• History of elections

    In the election campaign, I am hearing a lot of ignorance about the history of our nation. I counter that with the following facts (which you can find in any history book published prior to the 1960s).
    The states established the federal government with limited powers (not the other way around).
    2. We are a nation based on Biblical values and thus are blessed by the Lord God (hence, our national motto: “In God We Trust,” our national pledge of allegiance to “one nation under God.” And our declaration of “God-given rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” equally for all citizens.
    3. The establishment of the federal government was essentially to protect the states so that all citizens could be free to make something of ourselves with God’s help (not to enslave us by making us dependent on and accountable to the federal government for everything).

  • More on the amendments

    Mr. Rickman and Ms. Spaeth bring to the forefront the opposition’s view of how initiative and referendum processes should be used.
    In Ms. Speath’s words “if we citizens don’t like the direction or decision of council” the ability to bring an initiative or referendum petition should be relatively easy.  They want to be able act as citizen legislators whenever they “disagree” with their elected representatives.
    This view is contrary to the principle of representative government guaranteed by the U.S Constitution.  These tools are for extreme circumstances, not for routine disagreements with those who represent us.
    Moreover, the proposal to modify the current signature requirement from 10 percent to 15 percent for referenda,  and shorten the signature collection period for initiative from 6 months to three months is quite modest, and continues to be less restrictive than most other communities.  For example, Santa Fe requires 33 1/3 percent of those voting in the last mayoral election, with the additional requirement  that at least 10 percent of signatures be collected from each of the four council districts.

  • Amendments should help citizens

    Several years ago, I and my fellow councilors passed a non-partisan motion to appoint a citizen committee to review the county charter since several petitions had been brought by citizens but were found to be illegal. Our intent was to correct any short comings that may impede citizen input to the council.
     Our appointed committee included several citizens who brought the problem petitions to the council. Now three years later, Los Alamos can vote on needed amendments that clarify and simplify the county charter.
    The proposed amendments should help citizens who wish to petition county government through initiative, referendum, and recall. Petitioners will still have to ensure for themselves that the petition is a legal action, and collect the required number of signatures in the allowable time as specified in the charter.  

  • Charter amendment response

    It was no surprise to see a rebuttal to my recent column from my friend Terry Goldman, as I know Mr. Goldman as someone who enjoys rhetorical sparring nearly as much as I do. Unfortunately, this time around, he apparently forgot to employ a fact checker.
    Contrary to Mr. Goldman’s assertion, the current referendum, initiative and recall process had absolutely nothing to do with the public vote on Ordinance 529; that vote was initiated by the county council in December 2006, just six months after the same Council selected the first Trinity Place developer, the Boyer company. The vote on Ordinance 529 followed on Jan. 30, 2007, passing by a 7 percent margin. The first Trinity Place deal did not collapse until nearly two years after that vote. The blame for that fiasco rests squarely on the shoulders of the developer and the county — not on any citizen-initiated action.

  • What are they up to?

    It’s a fact that the charter amendments, if passed in the upcoming election, would shorten the time to collect signatures for local initiatives, referendums, and recalls and increase the number of signatures needed for some petitions.
    Think about that: With the proposed charter amendments, if we citizens don’t like the direction or a decision of council, we will have even less time now to collect an even higher number of signatures just to get something on the ballot (which then goes to a public vote anyway).
    For that fact alone, these proposed amendments unquestionably limit public participation and further restrict the public’s few checks and balances allowed in the current county charter against potential or future governmental abuse.
    But are these processes in need of improvement? Hardly. George Chandler’s description of the four times these processes were used in charter’s 40-plus years of existence can hardly be described as abuse. I count that as the system working.

  • And yet another view...

    In his Friday Guest View Point column, Jim Rickman said: “ It would be a real stretch for  anyone to argue that the referendum, recall or initiative process in this community has been abused during the past 30 years.”
    Many of us would vehemently disagree with this view. Some have been appalled that the 529 referendum delay cost LA County and Schools the full development of Trinity Site by delaying action until the collapse of the U.S. economy in 2008. Others have been dismayed that the process unnecessarily delayed the construction of the new County building, forcing county employees to work in transportable trailers and costing County taxpayers extra years of rental expenses.
    We have also apparently lost the opportunity to attract visitors with a leisure pool addition  to the “Blue Whale” because our councillors  feared that making a decision would lead to yet another referendum wasting time, effort and money.

  • CRC debate continues on

    I address an interesting recent take on the charter amendments in which we were told that there is no history of abuse of the petition process in Los Alamos.
    In 1979 and again in 1982 there were successful referendum petitions and subsequent elections that reversed zoning actions by the county.  But the losers of the 1982 election appealed the voter’s decision and in 1983 the Supreme Court ruled that zoning can only be done by representative bodies, not by election.  Under this rule the 1979 referendum would have also been illegal.  These are two petitions that were deemed abusive by law.  
    The proposed referendum amendment puts this law into the charter.
     In 2009 – 2010 a group of activists collected enough signatures on two initiative petitions to amend the charter.  Both of these petitions violated well-established rules against logrolling — several unrelated or independent issues wrapped into one question.  The council followed advice of the county attorney and refused to put these illegal questions to a vote.  
    This abuse of the process resulted in a proposed amendment putting anti-logrolling language into the charter.  

  • Charter revision not citizen sensitive

    WHEREAS two [2 (!)] of the seven current councilors were not elected by the voters and both will still be seated for another two2 years without being subjected to voter approval even after we vote in the upcoming general election (remember that the councilor appointed by the councilors before these two was not reseated by voters at the end of his term); and
    WHEREAS it is possible for the council to have none of its members voter-elected, but all self-appointed by those seated and remain so for nearly two years until some of “their” terms end; and
    WHEREAS it is possible for an elected person to resign after serving a single day and have the council appoint a person, who could not otherwise serve consecutive terms or one who has not gone through the grinding forums and public scrutiny faced by voter-elected councilors, who would then sit for nearly 4 years; and
    WHEREAS the Charter Review Committee (CRC) has claimed a comprehensive review of the charter, but has not seen to it that ALL of the seated councilors should be voter-elected; and
    WHEREAS the seated council has not been moved (only annoyed!) by the current level of requirements for citizen petitions, even when signed by over 2000 signatures (over 10 percent of the total citizenry); and

  • The irony of it all

    I understand the Los Alamos Government Review Initiative’s (LAGRI) are in opposition of the proposed amendments the Charter Review Committee (CRS) has recommended to the initiative and referendum provisions of the Charter; under the premise that the proposed signature requirements of 15  percent and timeframes of 60 days for petitions are onerous.
    I find LAGRI’s posture troubling. In January 2010 I attended a public meeting scheduled by the County Council. The single topic of the meeting was to discuss LAGRI’s petitions and one of LAGRI’s proposals was a requirement that signatures from 15 percent the total number of voters in the last general election is needed for ballot placement and furthermore; the LAGRI petition set 60 days as the deadline to accomplish the task.
    LARGI logic or lack thereof escapes me – if LAGRI finds the CRC 15 percent and 60 day language objectionable why did they propose virtually the same requirements in their petitions and obtain 2,000 signatures in support of their petition!
     By LAGRI’s own yardstick, the proposed CRC changes are reasonable. How can the opposition object when they themselves proposed the same requirements?  The irony is glaring.

  • CRC Amendment changes

    When changes to our County Charter are proposed, I usually look at such proposals with a somewhat jaundiced eye.  Our Charter, after all, has served us well, with only minor changes, for nearly 45 years.  This is true for the most part.  But, after so many years we start to see what works and what does not.
      For many years the initiative, referendum, and recall provisions of the Charter have lacked clarity and, at times, inhibited the community’s effort to proceed with needed improvements.  The proposed changes rectify those shortcomings.
      The grouping of the Charter questions makes sense.   Each of the four provisions, if passed individually, can stand on its own.  Furthermore, the proposed ninety-day provision for collecting signatures is a reasonable balance between adequate time to collect signatures versus limiting the use of the initiative, referendum, and recall provisions as a mere obstructionist tactic.