Voter amendment would eliminate dual commissioners

There are five races in the March 6 municipal election, with only one race featuring an unopposed candidate.

But all future candidates, including one standing commissioner, could be affected by a proposed amendment to the Clovis city charter that weighs conflict of interest against a district’s choices for candidates.

If approved by the voters, Section 2-6 would be added to the charter, stating that, “No elected officer of the City shall be an elected officer of any county of the state of New Mexico while in office, except a person who on March 15, 2012, is both an elected officer of the city and an elected officer of a county of the state of New Mexico, (and) may complete the existing term of county office.”

There are currently two city commissioners also serving on the county commission — Dan Stoddard and Bobby Sandoval. Stoddard has two years remaining on his term in District 4, while Sandoval is unopposed for re-election in District 3.

If approved, the measure would not affect Sandoval, who is term-limited in the county and said he never plans to run for a county office again.

Stoddard, who is up for re-election on the county commission, would be affected should he seek a second term with the county. City Attorney David Richards said Stoddard can declare his candidacy and campaign without violating the ban. But if he wins his re-election bid, he could either decline the county term or give up the remaining time on his city term once he is sworn in with the county.

“Whenever he’s up for election, he would have to be one or the other, per our code,” Richards said. “He can complete his current (county) term. If he ran and were elected, he’d basically have to choose.”

Stoddard said he would wait until the voters had weighed in before he made future election plans. But he can be counted on as a “No” vote.

“I just feel the voters should have the option to select who they want for either office,” said Stoddard, who was elected to the county commission in 2008 and the city commission in 2010. “I know when they elected Commissioner Sandoval and myself, they were aware we already held the county office — or, in Bobby’s case, (that he held) the city office when they elected him to the county.”

During the charter review process, the recommendation to put the dual service ban to voters passed overwhelmingly. Fred Van Soelen, who declined to run for a third term in District 2, served as the charter review chairman and said that dual service packed an inherent conflict.

Sandoval, also part of the committee, said he ran for the county position in 2006 because he noticed the entities were always bumping heads, and having the same person on each commission could help smooth things.

He was outvoted by others on the committee, including attorney Tye Harmon, who said the head-butting proved inherent conflict, particularly on issues of the city using the county jail and the county using the city landfill.

“I think it’s a conflict to vote for what the county wants to charge,” Harmon said in November, “and what the city has to pay.”

Neither Sandoval nor Stoddard thought the item was targeting them.

“One side had its arguments, the other side had its arguments,” Sandoval said. “I’m comfortable with the people voting on it. It doesn’t change my mind; I still think that it helped. It helped the city and county get together.”

In 1994, voters approved amending the charter to limit commissioners and mayors to two consecutive terms. However, the state court of appeals ruled in 1995 that term limit laws in charters eliminated the right of the state Legislature to determine qualified candidates. The decision was upheld in the state supreme court, and Clovis voters have since voted against removing the unenforceable language.

Richards said dual service bans, which also exist in the Albuquerque and Las Cruces charters, aren’t subject to a similar legal challenge.

“The charter amendment would not prohibit him from running,” Richards said, in reference to Stoddard. “But it would prohibit him holding both positions.”