Charter Review group seeking citizen input

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By Brenna Moore

The Charter Review Committee (CRC) is a group of county council-appointed citizens tasked to conduct a comprehensive review of the Los Alamos County Charter and provide options and recommendations to the council for potential changes.
In the past year, the committee completed a review of the charter for “consistency and clarification” improvements that resulted in 11 recommendations to council, followed by approval of all by the citizens at the recent election.  
The CRC also addressed a charge from council to review the issues associated with two petitions for amendments to the County Charter that addressed voting by citizens on large capital projects and on the petition process. We have done the first half of this and submitted a report to council on ways to enhance public involvement in the capital projects process. We are presently working on the part related to the petition process as well as other substantive issues.  
There are four active subcommittees of the CRC addressing the Charter.  
•Initiative and Referendum Subcommittee: The subcommittee’s focus is two-fold: 1) to develop recommendations on possible substantive changes to the Initiative, Referendum and Recall sections in the Charter and 2) to clean up confusing and inconsistent Charter language. The subcommittee began its deliberations by discussing the role of initiative, referendum and recall in the context of a government that is founded on principles of representative democracy.
The subcommittee members read and discussed public policy articles that discussed the origins of these processes as well as the merits and problems associated with their roles. In this context, the role of these processes is to provide a counter-measure for those circumstances in which the citizens feel that the governing body or members of the governing body act irresponsibly, without due attention to the best interests of the county’s citizens or without due respect for the clear will of the people. During this review, we looked at and compared the signature and time-line requirements of other New Mexico city charters. In addition, the subcommittee is considering whether a legal opinion should be required prior to petition circulation, as well as how such a requirement might be implemented.  
•Structure of Government Subcommittee: This subcommittee held a forum Dec. 2 to talk about the issues of forms of government, such as “should Los Alamos County have a mayor?” partisan vs. non-partisan council races and districted vs. at-large council races. (Access a video of the forum on line using Video on Demand on PAC 8.org.)
We also met separately with the county clerk and the county assessor to hear their concerns and we plan to meet with other county officials to explore items such as “should the clerk, assessor and sheriff be elected or appointed?”  
On Jan. 24, the Structure of Government Subcommittee met with William Fulginiti from the New Mexico Municipal League to get another perspective on mayor/council/manager forms of government, districted vs. at-large elections and partisan vs. nonpartisan elections.  
•Utilities’ Subcommittee: This subcommittee is working on a proposed revision to “Section 5, Utilities”, of the current charter. Interim draft subcommittee reports have been developed and are being used as the basis for revision of this Charter section, consists of: 1) a July 25, 2010 report to the entire CRC that identified suggested changes to the Charter and separate suggested council actions;
2) input/analysis/suggestions provided by the county-appointed CRC attorney to clarify ambiguities; and 3) an assessment of alternate approaches regarding the level of independence of the Utilities Board or Utilities Department manager.
A recent meeting of this subcommittee identified an approach that separated utility related activities into policy and operations categories, with different levels of controls by the Utility Board, county council and county administrator. Ambiguities in the present Charter have been identified and possible clarifications developed.
•Ethics Subcommittee: A subcommittee was formed to look at the advisability of a more detailed ethics and conflict of interest section in the charter. Currently, there are conflict of interest provisions in the section of the Charter concerning county-administered utilities and in Article 910. The subcommittee will develop a recommendation to the full committee regarding the level of detail on this issue appropriate in the Charter, and how any provisions should be implemented. We expect the subcommittee to have its first meeting in mid-February.
We welcome public participation. You can attend our meetings or you can send us e-mails at crcinput@lacnm.us. You can also send suggestions or comments through regular mail or drop them off at the county’s information office at 133 Central Park Square.
You can find out more in several ways. You can read the Charter on-line at www.losalamosnm.us, at the 311 Customer Care Center, or either public library (Reference Desk). In addition, you can find out more about the committee members, view meeting schedules, agendas, and minutes – plus, “Subscribe” for updates, read related documents – and take our “Charter Survey” – all available on line at www.losalamosnm.us.
Please help us review our Charter.

John C. Hopkins
CRC Chair