If Ann Mullins is elected mayor in next month’s runoff election, it could lead to a process to fill her current seat on city council in which the city holds two additional special elections.
It is theoretically possible that a total of four elections stretching over six months would be needed to determine the next city council.
Mullins faces Torre in the April 2 runoff. Torre, a former two-term councilman and six-times-over mayoral candidate, placed first in the March 5 election with 1,281 votes, followed by Mullins in second place with 940 votes. Councilman Adam Frisch was third with 838 votes and Cale Mitchell was in the fourth and final position with 83 votes.
Torre’s total was just under 300 votes shy of the threshold needed to clear an outright majority, necessitating the runoff between him and Mullins.
If Mullins, who has been endorsed by Frisch, can make up the difference and best Torre in the runoff, she will vacate her current council seat, which has two years left remaining on its term.
That will kick off a process to fill the vacancy. In the past, that process meant that if the remaining four elected officials could not decided on an applicant to appoint to sit in the seat, there would be a roll of the dice or coin flip between two top applicants. That scenario almost played out in 2013 when Steve Skadron was elected as mayor from his council seat. However, Skadron changed his vote at the last minute to break the deadlock and Dwayne Romero was appointed.
Voters changed that process in a 2014 election, amending the city charter to get rid of the method that could result in leaving the appointment to chance.
The process now calls for a special election if the new council can’t decide on an appointment in 30 days. The four-person council, which will be seated June 10, could also elect to move immediately to a special election and eschew any attempt at an appointment process.
Mullins said on Wednesday that she was leaning toward favoring an election instead of an appointment process.
“Right now, I think the fairest way would be to go to an election,” Mullins said, adding that the election has been contentious and an appointment process would not help.
If a special election is called, city clerk Linda Manning said its timing would depend on how soon ballots could be printed. But much of the election process — including how long candidates would have to announce their candidacy — would be up to the council to decide.
The city charter, since the 2014 amendment, stipulates that in the special election, if no candidate gets more than 50 percent plus one vote, then a runoff of the two candidates with the highest vote totals shall be held on the Tuesday five weeks following the initial election.
If Mullins wins, the new, short-handed council would consist of her as mayor, with newly- elected members Skippy Mesirow and Rachel Richards joining Ward Hauenstein, who would have two years remaining on his term. If this new council waits 30 days after being seated before moving to a special election, and that election takes a month before it is decided, and then a runoff is needed five weeks later, that would have the final vote occurring no sooner than Sept. 10, six months after the initial March election. There is a delay between the March vote and the seating of the new council in June because this was the first year Aspen held its municipal elections in March. They were held in May in the past, so the seats up for election cannot formally turnover until June.
Torre said that he remains focused on his core campaign themes of housing, transportation and transparency, but he added that he hopes voters take the vacancy process “into serious consideration” in making their decision. He added that he would not want to see a roll of the dice, but later noted that voters eliminated that as an option in 2014. He noted that an appointment would still be possible with a Mullins win, which he said takes the decision out of the hands of voters.
“For anyone who supports Ann, she will be on council two more years” to finish out her current term if Torre is elected, he said Wednesday.
Mullins said she remains focused on her core message, stressing leadership and “strategic thinking,” which she termed as “long-term planning as opposed to short-term actions.”
Manning, the city clerk, said it would be taxing on her office staff to administer four total elections to figure out the next council. Each election comes with a price tag as well, as much as $10,000.