Charter commission discusses potential changes

Kevin Wilson

The Clovis City Charter Commission held a public hearing to a limited public, but had vast discussion over the future of the city’s governing document.

Charter commission members and Rube Render, the only citizen to attend the meeting at the north annex of the Clovis-Carver Public Library, discussed for 90 minutes potential recommendations to the city commission.

The charter commission acts as an advisory body to the city commission. Any charter change put forth by the city commission would be moved on to the voters.

The key items discussed were commissioners serving on the Clovis City and Curry County commissions at the same time, the referendum and recall process for ordinances and commissioners and the possibility of runoff elections for commissioner and mayoral races.

All three were suggestions by Render, though commission members said they’d heard plenty about the first two items from other citizens.

Dual commission service. City Attorney David Richards said cities that have charters have gone different ways on the issue. At first, he thought that outlawing dual service wouldn’t be allowed because the city would be declaring who is qualified to run for office — a duty which is held solely by the state.

He said on further readings, he said the city could change the charter in a way that would require a newly-elected city commissioner resign their county seat, or vice versa. That way, the candidate would make the choice before seeking the other commission seat.

City Commissioner and charter commission chair Fred Van Soelen said he wanted to speak carefully about the process of serving in multiple commissions because he was sitting next to Commissioner Bobby Sandoval, who also in the Curry County Commission. Dan Stoddard also serves on both commissions.

“The point is his district knew that (he was already a city commissioner) and put it in consideration, and they elected him,” Van Soelen said. “Everything he and Commissioner Stoddard did was allowed by law.”

Sandoval said he first sought the seat because he sought to address communication problems.

“The city and county were always butting heads,” Sandoval said. “I wanted to be a liaison to both, and I think I’ve done that.”

Render and Sandoval had a back-and-forth on whether Sandoval could avoid city-county conflicts. He said the county jail will always be a point of contention, and the city commission recently voted on whether the county should do roadwork or if the bid should go to a private contractor.

“I’m not questioning your integrity,” Render said to Sandoval. “I’m saying a conflict exists.”

Charter commission member David Lansford agreed with Render, and noted that there were some tough times while he was mayor and his brother, Mark Lansford, was the county’s finance director.

“The voters will decide if there’s a conflict of interest or not,” Lansford said. “I can tell you from experience there is inherent conflict. I think it’s a potential question for voters to decide.”

Mayor Gayla Brumfield said she could see both sides of the debate, but she hated the idea of telling somebody they couldn’t run for an office.

Referendum/recall requirements. The current charter allows ordinances to be subject to a referendum election, provided signatures from registered voters in excess of 20 percent of the previous municipal election turnout are presented within 60 days of the city commission’s vote. A city commissioner or mayor is subject to recall at any time with signatures in excess of 20 percent of the turnout from the district (or, in the mayor’s case, the city) in the previous municipal election.

Render said he hated any proposition that would make the petition process more difficult, and Lansford said the voters would agree with Render.

“From the get-go … I think there’s only one way to go, and that’s to make it easier to exert citizen’s rights,” Lansford said. “Anything to make it tougher would be a disaster (in the eventual election). It’s a virtual waste of time.”

Van Soelen said repeated referendums could require a great expense for taxpayers. He noted the High Plains Patriots have twice forced referendum elections in 2011, costing the city somewhere between $30,000 and $40,000. Citizens upheld a gross receipts tax increase, but overturned an affordable housing plan.

“That takes some steam out of raising the number (of required signatures),” Van Soelen said. “But it’s a cost that has to be considered.”

Runoff elections. Render said candidates in races with more than two candidates should receive 40 percent of the vote, and if they don’t meet the threshold, a runoff election should take place between the top two vote-getters.

“In Clovis, it’s always been a plurality,” Richards said. “Whether it’s 10 people or two people running, the person with the most votes (wins).”

Lansford said the prospect of a runoff could change the voting habits of a citizen who either doesn’t want to vote twice or doesn’t want the city to pay for multiple elections.

“People are going to be less inclined to vote for an outside candidate,” Lansford said.

Under a runoff system in 2008, Brumfield — who got 36.6 percent of the vote among six candidates — would have faced a runoff election with Render, who took 23.7 percent of the vote.

The commission will hold one more public hearing, 6 p.m. Nov. 15, also at the library’s north annex. Van Soelen said the commission will likely vote then on recommendations it plans to pass on to the Clovis City Commission.

City Manager Joe Thomas said recommendations would have to be passed by the city commission before Dec. 13.