Cheryl Everett

Housekeeping or higher aspirations?
In recent years, Rio Rancho residents and elected officials have stepped up to modernize the city’s governing charter.
As might be expected, some residents with an anti-government mindset have pushed back during periodic reviews of the document. The charter review now underway is no exception.
The city charter currently mandates a committee review of its provisions every six years or less.
This joint review committee consists of elected officials and appointed citizens, chaired by the mayor. This year the composition of the committee was changed by city ordinance to add three elected officials — a move some criticized as reducing public input and others praised for streamlining committee operations.
Our most recent previous charter review strengthened the mayor’s role as a policy advocate and granted a commensurate mayoral salary increase while still maintaining the city’s reliance on career professional management of city operations, known as a council/manager form of government.
This time, more focus is on management of city finances.
Possibly the most controversial proposed amendment would create a permanent reserve fund to cushion against major funding shortages in years when city budget revenues dip lower than average.
The major source of general fund revenue is gross receipts tax (GRT) on sale of goods and services. GRT is collected by the state and disbursed back to local governments in a process that cities and counties have little control over.
A proposed city permanent fund, on the other hand, would provide local governments with stronger financial management tools. The city, like any citizen, could rely on thrift and sound planning to accumulate savings for future emergencies — rather than immediately spending every tax dollar as it’s taken in.
Another focus of disagreement concerns whether Rio Rancho’s municipal judge — like those in Las Cruces and Santa Fe — will be required to be an attorney. To me, that seems like a no-brainer: How can a non-attorney decide points of law being argued by attorneys in the courtroom?
But cronies in local political circles argue that “fairness” to the current judge should supersede the people’s right to a more qualified employee. I couldn’t disagree more.
Among other changes being considered:
• Process for hiring and terminating the city manager.
• Reducing the charter review frequency.
Recommendations will be debated back and forth between the committee and the governing body with input on legal terminology from the city attorney through August. After that, the proposed charter changes will be put to a vote of the people at the March 2022 regular city election, if the governing body chooses to put them on the ballot.
The committee’s deliberations are reaching a critical stage, so I encourage supporters of good government to follow the process closely. Committee meetings have been open to the public for in-person or virtual attendance.
Public comment will continue until the committee and governing body agree on proposed changes.
Check for more information. And take an active part in framing our future city government.
(Cheryl Everett is a Rio Rancho resident and former city councilor.)