Edgewood should listen to its citizens

More than two years ago, Leota Harriman, editor of this newspaper, wrote an editorial entitled “Edgewood, Lead By Example.” Ms. Harriman was motivated to write that piece after a particularly acrimonious Town Council meeting wherein Councilor Sherry Abraham was verbally attacked and humiliated, mostly by Councilor John Abrams, for her quest to gain more information about Wastewater Treatment Plant permit violations that threatened to result in daily fines of thousands of dollars against the Town. In her editorial, Ms. Harriman made several helpful suggestions (abbreviated here):

“The town could implement a few simple changes that would make things better immediately:

  • Double the public comment time to 4 minutes, and allow people to defer time to each other, as is customary…
  • Create a clear workflow for getting items onto the town agenda, and make that information public. Then use it…
  • Post every single public document that you can on your website…
  • Remember that we are neighbors…”

Unfortunately, Ms. Harriman’s suggestions have not been heeded and two weeks ago the acrimony reached new heights. Once more working in the best interest of the town and her constituents by trying to bring forward valuable information, Councilor Abraham was instead ordered out of the chamber by Councilor Abrams (now acting mayor). When she refused, he ordered the Police Chief to escort her out. The acting mayor had no valid authority, he was not following any legal or parliamentary procedure, yet based on his personal opinion he evicted her from the meeting and the subsequent closed session where the governing body was to discuss the potential sale of a public asset, the former Town Hall building.

Abrams, as acting mayor, had all but accepted a lower offer on behalf of the Town without the required approval of the governing body. He accused Councilor Abraham of having “ex parte communication” and a conflict of interest in the matter and refused to allow her to explain exactly how the information had come to her and also to explain she had forwarded all of her information to the Town Clerk and each member of the governing body prior to the meeting. Seeing the higher offer was not on the agenda, Ms. Abraham rightfully tried to bring the information to the governing body for proper consideration.

Dear readers, please return to the first paragraph and re-read Ms. Harriman’s wise and well thought out words. Ms. Harriman encouraged more government transparency, suggesting that public commentary be welcomed and given a more generous amount of time. Instead, the General Public Comment and Matters from Councilors have both been excised from the Agendas of December 23, 2020 and January 13, 2021, and extremely narrowed to a single topic for the January 27 Council meeting. Mayor Pro tem Abrams apparently considers the opinions of both citizens and other councilors an unnecessary annoyance.

How can the town function in the best interest of its citizens if elected officials cannot hear from the public and if those same elected officials are barred from speaking on behalf of the public? It’s not just absurd, it’s un-American. Our democratic republic functions precisely because of public input and involvement. It is totalitarian government that refuses public input and demands subservience to a single dictator or ideology. That sort of disregard for citizens is not what our country or our town were founded on. These are serious matters that require the community to act, to speak out, and to elect commissioners who not only work for and respect the citizens of Edgewood, but will uphold and follow Town ordinances and State and Federal laws.

Respectfully submitted,

Martha Eden, Edgewood

 

On getting items onto the agenda if the mayor doesn’t want them there

Edgewood Town Councilors Audrey Jaramillo and Sherry Abraham have begun styling themselves as Commissioners in anticipation of the change in the town’s form of government. Nevertheless, our Mayor-Council charter remains in place until a new town government is sworn in. Both the New Mexico Attorney General and the Secretary of State have made it clear that the result of last summer’s referendum, while valid, will become effective after elections in November of this year, and upon the swearing in of those elected sometime in January of 2022.

Recent town council meetings have featured acrimonious discussions about how individual members of the governing body can go about placing items on the agenda. It’s not a complicated process: in a Mayor-Council government the mayor (or currently the mayor pro tem) has nominal control over agendas. While an individual councilor may request that the mayor place an item on an upcoming agenda, and a mayor has the option to honor such requests, there is nothing which requires doing so. However, mayors do not hold absolute control. If three councilors inform the mayor that they wish to see an item placed on the agenda, then at that point the mayor is obliged to do so. I can recall two instances where the council overruled a mayor.

When former Councilor Chuck Ring informed the mayor at the time (the late Howard Calkins) that he wanted to begin the process of forming a police department, Calkins declined several requests to put it on the agenda. However, after bringing up the matter during a series of meetings, providing information, and answering numerous questions put to him by the other councilors, Ring was able to convince both former Councilors Glenn Felton and Brad Hill to add their names to the request. Calkins acquiesced and eventually the council voted 3-1 to move ahead. The rest is history, and today the Edgewood Police Department is a reality.

Several years later, Councilor John Abrams asked former Mayor Bob Stearley for agenda items to begin a process designed to have the town install a wind turbine to help help power the wastewater plant, and also to modify the town’s zoning ordinance to allow for the installation of small wind-powered energy systems. Stearley was not convinced that the ideas had merit, and quite a few spirited discussions ensued. Not all of Abrams’ colleagues on the council were sold on the ideas at first, so Abrams set out to persuade them. Eventually the council voted 4-0 to move ahead with both suggestions over Stearley’s objections. Today, a wind turbine provides a significant portion of the power needed to operate the system. The zoning ordinance now allows for the construction of small systems.

Both Ring and Abrams have made repeated efforts to show Jaramillo and Abraham how to become effective members of town government. Unfortunately, their advice has been ignored. Councilors John Abrams and Linda Holle could and should do more to explain to the public the reasons for their votes, because most people are not aware of the legal context which constrains (or ought to constrain) the actions of public officials. Councilors Audrey Jaramillo and Sherry Abraham need to become team players and stop going outside the system. If they expect to be taken seriously, they also need to acknowledge that they cannot properly claim the title of Commissioner unless and until they are elected and sworn into that office. I hope that their pronouncements to the contrary are nothing more than a political strategy attempting to “meme reality” into existence for some reason. If they genuinely believe what they are saying, then we’ve got a serious problem.

Janelle Turner, Edgewood