Good government is seldom captured in photo ops or sound bites. It’s found in mostly unheralded acts of integrity and principle.
Good government doesn’t always win.
At an April Rio Rancho Governing Body work session, Councilor Jeremy Lenentine proposed moving the regular twice-monthly governing body meeting time from 6 p.m. to 4 p.m. Lenentine cited a conflict in his work schedule.
This was several months after his appointment to fill a council vacancy and subsequently winning the seat (unopposed) in the March 2020 city election. I have to wonder whether that conflict predated his appointment to the council.
Councilors Bob Tyler and Dan Stoddard also voted to take up the proposal at a full governing body meeting. Three other councilors opposed.
The mayor’s “no” vote broke the tie, leaving the meeting time unchanged.
But at the May 27 governing body regular meeting, a proposed annual meeting schedule — with a 6 p.m. council meeting time — was amended not only to change the time to 4 p.m. but also to change the meeting day from Wednesday to Thursday. Supporting councilor comments seemed well-coordinated.
This time the mayor’s tie-breaking vote went the other way, and both day and time were changed.
I have yet to talk to a city resident who agrees.
Defending the change, some officials said city staffers attending evening meetings face an extended work day. And Councilor Dan Stoddard said, without corroborating data, that vision-impaired and Wednesday evening church-goers would welcome the change.
At issue are public forum (open comment by anyone on any issue) and public comment (opinions on individual agenda items).
Think about it: How many people working outside the home can get home from work in time to attend a 4 o’clock meeting? More basically, who are public meetings really for? Which brings us back to good government.
Councilor Paul Wymer was succinct: “The only thing that really matters is the convenience of our bosses — the citizens and taxpayers of Rio Rancho. The new meeting time does not serve the public interest.”
Councilor Jennifer Flor said the new time would create child care issues for her, and indeed any full-time stay-at-home mother. I have to wonder why Councilor Lenentine’s needs took precedence.
Councilor Jim Owen voted “no,” saying: The new time will limit public access to meetings.
The process of reconsidering the proposal, while not illegal, was less than 100 percent transparent.
In a 2019 city resident opinion survey, residents gave the city low marks on several public-engagement points:
- City welcoming resident involvement (47 percent)
- Have attended (18 percent) or video-viewed (17 percent) a local public meeting
It’s true that fewer than 10 people normally attend a governing body meeting. Supporters of the time change speculated, without supporting data, that it might improve meeting turnout.
Council favoritism and shots in the dark make poor public policy. The city should return governing body meetings to their original day and time, and make a strong effort in the future to promote greater resident involvement.
(Cheryl Everett is a Rio Rancho resident and former city councilor.)