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Last month, the Los Alamos Governmental Review Initiative (LAGRI), a nonprofit organization committed to public participation in local government (www.lagri.org), submitted over 2,000 signatures on two charter amendment petitions, exceeding the numbers required for an election. On Jan. 5, the Los Alamos County Council certified the signatures but, without explanation, delayed scheduling the proposed Apr. 7 mail-in election until a special meeting Jan. 23.
Just a little over two days before that meeting, the council released arguments by the county attorney who alleged that the petitions contained illegal elements, such as “logrolling,” and items that were contrary to overriding state or federal law. Logrolling “joins two or more independent measures to ensure that voters who support any one of the measures will be coerced into voting for the entire package in order to secure passage of the individual measure they favor.” (199 N.M. 12, 888 P.2d 458)
Based on the arguments of illegality, the county council rejected the scheduling of an election, and rerouted the petitions to its own Charter Review Committee for review and recommendation.
Why is logrolling acceptable when New Mexico (which routinely bundles libraries, senior centers, etc. into one ballot question) or Los Alamos (which added the Bypass Road to the Trinity Site project in Ordinance 529) bundles clearly independent measures?
Why did the county attorney’s determination of “unacceptable” logrolling get transformed into “illegal?”
Why were LAGRI’s petitions, one which coupled interdependent (i.e., not logrolled) elements of capital projects and changes in use of public lands, and the other, which coupled interdependent elements of equal funding of both sides of petition and ballot issues, deemed to be unrelated and therefore logrolled?
Why were claims made that, for example, the wording in one petition would have allowed citizens to violate the rights of private property owners, when such claims would have been unconstitutional?
Even if some wording in the petition could be twisted to imply that, the separability clause in our charter would have protected both the charter and the citizenry, while maintaining the other provisions of the charter and the balance of these two ballot initiatives.
Why was the council acting in the capacity of judge as to the legality of these petitions? Why weren’t the council’s quasi-judicial procedures followed? Since it was acting in a judicial role, why didn’t the whole council recuse themselves for conflict of interest and inability to maintain even the appearance of partiality? Why was LAGRI (the defendant) not allowed time to prepare and present their case? Why were members of the audience allowed to comment? Why were audience members allowed to stray beyond the pertinent legal questions to what they thought of the content, most of which were prejudicial to the defendant’s case?
Why, when the county clerk sent the draft petitions to the county attorney for review for form, did the attorney not bring legal questions to LAGRI’s attention? Why did the council not bring questions of illegality to LAGRI six months ago?
Why did the council and attorney decide to waive their attorney client privilege so that the county attorney’s opinion could be made public, but not to LAGRI? Did the council want to suppress the election?
Why did the council decide to send the petitions to its own Charter Review Committee where it will be “considered” for months or a year, where the committee is free to alter its contents and even decide not to recommend them to council? And, if recommended, the council still can decide it doesn’t want to put them on the ballot?
Why didn’t the council simply decide to cooperate and assist in the charter established process by having its attorney help LAGRI split the alleged logrolled measures into separate ballot questions, alter language to conform with state and federal statutes and schedule the April 7 election?
On a more fundamental level, why does the County of Los Alamos have a government in which the executive, legislative and judicial powers are all concentrated in just one group and there are no checks and balances?
Wikipedia’s entry under “Democracy explains if any democracy is not carefully legislated to avoid an uneven distribution of political power with balances, such as the separation of powers, then a branch of the system of rule could accumulate power and become harmful to the democracy itself.” Does any reader know of another single-body form of local government in this country, or in any other democracy?
Richard (Skip) Dunn is a 36-year resident of White Rock. He is a retired Los Alamos Public Schools administrator whose doctoral studies focused on administration and policy analysis. In 2006, as a candidate for county council, he wrote of the absence of checks and balances in Los Alamos. He is a member of LAGRI; however the opinions expressed here are his own.