2012 Proposed County Charter Changes not Clearly Presented to Voters

By Ellen Walton

This is a call to Los Alamos voters to study charter change proposals well ahead of the upcoming general election.

These 21 changes are rolled together into four groups, and are not separated by subject matter, making a clear choice by voters impossible.

To date, one can only find the full text of these proposed changes (Ordinances 598-618) at the Los Alamos Governmental Review Initiative website, LAGRI.org, or at the Los Alamos County Clerk’s office.

Among other things, these changes will increase the signature requirements for citizen petitions, cut in half time periods for collecting signatures, and add new limitations on what citizens can petition for.

Unfortunately, in addition to the multiple subject problem, the first two ballot questions are worded incorrectly, generating voter confusion and a possible legal conundrum for the county.

Questions one and two, combining ordinances 598-604 and 605-611, state in part that the amendments will “… clarify subjects excluded from [the initiative petition] process.”

The amendment, among several other things will actually add exclusions to the initiative petition process, not merely clarify them.

The charter review process was less than ideal. The Charter Review Committee, appointed by Council and chaired by John Hopkins, did not publish regular approved minutes for the public to follow.

Meetings were attended by only a handful of non-member citizens. Later, at the public hearing, Council discussed the twenty-one ordinances in bundles of as many as seven at a time, thus promoting the practice of log-rolling.

Councilor Vincent Chiravalle stood alone against the process of logrolling these ordinances by voting no on all four bundles.

Public comment was eliminated after discussion of the first bundle, setting a sad precedent for future public hearings.

The bundling, as explained by Council Chair Sharon Stover, was to save space on the ballot. Ironically, one part of question number four prohibits the practice of log-rolling on ballots.

Council is presenting these substantive charter changes carelessly. I am confident, however, that Los Alamos voters, given the proper chance, will
prepare and know what they are voting on.

The county plans to send voters a summary of pros and cons, written by County staff and reviewed only by locals who may have a stake in the outcome of the election.

Again, voters need to seek out and read the full text of the changes at the County Clerk’s office, or www.LAGRI.org.

Remember: When in doubt, vote it out!

CSTsiteisloaded