A petition to the town of Edgewood calls for an election on changing the town to a commission-manager style government—a move that would scrap the entire governing body if approved by voters.
A special meeting will be held April 9 at 2 p.m. in Edgewood to decide whether to put that question to voters in a special election or regular election.
The meeting will be livestreamed by The Independent newspaper on its Facebook page, facebook.com/news.ind.llc.
The meeting is the result of a petition for a ballot initiative submitted to the town to change the form of government for the town of Edgewood to the commission-manager form of government.
Edgewood’s clerk-treasurer Juan Torres said a petition was brought to him initially by Adrian Terry to verify its format; the signed petitions were submitted to the town by Jerry Powers.
Both men are part of a group called CORE, for Citizens for an Open and Responsible Edgewood.
That group filed a lawsuit Feb. 1 against Edgewood’s governing body, seeking to remove Edgewood mayor John Bassett from office.
State law calls for a petition with verified signatures from no less than 15% of the number of people who voted for the office of mayor in the last regular municipal election.
The last mayoral election in Edgewood pitted incumbent Brad Hill against Bassett, who won the election with 340 votes to Hill’s 173, meaning the petition needed at least 77 verified signatures.
The town’s petition certification says Edgewood received a petition with 179 signatures. After cross-checking with the official voter registration list from Santa Fe County, 53 signatures were purged from the petition, bringing the total number of valid signatures to 126.
Among signatures on the petition are two members of the town council, Sherry Abraham and Audrey Jaramillo.
The April 9 meeting will hear public comment using a GoTO Meeting phone number and access code. Dial 1-646-749-3112 to listen in and participate. The access code is 173-680-757#.
The agenda offers two action items: one that would add the question to the Nov. 3 general election, and the other that would call for a special election with a ballot question on whether the Edgewood should reorganize as a commission-manager form of government.
According to a letter to the governing body from Edgewood’s attorney William Zarr, a special election could only be held in July or August under state law; when juxtaposed with election deadlines and other legal requirements, there is about a two-week window in August for a special election.
Additionally, state law says that all special elections are conducted by absentee ballot; the cost would be borne by the town, Zarr wrote.
If the measure were to be approved by voters, the town would be divided into five commission districts, as “compact in area and equal in population, as nearly as possible,” according to the state statute.
Zarr’s letter says that if the measure were to pass the voters, the initial election of five commissioners would take place at the next regular election, because “special elections are restricted to ballot questions and not for the purposes of electing persons to office.”
That means that if the ballot question were on the Nov. 3 ballot, and passed, an election of commissioners would take place Nov. 2, 2021, Zarr wrote.
If it were to appear in a special election in August, that initial election of commissioners might not be possible Nov. 3, 2020 under the Local Election Act, Zarr wrote.
In summary, Zarr wrote that if the town opts for a special election, “While the initial election of commissioners can theoretically be held at the November 3, 2020 general election, the Governing Body must have sufficient time to act and the Town must comply with all deadlines which are uncertain in this case.”
Of the five commissioners so elected, three would serve until the next regular election, while the other two would serve until the succeeding election to stagger the terms.
The statute says that at the first meeting of the new commission, or as soon as practical, the commissioners “shall select one of their number as mayor to act for two years.”
That mayor would preside at all meetings of the commission “and perform other duties, consistent with his office, as imposed by the commission,” the statute says. That mayor would have all the powers and duties of a commissioner, including the right to vote on all questions.
“He is the official head of the municipality for all ceremonial purposes, for the purpose of civil process and for military purposes,” the statute says.
The manager would be an employee of the town, and act as the chief administrative officer, the statute says. “The manager shall be appointed solely on the basis of administrative qualifications” and would not have to reside in the town. The manager’s salary would be set by the commission.
Commissioners once elected would vote on whether and how much they are paid.
Currently, the mayor and municipal judge have salaries of $12,000 a year, and each councilor’s salary is $4,800 a year, Torres said.
There are 106 municipalities in New Mexico, with about 10 of them organized as the commission-manager form of government, according to Randy Van Vleck, attorney for the N.M. Municipal League.
The chief difference, he said, is a “professional city manager” for personnel issues, adding, “That and the fact the mayor is not directly elected by the people—the commissioners themselves select a mayor.”
The petition and petition certification are on the town’s website, edgewood-nm.gov, under Election Information.
Leota started working for The Independent in 2006, working her way up through the ranks. An employee buyout in 2010 led to her ownership of the newspaper. Leota has served on the board of the N.M. Press Association, and is currently its First Vice President. She is passionate about health and wellness, especially mental health, and loves making art. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.