By Robert Pelak
I recently participated in a League of Women Voters forum to express my opposition to the four proposed amendments to the Los Alamos County Charter that are on this year’s election ballot.
The Los Alamos Daily Post recently published a letter from Kyle Wheeler stating that, at that forum, I said that “the way the Charter Review Committee grouped the items makes sense.” I am writing this letter to explain that the above statement is
an exaggeration of my comments. I do not support the way these amendments have been grouped and I oppose the tremendous toughening of petition requirements that they impose.
After John Hopkins and I concluded our presentations of views on the charter amendments, we were asked by a member of the audience that if there would be any difficulties for the charter if some of the proposed amendments were adopted and others were not.
My answer was that I thought that there would not be a problem. After reviewing the audio recording of the forum available on the Los Alamos Daily Post I believe that it is this comment to which Ms. Wheeler is referring.
This is a far cry from saying that the current arrangement “makes sense.” In fact, I believe the opposite.
The four questions each involve a editorial rewrite of a section of the charter as well as a number of substantive changes to the respective process.
At the LWV forum and in response to the same question mentioned above, I stated that it would have been better to first present the rewrite with the original requirements to the voters; afterwards, the changes to the requirements could be presented.
This would have been a much fairer and just way to proceed. Instead, we are left with the current situation where the rewrite is used as a veil to mask the very significant changes in requirements for petitions for initiative, referendum, recall, and charter amendment.
Ms. Wheeler and others have argued in recent letters that the proposed requirement changes are not that significant. This also is incorrect. In the case of initiative, some feel that allowing 180 days for a petition is too long because it might interfere with progress.
If that truly was the most important issue, then along with cutting the signature collection period in half it would have been appropriate to reduce the required number of signatures in half as well.
This was emphatically not done – the proposed amendment would require collection of the same number of signatures in half of the time.
This is clearly an attempt to make completion of a petition so difficult that no one will attempt to do so. In the case of referendum, the proposed amendment would increase the required number of signatures by 50 percent.
This translates to an average increase of over 500 signatures. This is NOT a minor change but, in fact, a major one.
The current requirements for petitions are currently quite significant. Of the petitions begun in the last few years the majority have failed to gather enough signatures to be put on a ballot.
Furthermore, the current requirements ARE in line with those of other communities when Los Alamos’ much higher voter participation is included in the evaluation.
I urge Los Alamos voters to vote against these amendments becuase we deserve better than to be asked to sacrifice our rights to petition in exchange for improved charter language.
Editor’s Note: Robert Pelak is the President and a Director of the Los Alamos Governmental Review Initiative [LAGRI].