Letter to the Editor: Reject Los Alamos Charter Amendments

By Robert A. Pelak
Los Alamos

Like Albuquerque and Santa Fe, the structure of the government of Los Alamos is defined by a charter that was adopted by its citizens.

Also, like Albuquerque and Santa Fe, this charter allows its citizen to directly participate in their government by means of petitions for initiatives (proposing new ordinances), referenda (rejection of newly passed ordinances) and recall (removing elected officials) as well as amendment of the charter.

If a petition gathers enough signatures within the allotted time period, then the subject of the petition is put to a vote of all citizens.

The procedures are defined in these cities’ charters. In Los Alamos, these processes are currently threatened by four proposals to amend the Los Alamos County Charter on this year’s ballot.

Each of the questions seeks to increase requirements to complete a petition by a large margin. This might be justified if Los Alamos had relatively low requirements for petitions.

If one looks only at the formulas used to determine the number of signatures for a petition, that might appear to be true.

However, in practice, Los Alamos’ requirements are comparable to or even higher than those of other New Mexico municipalities.

The formulas for numbers of petition signatures are based on the number of people who vote in previous elections. Los Alamos uses the general election while Santa Fe and Albuquerque use a separate municipal election.

Consequently, Los Alamos’ formula is based on elections which include presidential and gubernatorial races while Santa Fe’s and Albuquerque’s formulas do not.

The difference in voter turnout between Los Alamos’ general election and Santa Fe’s municipal election is typically a factor of three.

For Albuquerque it is even larger. When this is taken into account, petition requirements in Los Alamos are in actuality very rigorous and do not need to be increased.

The supporters of these proposed amendments have, to date, failed to recognize this important fact even though it was pointed out to them a full year ago.

Instead, the proponents have argued for the formula changes based solely on superficial resemblances to those of Santa Fe and Albuquerque.

Some proponents of the amendments have made the false argument that the time period to collect signatures on initiative petitions in Los Alamos is too long; they suggest that a petition in progress may interfere with normal governmental operation.

This is wrong because an initiative petition has no legal impact until all of the required signatures have been collected; the government may operate normally until that time.

Furthermore, if avoiding interference with governmental operation was the true goal of the proposed charter amendment, it would have included a proportionate reduction in the number of signatures to go with the shortened time period.

Instead, the proposed amendment cuts the time in half but keeps the number of signatures the same, effectively doubling the signature requirement from what it is now.

Most disappointing is that these major increases to petitioning requirements are hidden in an editorial overhaul of the charter language.

This overhaul is being sold to the public as necessary to improve charter clarity and consistency.

If that goal was so important, then why weren’t the clarity and consistency issues offered to voters separately from the increases to petitioning requirements?

Why are the substantiative changes being hidden? There can only be one answer — to slip the amendments past the voters who must approve them.

The overarching goal is to suppress initiatives, referenda, recalls and charter amendments by making them so difficult that no citizen will attempt one.

The Los Alamos County Council would become even more insulated and isolated from the people it is supposed to represent.

And since Los Alamos does not have a mayor, the power of the council will lack any check or balance.

I strongly urge the citizens of Los Alamos to reject this power grab and to vote no on all four amendments.



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