Committee passes bill to manage city council vacancies
by Logan Finney, Idaho Reports
The House Local Government Committee approved a bill Wednesday that clarifies the process to fill vacancies on a city council that has lost its quorum and cannot conduct business.
Rep. Rick Cheatum, R-Pocatello, is the Pocatello City Council President and spoke from experience.
“This is simply a way to try and ensure continuity of government in extreme circumstances,” Cheatum said.
Under current Idaho law, city council vacancies are filled by a nomination from the mayor and approval from the council. The bill would amend that to specify that if the mayor seat is also vacant, the council president or most senior member of the council would make the nomination. It also specifies that if the council is left without a quorum, that ranking official will make a nomination to the governor.
Three members of Pocatello’s six-member council resigned in August 2022, leaving the body without a quorum and unable to do business. Cheatum described the confusion and difficulty of the situation.
“We were facing lawsuits from fuel vendors. We could no longer put fuel in fire trucks and police cars, because we couldn’t pay the bills,” Cheatum said. “We didn’t have a council to authorize that payment.”
Gov. Brad Little eventually appointed a single member to the city council to re-establish a quorum. The mayor was then able to nominate replacements and the functioning council could accept them.
“This [being in law] would have sped up Pocatello’s council quorum restoration by several days,” Cheatum said.
Committee chairwoman Rep. Barbara Ehardt, R-Idaho Falls, said the bill has been in the works since early in the legislative session and has received lots of input. She previously served on the Idaho Falls city council.
“This is a true effort to solve a true problem, with the least amount of input from the governor,” Ehardt said.
The committee unanimously sent the bill to the House floor with a do-pass recommendation.
Logan Finney | Associate Producer
Logan Finney is a North Idaho native with a passion for media production and boring government meetings. He grew up skiing, hunting and hiking in the mountains of Bonner County and has maintained a lifelong interest in the state’s geography, history and politics. Logan joined the Idaho Reports team in 2020 as a legislative session intern and stayed to cover the COVID-19 pandemic. He was hired as an associate producer in 2021 and they haven’t been able to get rid of him since.