Voters move to square charter with state statutes

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By Kirsten Laskey

Los Alamos voters gave a thumb’s up to all 11 proposed county charter amendments in Tuesday’s election. As a result, the Los Alamos County Charter will now become more consistent with state statutes.
John Hopkins, a member of the County Charter Review Committee, said essentially the ordinances serve as housekeeping. They will not change the purpose of the charter, he said, but help accomplish two of four areas the committee has been working to achieve in working though issues with the charter – consistency and clarity. The committee will continue its work to address the structure of government, the role of the utilities department and initiative and referendum processes.
Here’s a synopsis of the amendments voters approved:
The first ordinance addresses the purpose of the charter to maximize home rule powers, as allowed under the New Mexico constitution and the state Municipal Charter Act.
The second ordinance clarifies the conduct of council business. The clarification is that the charter requires public council meetings except as authorized by state law, allows five voters to request a matter for council consideration, requires four affirmative votes for council action except as otherwise allowed in the charter, makes the ordinance enactment clause consistent with state law, authorizes amendments to ordinances with an additional hearing at a meeting no less than seven days after the original hearing, authorizes publication of ordinances in their entirety or in summary and allows adoption of emergency ordinances by  a majority of a quorum of councilors.
The third ordinance clarifies an appointment of a qualified person to fill a vacancy on council. An appointment will be made by the affirmative vote of four councilors unless four or more vacancies exist, in which case each vacancy will be filled by a majority vote of the remaining councilors and the remaining councilors will be considered a quorum.  
Additionally, the fourth ordinance clarifies the reimbursement of expenses incurred by councilors, clerk, assessor and sheriff while performing official duties.
The fifth ordinance clarifies the provisions concerning boards, commissions or committees.
The ordinance designates the personnel board as a standing board and provides for the establishment of standing boards and commissions by ordinance and ad hoc advisory committees by council action.
The purpose of the sixth ordinance is to clarify election policy. The change calls for the county to follow state election laws but the charter section had only addressed selected provisions of election law, which created ambiguity and conflicting provisions.  The ordinance clarifies that state election laws applicable to county government will be followed.
The seventh ordinance clarifies investment standards, which are outdated. It replaces the reference to investment standards with the requirement that investment of capital projects permanent funds must be made in accordance with no lower investment standards than those that are required for state permanent funds. It further clarifies that addition to the fund principal of the CIP permanent fund can be made by council in accordance with ordinance requirements.
The eighth ordinance clarifies a section of the charter that prohibits certain political activities of county employees. The amendment authorizes the council to regulate and limit political activities of county employees by the personnel ordinance.
The ninth ordinance removes a section of the charter, which addressed filing of lawsuits since there are state and federal procedures in place.
The tenth ordinance amends the county charter to reference state law regarding publication of legal notices.
The final amendment addresses the position of council chair, who would serve as head of county government, to direct certain action necessary in an emergency such as a natural disaster.
Members of the charter review committee applauded passage of the measures designed to clean up the charter. It was 1995-1996 the last time the charter was updated, Hopkins said.
“I think the committee is pleased that the community essentially supported our work,” committee member Chris Chandler said. “I appreciate the community paying attention to these things.”
Hopkins added, “I’m heartened by the results of the election … we look forward to interacting with the public as we get into more substantive issues.”
Chandler agreed, saying, “This is a good first step — clarifying provisions in the charter.”
Other items on the committee’s to-do list involve considering if the county needs a mayor, looking into the relationship between the utilities department and the county, and reviewing the initiative and referendum process.
As the committee tackles these items, there will be a public forum at 7 p.m. Dec. 2 at Fuller Lodge to discuss the current structure of government. The committee and the League of Women Voters will host the event.

Kirsten Laskey can be reached at lareporter@