clear delegation of authority.
The results of the special election were very close, with 1,371 votes to keep 2202 and 1,292 to get rid of it. Interestingly, City Clerk Cecilia Good reported that the, “election also produced 3,402 unused ballots.” This means that the City had more unused ballots than it had used ballots. With a final vote margin of 79 and so many non-voters it would not be surprising if this continues to be an issue in Sheridan. However, the real question should not have been over the clarifying Ordinance 2202, but rather over Ordinance 2158. It appears that the Sheridan City Council did a disservice to voters by creating the position even after voters said no to the position in the first place. It will be interesting to see what develops next in this chain of special elections, especially given that the current Mayor is opposed to the City Administrator role.