Secret ballot leaves confusion in wake of Dover City Council election

DOVER — Cecil Wilson, former chairman of Dover’s Human Relations Commission, was left with several questions after City Solicitor Nicholas H. Rodriguez announced that William “Bill” Hare had won the election for city council president against Roy Sudler Jr. Monday night, after no specifics of the vote were revealed.

Cecil Wilson

Mr. Rodriguez called each member of Dover’s council during a recess period and tallied each vote. A final tally was not provided.

It turns out that this has been the city of Dover’s routine procedure for electing a council president for around a decade.

“The procedure for this year’s election was intended to be anonymous, so the only person with the results is Mr. Rodriguez,” said Traci McDowell, Dover’s city clerk. “It has been council’s practice for probably the last 10 years to vote by secret ballot. This year was a little different due to COVID-19.”

Mr. Rodriguez said the virtual meeting led to extraordinary circumstances, including the individual phone calls to tally the votes, but that the election was framed in the same way it had been over recent years.

“It’s a secret ballot because the councilmen have to work with each other throughout the year and it’s much better and more comfortable for the councilmen to do this type of election anonymously,” he said.

Emails sent by City Councilmen Fred Neil and David Anderson to Mr. Wilson also cleared up some of the confusion, but Mr. Wilson said he was still left with several unanswered questions.

In a virtual meeting open to the public on May 4, Councilman Tim Slavin noted that when council held the election for president in live sessions, the breakdown of the voting was not disclosed.

“The theory behind that is a breakdown of the votes could serve to divide the council into cliques, which could hurt the cohesiveness of the council working together to best serve the public,” Councilman Neil wrote to Mr. Wilson. “His motion to have the city solicitor call each member for their vote was the only way a secret ballot could be conducted.

“His announcing just the winner preserved the manner in which previous elections were held. The record will show this motion was voted on unanimously on May 4th.”

Mr. Neil added, “I believe the candidate we elected (Councilman Hare) not only has the time but has a history with the city and city government that makes him most qualified.”

William Hare

Councilman Anderson also responded to Mr. Wilson via email and backed council’s decision in regard to procedure, particularly since the vote was conducted virtually in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

“I know that sound voting is very important to you as it should be to all of us,” Councilman Anderson responded to Mr. Wilson. “We have had different ways to vote for council president. One was a roll call on resolution. I advocated a secret ballot when I came on council. I believe that was done on occasion before, but now it is an established tradition.

“Councilman Slavin added a wrinkle where the ballots are counted until one person reaches five votes and the remainder are destroyed. The secret ballot seems to have lessened longer-term division and broadened leadership selection in committee chairs. When you only have nine people (voting), it matters.

“Some of us had ideas, but the proposal by Councilman Slavin seemed the easiest way and all of us were comfortable with the proposal, including both candidates. I would point out that if either candidate doubted the vote, a revote could have been requested by roll call so a check did exist.”

Mr. Wilson still was not satisfied because he said that the city still failed to answer his questions completely.

“They’re concerned more about dividing the council than they are about voting and constituents’ concerns and the lack of transparency,” he said. “The questions I asked, I’m not aware of what the council voted for prior to this virtual meeting and I’m sitting back as a constituent going, ‘What’s going on?’

Roy Sudler

“The city clerk has always handled the voting and the elections, and I didn’t understand why they used the city solicitor. Let’s say there was an appeal within the community that this was done secretly or illegally or whatever the lawsuit would mention – if there was one – then that would go to the city solicitor. He would have to recuse himself from the matter.”

Mr. Hare was previously elected to serve as Dover City Council President/Vice-Mayor at the annual meeting last May. Councilman Tanner Polce nominated him to the council president position that had been held by Councilman Slavin, who resigned from the position. Nobody else was nominated and the motion to appoint Mr. Hare to president/vice-mayor carried. He has lived in Dover for more than 40 years.

After Mr. Rodriguez revealed the outcome on Monday night, Councilman Sudler, who was nominated for council president by Councilman Slavin, offered his congratulations to Council President Hare.

“I would like to thank all of my council colleagues for their professionalism during this council president election process and the questions asked that stimulated critical thinking as a leader of this great city of Dover,” Mr. Sudler said. “Congratulations Council President Hare. I look forward to working with you under your leadership position as council president.”