Letter to the Editor: What Happens When Mike Grabs George by the Ego?

My friend Mike grabbed me by the ego, put me hard up against reality, and forced me to face my shortcomings.

Conceptually, the dialogue went something like this: “George,” he said, “you guys look like you’re hiding something. You can’t just say that signing those petitions will cost people their right to vote on the Charter Amendments. You have to explain it.” 

“But Mike,” I wailed, “this is a complicated issue. I can’t put all that information in a $68 dollar ad or a leditter. People have to do some of their own research.” 

“George,” he replied, twisting my rationality, “don’t tell me your problems. You want them to sign the petitions? Many will, if you and your co-religionists don’t find a way.”

Only by feigning humility was I able to escape his clutches: here’s my best effort. The reader still has to do some work. Summaries of, and links to, the ordinances in question can be found at http://legistar.losalamosnm.us/Legislation.aspx, enter search term “charter,” year 2012, and “ordinance,” and you will get the four items acted on by council on May 9, 2012. 

These are summaries of the ordinances that also will link you to the actual ordinances considered that night. All 21 ordinances (598 through 618) were passed, but
ordinances 599 and 606 were passed in the “alternative 2” versions. 

The report of the Charter Review Committee (CRC) is available at http://www.losalamosnm.us/projects/council/Pages/CRC.aspx.

The CRC over the course of more than two years of public hearings, research, negotiation, and drafting made groups of recommendations for changes to the Charter in a number of areas. Some of those changes have already been adopted, and some are waiting in the wings. 

The group of immediate interest is those that change the direct democracy provisions of our charter that allow for citizen direct input through elections forced by citizen petitions: the charter provisions relating to Initiative, Referendum, Recall, and the amendment of the charter by initiative.

Because the current structure of the charter both commingles and disperses various provisions relating to each of the areas mentioned (for example, provisions relating to referendum can be found in present articles 703, 704, and 907.4; and present article 704 contains provisions relating to referendum, recall, and initiative), the legal analysis resulted in a series of ordinances repealing existing provisions and organizing the necessary parts of proposed revisions into adjacent sub-sections.

The re-organization also had to take into account the possibility that the voters would not adopt all the proposed changes, so the question on each topic had to be self-contained: or example, the referendum section should not be dependent on language that resides only in another proposed section on initiative that was not passed by the voters. 

To accomplish this intricate rewrite the council passed 21 ordinances at the meeting on May 9 last: 7 related to initiative, 7 related to referendum, 2 related to recall, and 5
related to charter changes by initiative.

To wrap these ordinances into 4 independent and self-contained questions as described above, the Council is scheduled to pass 4 election resolutions at a
meeting later this month.

What LAGRI has done is to take out referendum petitions against 6 key ordinances. 

If successful, the petitions would require the council either to rescind those ordinances, thereby destroying the entire set of 21 because of their interrelatedness and also ending any chance of voting on them or fixing the charter in a reasonable time. 

Alternatively, they could call an election on such of the six ordinances as are successfully petitioned:  thus we would have an election on whether to have an election.

Both results are absurd: why not just go to election and let the people decide, which LAGRI claims to be their mission?

Finally, dedicated to opposing the county at every turn, LAGRI is reported to be arguing that the bundling of 21 ordinances into 4 questions is “logrolling.” 

If true, they don’t understand the concept of logrolling – this ain’t it.
“Logrolling” describes the placement of two unrelated issues in the same ballot question, typically to encourage voters supporting a popular issue to vote for an unpopular one. 

In the case of Chavez v. Vigil-Giron, the New Mexico Supreme Court interprets the anti-logrolling provision in the New Mexico Constitution, Art. XIX Section 1. 

In finding that the ballot question at issue in that case was not logrolling, the court decided that it may be necessary to combine several changes into one question when they are “incidental to and necessarily connected with the object intended,” and that the legislature’s decision that it is necessary should be given deference by the court. 

The Chavez case is closely analogous to the situation here, with “council” playing the part of  “legislature.”

A Missouri case (Hart v. Board of Education) sets forth widely accepted criteria for evaluating ballot questions: “If it can be said that the proposed improvements are not naturally related or connected, then it is clear that separate submissions are required; if on the other hand the several parts of the project are plainly so related that, united, they form in fact but one rounded whole, it is equally clear that they may be grouped together and submitted as one proposition.”

The Hart case dealt with multiple bond questions, but the test is frequently cited in connection with other types of question including municipal charter amendments.

To any reasonable person it should be clear from my description above of the need to bundle the related ordinances to accomplish the intended object of each question without creating contradictory areas in the charter, that the various parts are “incidental to and necessarily connected with the object intended,” (Chavez) and they are “so related that, united, they form in fact one rounded whole” (Hart.)

The logrolling argument is specious and should be disregarded.

While I was preparing this article I came across a 1937 New Mexico case, Hutcheson v. Gonzales, in which the Supreme Court refused to allow a referendum election to block an election on constitutional amendments. 

That case seems to have turned on the fact that no provision was made for a referendum to interfere with the administrative aspects of the amendment process. 

It could well apply here, I will be looking at it further.

I did my best to roll a complicated subject into a coherent summary. If I failed, blame me. If you got it, thank Mike. Please don’t sign those
petitions.

-George Chandler, Los Alamos

 

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