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The City Journals

First council meeting of the year: a coin toss, urging for transparency

Feb 13, 2020 03:59PM ● By Erin Dixon

A West Jordan attorney performs the coin toss that decides who will be in the race for council chairperson. (Erin Dixon/City Journals)

By Erin Dixon | [email protected]

Without a majority, the vote is passed to a coin toss.

When city council meeting first convened in January, council members voted for who they would like to see as council chair. In the new form of government, the mayor is no longer the head of the council. 

“The council chair in the prior form of government was the mayor, whose duty it was to represent the council,” Councilmember Chris McConnehey said. “In this new form of government, they are the reflection of the council, not the driver of the council.”

The first round of voting failed to capture a majority vote (four votes needed from a seven-seat council). McConnehey received three votes, Zach Jacob received two votes, Kayleen Whitelock received two votes.

So, what happened next?

There was a coin toss. Someone not on the council had to toss a coin to decide which member would be in the revote. A city attorney wrote the initials ZJ on one side, KW on the other. The coin landed with KW facing up. 

Another round of voting brought McConnehey five votes; Whitelock had two votes. McConnehey is the new chairman of the city council. 

This is not the first time West Jordan voting has been decided by a coin. 

In 2016, Councilmember Sophie Rice left her seat. After many interviews, Alan Anderson and David Pack were the final candidates. Because that current council was split evenly 3-3 for each candidate, the decision of who would win the open seat was left to a coin toss, which Alan Anderson ultimately won. He served from 2016 to 2019. 

Gray area in law

During the same meeting, City Attorney Rob Wall conducted a training based on the Open Meeting Act. 

Wall began the training with a similarly gray statement. “The difference between a moral man and a man of honor is that the latter will regret a disreputable act even if it works,” he said.

There are some specific rules, such as legislatures are forbidden from texting each other during an open meeting, but phone calls are allowed. 

“The office of the legislature and general counsel has advised the legislature that talking on the telephone isn’t the same,” Wall said. 

One reason behind this rule is that others can visibly see that the member is talking on the phone to someone, while sending a text or email during the meeting is more private.

However, outside of public meetings, electronic messages are allowed. 

“Nothing in this chapter shall be construed to restrict a member of a public body from transmitting an electronic message to other members of the public body at a time when the public body is not convened in an open meeting.” Enacted by Chapter 25_2011 General session.

Wall advised the council members to base their actions in being honest and open. 

“It’s not the lunch,” he said. “It’s not the three of you getting together to have a conversation. The problem comes in when you don’t share that information or when you do start deliberating outside this room. It’s really easy to justify it under the law, but the media and voters view it very different than the law would argue.”

McConnehey, who has served on the city council since 2012 and is the longest-serving member on the current council, advised his fellow members to be cooperative, especially since city leaders are treading new government policy waters. 

“We’re figuring this out together for the first time,” McConnehey said. “We all need to be able to work together; we need to have open, honest conversation. Those of us on the dais have not been down this road before. This is new territory; we’re going to hit some bumps. We need to have some flexibility.”