The Rio Rancho Governing Body is changing a city ordinance to open public spaces to political activity forums and require officials to disclose their financial interests before election or appointment.

Cleveland High School student Estrella Torres won first place in the annual Buy Rio Rancho sign contest, with her achievement announced during the Rio Rancho Governing Body meeting Wednesday at City Hall. Here, she shows off her design, flanked by Rio Rancho Kiwanis Club member and Sandoval County Commissioner Dave Heil, left, and Mayor Gregg Hull. Torres’s design will appear on signs around town. Photo by Argen Marie Duncan.

Governing body members voted unanimously on the first of two readings of the amendments at their meeting Wednesday night at City Hall.

“Essentially what these amendments strive to do is clarify the code of conduct, which was adopted in 2016, specifically as it relates to the use of city property for campaign purposes and also disclosure,” said City Clerk Rebecca Martinez.

The code forbade the use of city facilities to campaign or try to influence elections.

Because of that rule, before the 2018 municipal election, one mayoral forum that was planned to be held in a meeting room at a city library was canceled and another, which city staff learned of a few hours in advance, was supposed to be closed to the public.

Under the amendments, anyone can reserve spaces open to public use for political activity as long as they follow the proper reservation procedures. If the facility is a polling place in a state or city election, it’s closed to activity related to discussing or influencing the election starting 30 days before Election Day.

Also, campaign materials or other communication intended to influence an election are forbidden in city facilities. However, non-partisan voter guides that provide information about candidates and ballot questions without endorsing or opposing any of them are allowed under the changes.

As for disclosure of economic interest, elected and appointed city officials have been required to file those statements within 10 days of taking office.

“Basically what this means is that the information of disclosure that should be made available for a reasonable determination as to whether a potential conflict exists is done after someone is either appointed or sworn in,” she said.

Under the changes, candidates for elected positions must file the disclosure when they officially declare their candidacy and prospective appointed officials must file when they apply for the appointed position. The amendments also require elected officials already in office to file the disclosure in January of every year.

“So this provides consistency and it also provides a better level of transparency,” Martinez said.

She said requiring disclosure before election or appointment allows the voters, in the case of elected officials, and the governing body, in the case of appointees to boards or commissions, to consider that information when deciding whom to support.

Also, it makes sure all candidates have an equal level of disclosure, she said. An incumbent running for re-election would have revealed any financial interest, whereas under the current ordinance, challengers wouldn’t have.

In other business, governing body members:

• Voted to put a $10.8 million road bond and $3.79 million public-safety bond on the ballot in March.

• Awarded a $1.5 million contract to Albuquerque Asphalt Inc. to reconstruct Country Club Drive and replace the water line under it. Public Works Director B.J. Gottlieb said the work was expected to start in January and take four months.

• Awarded a $1.8 million contract to RMCI Inc. to replace the ultra-violet disinfectant system at Wastewater Treatment Plant 2. The project will also increase the system’s capacity from 9 million gallons a day to 12 million gallons, said Utilities Director Jim Chiasson.

• Approved a site plan for further development at Petroglyph Medical Plaza, near Unser Boulevard and Wellspring Avenue. The first new building is expected to be a Dutch Bros. Coffee shop, said Development Services Director Anthony Caravella.

• Met the winners of the Buy Rio Rancho sign contest. Estrella Torres won first place, Derek Vidal took second and Rachel Richter garnered third place. All are high school students in Rio Rancho.

• Heard that the Utilities Department received the “Utility of the Future Today” award from the Water Environment Federation for the city’s aquifer re-injection program.

• Honored city Motor Vehicle Department employees Kathryn Howell and Barbara Alarid for 15 and 20 years of service, respectively, and Utilities Department customer service representative Henrietta Hughes for 15 years of service.