Monitor anti-Milder, ignorant

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By George Chandler

Dear Editor,

I take strong issue with your editorial excoriating Ken Milder in Sunday’s Monitor. At the fateful skate park hearing Ken was the councilor who chose to discuss seriously the role of elected officials in a representative democracy. It is an issue that arises anew every few years when particularly controversial questions come before the council. Ken addressed it thoroughly and demonstrated understanding of the problem. Your editorial did not.

The American systems of governments, from federal to state to local, all are some form of representative democracy: we elect citizens to make decisions for the jurisdiction as a whole. Most systems provide some way to bypass the representatives on some subjects. Across the country a spectrum of direct citizen participation in government decisions can be perceived, ranging from none at the federal level, to referendum and initiative in many states and localities, to almost direct democracy in a few New England towns (even the latter elect folk to handle matters in between annual town meetings).

New Mexico and Los Alamos are on the more liberal end of the spectrum: both have provisions for initiative and referendum, New Mexico in the state constitution, Los Alamos in statutes and in our home rule charter. Those provisions are guidance to what matters are to be subject to direct citizen action: in general legislative acts, and generally exclusive of administrative acts (such as siting a skate park). It is not forbidden to hold an advisory election, but the council will not and may not be bound by the result.

Thusly the government is set up, and its elected officials are bound by it; it comes with the territory. Ken was right: to duck the question by putting it on a ballot would delay the decision to the next council, get him through the election – the very definition of cop-out – and cause irremediable damage to the credibility of the institution of local government.

Those elected officials who understand their roles and are willing to take political heat to respect a process of government should be praised, not scorned.

To me the skate park decision does not look to be subject to referendum; some bright person may be able to figure out a way to kill it with an initiative petition but I can’t see how. The system provides two remedies against elected officials who take political decisions (such as siting a skate park) that are unpopular: don’t re-elect them, or if you can’t wait for an election, do a petition for a recall election.

Obviously the Monitor has decided to influence the electorate not to reelect Ken.

But you have chosen an unfortunate issue: maybe you can beat him up over the decision to site the skate park at the library (I wouldn’t agree with you), but he knows way more than you on the subject of democracy. I’d stay out of it if I were you.

George Chandler

Los Alamos