January 23

Coin toss decides open Fairfield council seat

Jim Murray is seated after a coin toss breaks a deadlock between him and former chairwoman Tracey Stevens.

By Matt Hongoltz-Hetling mhhetling@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

FAIRFIELD — When the town council chairman flipped a quarter during a council meeting Wednesday night, the coin bounced once, twice and then landed on heads.

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That’s how Jim Murray was seated on the town council.

“He just tossed it, and up it went,” Murray said the morning after the coin toss. “I couldn’t believe what I was seeing was actually happening.”

The council resorted to the unusual method of a coin toss when it became clear that the four seated members were deadlocked in a 2-2 tie to fill the council’s fifth seat.

The toss went against candidate Tracey Stevens, who served as the council’s chairwoman last year and who is a member of the town’s budget committee. She said the process was “kind of odd,” but she will abide by it.

“They did what they thought was the best and most fair thing to do,” Stevens said. “I totally respect any decision that they made.”

Murray, who is an adviser at the Maine Academy of Natural Sciences on the Good Will-Hinckley campus, said his top priority while on the council continues to be preventing any tax increases in the town.

The seat was vacated by Richard Letourneau, who beat Murray in an election to a three-year term on the council in November.

Letourneau resigned early this month, just when his term was about to begin.

Murray will serve for one year. An election will be held in November for the remaining two years on the term.

Once seated, Murray and the rest of the council members unanimously chose Andy Carlton, assistant principal at Oak Hill High School in Wales, as representative for the School Administrative District 49 board of directors.

Toss caps voting system

Before resorting to the coin toss, the council established special rules for the appointment.

Because there were three candidates — Murray, Stevens and former council member Bill Bois — and four voting members, members said it was unlikely a single candidate would receive a majority of votes.

So they unanimously passed a measure that the appointment would be made by an unusual process — first, a weighted vote system; then, if needed, a coin toss to break the tie.

The system was suggested by council member Aaron Rowden, who also proposed some added security measures to reduce the chances of cheating. Chairman Robert Sezak would assign heads and tails designations to the two candidates and toss the coin himself. In addition, Rowden stipulated that the coin must make at least one full revolution in the air in order for the toss to be official.

Rather than just casting a single vote, the council members all wrote down their first, second and third choices. Their ranked votes were tallied with a weighted system, where second-place choices counted more heavily than third place.

“In reviewing the ranked ballots, it was determined that Mr. Bois had received the least support of the three candidates, and his name was removed,” Town Manager Josh Reny said. “The second ballot resulted in a 2-2 tie for Murray and Stevens.”

Murray said Sezak assigned heads to Murray because his name came first alphabetically. Murray said he was pleased with the choice, because he had heard that heads comes up slightly more often than tails.

“I thought, I have an advantage,” he said. “When Robert tosses the coin, it bounced on the table, bounced again and landed in some paper. There was dead silence for about five seconds.”

Finally, Murray said, someone called out the result — heads.

By previous agreement, the four council members then voted unanimously to appoint Murray.

Other luck-based elections

(Continued on page 2)

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