On Feb. 7, Tempers flared at the Sandoval County Commission meeting.
“You vote for this, you are one of them, an enemy of the constitution of our First Amendment rights,” Commissioner Jay Block said.
“This is targeted at me. There’s no question about it. Instead of talking to me in person about it, you go behind my back. We will air it out in public. Whatever you want to talk about. Say whatever you want in public; we’ll talk about it. But I will tell you this, Mr. Chair, I will not comply with this ordinance if it passes,” he added in regard to a resolution to amend the commission’s rules procedure.
After his speech, Block was given a standing ovation by spectators.
The proposed rule change would limit public comment to items on the meeting’s agenda. Wednesday’s meeting was announced early this week after the regularly scheduled meeting for Feb. 14 was canceled. The resolution’s vote was eventually postponed by a 3-2 vote, but not without a few fireworks.
“Frankly speaking, y’all should be grateful I am not a farmer, for I, inspired by the Dutch and French, would have taken my bulldozer and dumped a metric ton of cow manure in front of this building,” said Terri Merkley during public comment.
During the meeting, the overwhelming majority of public comments that were made were related to the rules change, and all were opposed to it.
“That’s what you want; you want to shut us up!” Kelly Esparza said as he angrily walked off. Moments before Esparza called Sheriff Jesse James Caucus corrupt, which prompted Chairman Dave Heil to use his gavel.
Many residents voiced their displeasure that the resolution was even being considered by the commissioners. Many said that public servants limiting time with the public was wrong, and many claimed that it violated, or limited, their freedom of speech.
According to Block, County Attorney Michael Eshleman did not consult him with any of the changes to the rule and took issue that Eshleman was not working with all commissioners.
The night even escalated to a verbal back-and-forth between Commissioners Katherine Bruch and Block, which required tons of gavel slamming and a couple of yells from Heil to regain control of the room.
“The actual request is to limit it to business that is immediately at hand. So, I think that when you’re talking about how people interact on a subject, this keeps people focused and moving forward. Now, this does not impede on anyone’s First Amendment right. If that was true, then I am sure the Attorney [Eshleman] would not have drafted it in this regard,” said Vice Chairman Michael Meek.
Meek and Block debated a bit as well with Meek telling Block that he came to Block regarding this issue.
After the item was postponed by a 3-2 vote, there was a round of applause from the spectators. Bruch and Meek voted against postponement while Block, Joshua Jones and Heil voted for postponement.
Additionally, a vote on the item opposing legislative bills on paid family and medical leave passed 3-2 after a lengthy discussion.
Commissioners also took time to make a proclamation designating February as National Black History Month, which was sponsored by Block, and pastors Christopher Keeling and Clarence Washington gave speeches in support and posed for a photo with the commission.
All remaining items on the agenda passed.