Citing procedural errors, council reverses process, elects new council member

ST. GEORGE — Rick Erickson was in Orem on Monday night when he got the call saying that he’d been appointed to the St. George City Council – via coin toss.

Deputy Washington County Attorney M. Rick Erickson gives an impassioned speech to the city council at City Hall in St. George, Utah, Feb. 8, 2021 | Photo by David Dudley, St. George News

Erickson was still in Orem on Tuesday afternoon when he was informed by the City Clerk’s Office that there were procedural errors that would require the City Council to vote again. So he returned to City Hall to attend the special meeting to revisit the process and to correct the procedural errors, Wednesday at 3 p.m.

“I really wish it didn’t come to this,” Erickson told St. George News. “But if the statute says it must be done that way, I’ll respect their decision, whatever it may be.”

The first round of Wednesday’s voting tallied three votes for Natalie Larsen and only one for Erickson. He was out.

The next round saw Larsen face off with Vardell Curtis. Curtis won that round, and the vacant council seat, three votes to one.

Procedural errors

City Manager Adam Lenhard began Wednesday’s meeting by reading a brief statement about how he thought the procedural errors happened and then suggested the council rewind to Monday afternoon.

“The language in the statute’s incredibly vague,” Lenhard told St. George News. “That led to a number of issues. The only right thing to do, I think, was to roll back the process to the point where we were still correct.”

The St. George City Council’s new member, Vardell Curtis, at the conclusion of a special meeting at City Hall in St. George, Utah, Feb. 10, 2021 | Photo by David Dudley, St. George News

That would take the process back to the first of Monday’s two votes. Curtis got two of the four votes, while Larsen and Erickson received one each. This is where the first procedural error was made.

“Mayor Randall has the right, by statute, to break a tie,” Lenhard said. “We’re only supposed to resort to the coin toss if there’s two candidates.”

Instead, the first toss was made to decide whether it would be Larsen or Erickson who would advance to the next round to face Curtis. Larsen called it – and lost.

During the next round of voting, Erickson and Curtis earned two votes each. Again, the mayor was supposed to be the deciding vote. Instead, Lenhard flipped the coin again.

The second coin toss went Erickson’s way too, so he was appointed to the City Council. But Lenhard said the process didn’t feel quite right.

“Monday evening, we already had questions,” he said. “Tuesday, we pored over the statutes to see whether we correctly followed procedure. And, it turns out, we had not.”

The corrections

Erickson, Larsen and Curtis were all present at Wednesday’s meeting. Though there was some tension in the air, Erickson had called Curtis the previous night.

“He said, ‘Whatever happens, you’ve got my support,'” Curtis said. “That says a lot about his character.”

Curtis also said that the only thing worse than a mistake is to not fix it, which captured Lenhard’s feelings exactly.

“It’s regrettable we had to do this this way,” said Lenhard. “But we had to do the right thing. We can’t ignore procedural errors. Anything less would be an insult to the community.”

To ignore them, Lenhard said, compromises the integrity of St. George’s elections and democracy. With all the public discussion around electoral integrity, Lenhard said it’s especially important to make sure they get the process right before moving forward.

“If the process doesn’t follow the law, it’s not valid,” Lenhard said. “That means that all three candidates weren’t afforded a fair process.”

Still, the corrections were not without their own attendant challenges. Erickson had, after all, been preparing since Monday evening to join the council.

“I was told I could invite my family and friends to the swearing in ceremony,” Erickson said. “Now I’m handing out mea culpas and retracting invitations.”

When asked if he’d run for council this fall, Erickson paused.

“This has been a very discouraging process,” he said. “There definitely needs to be a change at the state level so this doesn’t happen to anybody else.”

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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