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In the movie “The Wild One”, a teen malcontent played by Marlon Brando is asked, “Hey Johnny, what are you rebelling against?” and he replies “Whaddaya got?”
After two years of engaging the Los Alamos Government Review Initiative (LAGRI), first as a member of the Charter Review Committee and this past year as a county councilor, and having read their recent letters to the editor, the above scene comes to mind. No matter how many public meetings are scheduled, how many newspaper articles are published, how many documents are posted online, how long and detailed the discussion and public comment, there is a persistent view by this vocal minority that the county is trying to pull a “fast one” whenever we attempt to take a step forward. Apparently, they will only rest when nothing gets done to further our community, either in its infrastructure, or in its government functions.
When they logroll multiple, complex, and completely unrelated topics in a way that furthers their program of paralysis, they see no objection, yet at the next turn become self-appointed guardians of the purity of the ballot. When County-financed legal review of petitions would provide a free service to their organization, they demand such, later to extol the values of limited government. When it serves their purposes to pursue a public vote on an item, LAGRI will sponsor petitions in a “Power to the People” play; when it doesn’t serve their purposes, they attempt to block a public vote by sponsoring obstructive petitions.
We recently witnessed how the right to petition can been abused. A weird demand to rebuild our municipal building brick by brick led to wasteful legal expenditures by the county, where Los Alamos was forced to defend a non-sensical position in court. Citizens who politely signed this petition, when alerted of the implications of their signature, asked to be taken off in embarrassment, but no such mechanism is available after signing a petition. Once you sign it, you can’t take it back.
The latest effort is a multiple-petition drive to stop the work of the CRC and council ostensibly because council will merge multiple ordinances into a smaller number of ballots, a function that is completely legal and the norm for most complex ballot questions. They argue that they can force the council to present 21 separate ballots, something that they have no assurance and no indication that the council would do, and something that I would vigorously oppose for many reasons.
We held multiple sessions to review each ordinance presented, to assess interrelationships and worked hard to refine the CRC recommendations in a way that preserved and furthered the rights of all citizens, with some measures to assist petitioners such as LAGRI, and others to protect the rights of those who may be opposed. LAGRI has the latitude to advocate only for themselves, but the county council has a larger responsibility. A phone call to the county clerk would have informed them that our ballot-counting machines can only handle a single ballot sheet, which must include national, state, and local ballot questions presented in English and Spanish. Multitude of ballot questions for no valid reason would delay necessary reforms in our charter for years.
There are substantive changes to the charter that are being proposed to voters for their review, and I don’t have the space to describe or defend them. Citizens should review these changes carefully and make their decision accordingly, but I don’t see a reason why there should be a separate ballot question to approve that “Section 900.4” of the Charter should now be called “Section 900.5.” To avoid logrolling one need not subdivide ideas into atomic parts. Is the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of religion AND freedom of the press AND freedom of speech log-rolling? Of course not, the amendment protects freedom of thought in several linked ways. I wonder what the position of LAGRI would have been in the 1790s.
The community has not been presented with a coherent view of what LAGRI objects to, just vague accusations of logrolling, or unsupported objections to changes that hinder their efforts, not the overall fairness to all citizens who may or may not support their agenda. So, what are they really rebelling against? Whaddaya got?
David Izraelevitz is a member of the Los Alamos County Council.