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The saga of the new municipal building continued Tuesday night with a majority of county council opposing Councilor Vincent Chiravalle’s attempts to introduce an ordinance to replicate the original building at its former location on Ashley Pond.
Chiravalle and Councilor Robert Gibson voted in favor of its passage.
With the recent lawsuit seeking an injunction to stop an all mail ballot election on the subject, which was filed by local attorneys Chris and George Chandler, Chiravalle said he was concerned that the election might not happen.
A hearing on that injunction is scheduled for Thursday afternoon in Santa Fe District Court.
Chiravalle said his ordinance would ensure that the election would take place, allowing the public to vote on the issue.
“I believe the council should allow its introduction,” he said.
Councilor Michael Wheeler objected to Chiravalle’s ordinance, saying council rules indicate that in order to re-open an issue that council already decided, the issue would need to be timely or council would have to vote to reconsider that issue.
Council approved the former Los Alamos Apartments site for construction of the new municipal building last January, so neither of the criteria applied, Wheeler said.
Chiravalle cited the county charter in saying that an ordinance can be introduced at any time. He added that his ordinance does not conflict with any council decision.
Councilor Nona Bowman asked County Attorney Randy Autio for direction. Autio said it is up to the council chair to decide whether the ordinance is appropriate or not.
Council Chair Mike Wismer said because council did not vote to reconsider the issue and since the ordinance did not fulfill the definition of timeliness, which was either the evening of the January council session or within a week thereafter, it couldn’t be included in the agenda.
“In organizations like this, the rule of finality is really important,” Autio said during a follow up interview this morning. “If you already voted on something that already decided an issue … it has to end. You can’t have that thing reconsidered again and again. You couldn’t function.”
Chiravalle challenged Wismer, saying he felt it was important to introduce the ordinance and hold a public hearing. It was the only practical way to ensure the special election would take place, he said.
Gibson agreed. He said that the charter supersedes the council’s rules. The motion failed two to five.
During the final minutes of Tuesday’s meeting, Chiravalle revisited the subject, requesting that ordinance 577, tabled during council’s Nov. 9 meeting, be discussed during the Dec. 7 council meeting. He amended that date to Dec. 21, which would be the day after mail-in ballots for the election would be due back to the county clerk.
Ordinance 577 called for the adoption of the citizen petition initiative to replicate the 1967 municipal building and to place it in its original location. That motion was also voted down, with Gibson and Chiravalle the only supporters.
Chiravalle went on to ask that ordinance 577 be placed on an upcoming agenda, the date for which would be left up to council’s discretion.
Chiravalle said he wanted to re-look at ordinance 577 because council had not reached a definite answer. He added that he wanted to see the special election occur to get a clear vision of how the public feels about the issue.
“It’s unfinished business and let’s finish it,” Chiravalle said.
Autio said ordinance 577 was tabled because when there is a citizen petition containing the required number of signatures, council must do one of two things – consider the language for the ordinance or hold an election.
Council approved a special election for Dec. 20. They cannot now approve the ordinance unless the election is enjoined. It’s either or, council can’t do both, Autio said.
Gibson said the election, as of right now, is expected to go forward and that a public hearing would allow voters to better understand the issue and give both sides a chance to speak. Educating the public, Gibson said, “is worth our time.”
Wheeler said he didn’t support returning to ordinance 577 because whatever council decides could be contrary to what voters pass. He agreed that educating the public about the issue would be great but said, “I don’t think the discussion of the ordinance is the right way to do that.”
Council Vice Chair Sharon Stover said that during its Oct. 26 meeting, council voted against providing education on the ballot issue.
“We had the opportunity to get information out and we did not do it,” she said.