In Anaheim, a yes vote was always a yes and a no vote was always a no , but an abstention--which is no vote at all--was sometimes a yes .
Confused? So was the City Council.
A 1979 resolution that counted abstentions as yes votes when needed to break a tie caused occasional confusion and recently "made the council not look too bright," Mayor Don Roth said.
The rule simply "muddies the waters," Councilman Ben Bay said. So on Tuesday, the council rescinded it.
The latest confusion arose two weeks ago when the council inadvertently made an appointment to the public utilities board because abstentions counted as yes votes. Upon realizing what had happened, those who had abstained asked for a new vote, which changed the outcome to 3 to 2 against the nominee.
Image of 'Bad Government'
Another recent vote, which presented an image of "bad government," Roth said, involved the selection of mayor pro tem.
Last November, the council was surprised when Irv Pickler became mayor pro tem on a 2-1 vote. During the selection, Roth voted for Pickler, who voted for himself. Bay voted against Pickler, and Councilman J. Llewellyn Overholt Jr. walked out of the room saying he preferred to miss what one colleague called "a circus." Councilwoman Miriam Kaywood, who was running for the position herself, abstained.
With a 2-1 vote, which represented a majority of those voting, Pickler was chosen mayor pro tem--much to the surprise of the council members, who didn't think two votes were enough votes to elect him.
On Tuesday, the council also considered requiring at least three affirmative votes for the approval of any motion or nomination. But council members rejected the idea, saying it would be too restrictive should even one council member be absent.
As for the abstentions rule, Bob C. Dunek, executive director of the League of California Cities, Orange County division, said he knew of no other city with one like it.
City Atty. Jack White said it was adopted when a former city attorney learned of a court case that concluded that abstentions could be used as yes votes to break ties.
State Sen. John Seymour, who was Anaheim's mayor at the time, said the rule "was an aid to encourage members of the council who for whatever good reason didn't want to vote to, in fact, vote."
Bay said the rule "encourages a more devious strategy" and could be exploited. Pickler, the only councilman voting to keep the rule, said it encourages members "to vote rather than abstain."
"It's nice not to vote against people (during nominations), but we're here to vote," Pickler said. "If you get a 2-2 vote with an abstention, you don't have a vote."
Overholt responded, "That's one of the facts of life in a democracy."
Prior to their 4-1 vote rescinding the rule, Bay quipped, "I have a question to the city attorney: If I abstain on this vote, will it count as a yes vote?"
It could, White responded. But no one abstained.