Letter to the Editor: Error Made In Charter Amendment Question #1

CRC-1 Member

There is a flaw in Charter Amendment Question number one. One of the several changes packaged into this question excepts people who serve as poll workers (who are paid a small fee by the county) from the rule prohibiting county employees from serving as voting members on boards, commissions and ad hoc committees. If passed, the charter would now read: “Except for poll workers, who may serve as regular voting members of standing boards or commissions or ad hoc advisory committees, County employees serving on any standing board of commission of ad hoc advisory committee of the Council shall serve as non-voting members of such bodies.”

Here’s the problem. A full-time county employee could become a poll worker if he or she choose to. According to the Election Handbook of the State of New Mexico, only law enforcement personnel (along with candidates and their relatives) are prohibited from serving as poll workers. If a full-time county employee were to become a poll worker then, according to the new charter language, the exception would apply and he or she could become a voting member of a board, commission or ad hoc committee. This is not what was intended by the authors of the proposed change. What is missing in the exception is a restriction to those who are employed by the county ONLY as poll workers.

As a practical matter, this error is probably not a major problem.  All members of boards, commissions, and standing committees must be approved by the County Council and they could choose not to approve a county employee. However, this could get awkward when the only applicant for a position is a full-time county employee who serves as a poll worker.

The real lesson here is that a group of intelligent, dedicated citizens, along with the county attorney, seven county councillors and undoubtedly others all missed this mistake. Presumably they all knew what they intended with this change and read exactly that into what was written. But we vote on the actual words and therefore they need to truly and accurately mean what is intended to avoid unintended consequences.

So, the truly responsible thing to do is to be very, very careful before voting yes on this or any other charter question. There could be other flaws lurking within, especially in large complex changes like the ones we are considering that include rewrites of sections to “improve clarity”. If in doubt, vote it out.