More strange goings-on in Lincoln County

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By The Staff


Syndicated Columnist

SANTA FE -- Recently this column mentioned that Lincoln County seems to have the strangest goings-on of any place in the state. In that column, we talked about their fandangos, which were quite the rage a century ago.

In fact, fandangos got to be so wild that the state Legislature banned them. To our knowledge, that law has never been repealed but the town of Lincoln, where many fandangos once occurred, has reinstated them, although on a somewhat tamer scale.

My other point was a measure that still was hanging fire on Gov. Bill Richardson's desk when that column was written. Since then, the governor signed the bill, exempting candidates for county office from having to collect nominating petition signatures like everyone else.

Up until now, the law said that county candidates had to file nominating petitions but because of some confusing language in old sections of the law, the secretary of state's office was not directing county clerks to require nominating petitions from county candidates.

So the nominating petitions never were required anywhere in the state until last June when a sometimes controversial candidate filed to run against the incumbent sheriff of Lincoln County.

When Steve Sederwall walked into the courthouse to file, he was told he must have petitions. With only hours remaining until the deadline, there was not time to collect sufficient signatures.

Sederwall didn't make the ballot so he sued claiming he had been told by several public officials that he didn't need signatures and that he had been treated unequally because his opponent wasn't required to have signatures.

The case quickly went to the state Supreme Court, which ruled that Sederwall could collect his signatures and get on the ballot. It didn't toss the incumbent sheriff off the ballot for not having signatures but did strongly suggest that something should be done about making the practice fit the law. Otherwise there would be a slew of lawsuits come the 2010 elections.

The message obviously was received loudly and clearly. The fix was introduced as Senate Bill 3 in this year's legislative session, passed both houses unanimously and was quickly signed by the governor.

Another bill Gov. Richardson was expected to sign quickly related to state employee double-dippers who retire, wait 90 days and then return to service with both retirement pay plus a regular paycheck. And they usually step back into their high-paying old job, thereby preventing other employees from the chance for advancement.

Rep. Lucky Varela tried to remedy this situation in the 2009 Legislature by introducing a measure limiting this practice but Gov. Bill Richardson vetoed it. He is appointing a task force to look into the situation and report back to an expected special legislative session in the fall.

Varela says he worked long and hard to fashion a reasonable compromise on this thorny issue but Gov. Richardson decided he wanted to tackle it himself. "Let's see what he comes up with," Varela says.

Varela understands the issue well. He is a retired state employee who has many friends on both sides of the issue. His solution was to require employees to wait a full year before returning to work and imposed a $30,000 yearly limit on earnings after which their pension is suspended.

Almost 2,200 retired state employees have taken advantage of the current law. Gov. Richardson says the majority of them are "extremely dedicated, skilled and caring employees who are dedicated to public service."

Richardson also says their combined salary and pension, which can total more than $150,000, are far from egregious. That sounds pretty steep to me but when compared to salaries of university administrators and Wall Street executives, I suppose it's chicken feed.

Richardson had said he would sign the bill and many are wondering what or who made him change his mind. Maybe he decided that returning the old pros just might make state government run more efficiently and effectively.