The Rio Rancho Governing Body shouldn’t have moved its regular meetings to 4 p.m. on Thursdays, and certainly not without public input, because it will be harder for Rio Ranchoans to participate in their government.
Most governing body meetings aren’t well attended, but some are, and voters should always have the option to come.
Wednesday night, governing body members voted 4-3 to move their regular meeting from the traditional time of 6 p.m. on the second and fourth Wednesdays of the month to 4 p.m. on the second and fourth Thursdays.
Councilors Jeremy Lenentine, Dan Stoddard and Bob Tyler voted for the change, and councilors Jim Owen, Paul Wymer and Jennifer Flor opposed the move. Mayor Gregg Hull cast the tie-breaking vote in favor of the change.
The governing body didn’t even give residents a chance for input.
In April, members rejected the idea changing regular meeting times, so there was no reason to think the issue would return. Information provided before the meeting didn’t mention that intent.
Plus, the city has encouraged citizens to watch meetings online, not in person, due to COVID-19. People who did so couldn’t comment even once they saw what was happening.
We don’t believe the letter of the law was broken, since meeting scheduling was on the agenda because Tyler had asked to change the time of work sessions from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. We also don’t think supporters of the change had ill intent, as they seem to be honorable men.
However, the move didn’t respect the spirit of transparency laws and was ill-considered.
Lenentine initiated the change. He’s a pastor at Gospel Light Baptist Church, which normally has services Wednesday evenings.
We understand that’s a conflict for him, but if it’s a problem, why did he run for the office? Now, other city councilors who did factor meeting schedules into their decisions have the rug pulled out from under them.
Many people want to go to church Wednesday night, but scheduling conflicts will happen on any day. Schedule changes just cause confusion.
Stoddard said 6 p.m. winter meetings keep elderly people from having a voice because many don’t like to drive at night. However, it’s dark by 5 in the winter, so unless a meeting lasts less than 45 minutes, daylight-only drivers still won’t be able to attend and get home before dark.
Meetings at 4 p.m. are difficult for employed people because most don’t get off work until 5. Supervisors outside city government might not allow people to leave early, and if they did, lost hours could mean lost pay.
Parents will not only have to leave work early, but also find child care when most other adults are working and many teenagers are doing extracurricular activities.
Two reasons cited for the change were allowing hourly city employees to attend meetings and salaried employees to finish their days earlier. We know of no reason city supervisors couldn’t allow hourly workers to adjust their schedules for one meeting.
For many salaried people, earlier meetings mean returning to their desks afterward to finish interrupted work. If governing body members asked salaried employees whether the change would help them, we didn’t hear about it.
The Observer will also have to redistribute workloads to cover meetings moved so close to the Friday deadline.
Governing body members need to reverse the change, or at least take public comment and vote again. As far as we can tell, moving their regular meetings serves only the governing body members who voted for it.