Charter review commission to hold public hearings

Kevin Wilson

With several unknowns — the amount of public input they’ll get, the number of changes they’ll recommend and the chances the Clovis City Commission will or the voters will approve those changes — the city charter commission took care of the items that were in its control Tuesday night.

The first meeting of the commission is required at least every 10 years to review the charter. The city commission is under no obligation to put charter commission proposals on the ballot, and can add proposals not suggested. Proposals approved by the city commission would then be put to the voters.

The charter commission is required to hold at least one public hearing, but commission vice chair Ray Mondragon said he’d like at least two. They are scheduled for 6 p.m. Oct. 25 at the Clovis-Carver Public Library north annex and 6 p.m. Nov. 16, possibly at Mesa Elementary.

The commission will not meet until the public hearing.

“If we have a lot of people at the first (hearing), we may need (another) meeting,” chairman Fred Van Soelen said. “If nobody shows up, we’ll need to go from there.”

If the commission does schedule additional meetings, Van Soelen said, “I don’t see any reason not to have (meetings be) open.” The suggestion received no opposition.

Commission members have a deadline of mid-December — City Manager Joe Thomas said the exact date was still uncertain. The commission would like to make its recommendations at the Dec. 1 city commission meeting.

Until it makes recommendations, commission member and former Clovis Mayor David Lansford said the commission needs to refer to changes as “considered changes,” so citizens wouldn’t get the impression the commission had already made up its mind.

Public input, commissioners decided, should be put into writing, with a name and address requested. Thomas said input could be delivered to city hall, emailed to or sent by postal mail to PO Box 760.

Richards said a submission deadline would be a good idea so the commission had time to implement suggestions prior. The submission deadline was set for Nov. 18. Van Soelen said the commission should put together some kind of media release to explain the submission process so it’s as simple as possible for residents.

The charter was written in 1971 by a seven-member commission and reviewed by then-city attorney Harry Patton after the state Legislature allowed a home-rule provision.

The provision allows for self-government, provided nothing is inconsistent with state laws, City Attorney David Richards said. One example is that the Clovis charter includes a two-term limit for mayors and city commissioners, but the state invalidated such a change in 2004 because it removes the state’s power to determine qualified candidates.

“It’s still there,” Richards said, “but it’s unenforceable.”

The charter is posted on the website.

Other municipalities that use city charters include Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Gallup, Las Cruces and Alamogordo. The Alamogordo charter, Richards said, was a duplicate of the original Clovis charter and has undergone fewer changes.

The charter commission, Richards said, could propose any change to the city commission, including removing references to term limits or adopting sections other cities have created. Richards noted that Albuquerque’s city charter is 63 pages, while the Clovis charter can fit on a few pages, and, “You have to fill in the blanks.” He said he’d be glad to provide commissioners with any parts of other municipalities’ charters, but declined to print them all because, “That’s a lot of paper, and there will be a lot of things that won’t be of interest.”

Mondragon asked Richards whether the commission would even be allowed to incorporate some kind of fee for filing a negative referendum election, since commissioners and citizens were concerned about election expenses after the High Plains Patriots forced special elections on a gross receipts tax increase and an affordable housing plan. Richards said referendum elections are considered to be First Amendment exercises, and the city couldn’t make somebody pay to exercise their rights.