Insight or an orchestrated narrative?
For 40 years, the city’s charter review committee, per Chapter 33.19, was made up entirely of Rio Rancho residents.
However, alarmingly, the governing body, when faced with citizen opposition, voted twice to appoint elected officials to the charter review committee.
Effectively, what we have now is the troublesome outcome of elected officials making recommendations to themselves (elected officials) to place amendments to the charter on the ballot (propositions). The charter review process up to this point has been plagued by elected official participatory dominance over the appointed residents, resulting in significant challenges to the impartiality and integrity of this year’s committee review.
Two hot topics came as a result of this mayor-led committee: the permanent fund and the municipal judge requirement. Those who support the permanent fund tout fiscal responsibility and saving for future emergencies.
If we tout and praise the permanent fund for fiscal conservation, why would we support the requirement of our local judge to be an attorney? Doesn’t a municipal judge provide a unique, community-based approach and judiciary function, one that has a more locally responsive approach when deciding weed violations, speeding tickets, city ordinance violations and other petty misdemeanors?
Weren’t the city’s more egregious offenses forwarded up to the county magistrates? Most counties’ magistrates aren’t required to be lawyers, and the voters have chosen non-lawyers.
In fact, as evidenced by long-standing successful and multiple consecutive terms, Rio Rancho residents have valued our judge’s lived experience. He is renowned and revered by our residents, having pulled in more votes (5,997) in the 2018 municipal election than our current mayor (5,105).
Supporting the permanent fund for financial responsibility while at the same time supporting restrictions for our current municipal judge requirement is horrendously and financially antithetical.
Changing credentials of a municipal judge, mandating a law degree, will result in compensating that entity an estimated $130,000 a year. When reviewed with current compensation at approximately $70,000 a year, this change increases the salaried position by approximately $50,000 a year.
If a mayor-led committee is at the helm of this recommended amendment to the city’s constitution, then shouldn’t we also consider mayoral requirements? After all, our mayor tinkers with an annual approximated $57 million budget and makes suggestions on how to spend our tax-paying dollars — as he did when he recommended a $75,000 affordable housing study.
If our judge is required to have higher requirements, then so should our mayor and our other elected officials.
There are several steps before the charter review committee’s recommendations are included on the March 2022 ballot. Residents should to be especially vigilant and participatory throughout the proposed charter changes, considering that two members of the governing body and the mayor are on “both ends” of the process.
John Pearse
Rio Rancho