Should a candidate for mayor of Rio Rancho be required to have a master’s degree in Mayoral Science?
Of course not. There is no such thing.
What has been proposed by a city charter review committee is that Rio Rancho’s municipal judge be required to be an attorney — as are the municipal judges in our “sister cities” of Santa Fe and Las Cruces.
That charter committee recommendation might go before city voters next spring for final adoption. And who better than our citizens to decide?
But friends of our current judge oppose the attorney requirement. Their main argument: Municipal court docket items are “minor matters” that don’t require an attorney’s expertise. For good measure, these friends suggest that it’s somehow unfair to the “revered” (seriously?) current judge to raise standards above his current qualifications.
I’m sure that to the accuser or accused in court, or to the police officers who gather evidence and give court testimony, those matters are anything but minor.
A letter to the editor recently argued that steeper requirements for our municipal judge should also raise city charter standards for Rio Rancho’s mayor. The thing is, that step was taken during our last charter review, when full-time mayoral duties were approved by city voters.
Another false claim is that a judge who holds a law degree will come with an automatic salary cost of $130,000, up from the current $70,000. The truth is that the salary amount will be set by the city based on the job market.
The judge’s friends also argue, illogically, that the mayor is less entitled to his office than the judge is to his, simply because the judge received more votes in his last election race than the mayor did in his.
Of course, the mayor’s duties encompass all aspects of city government — including a part in selection of the city manager, who administers all city operations and services. Small wonder that the current mayor works 12-18 hours a day, including weekends.
Putting aside these red herrings, the real question is: How can a non-attorney decide on competing arguments made by experienced practicing attorneys in the courtroom? What does that standard say about our community?
Many city administrative staffers already have engineering, management and other advanced degrees in their fields of practice.
Looking at the big picture, Rio Rancho is not a rustic village. It promises to become New Mexico’s second-largest city in the near future.
So, the judicial component of city government — like all the others — must meet the highest possible standards in order to propel Rio Rancho to its current motto: “The best city in the Southwest.”
On this matter and others, Rio Rancho continues to face an existential dilemma: Who are we? Who exactly do we want to be?
Do we regress to sprawling antiquated-platted subdivisions, rife with cronyism and trapped in tunnel vision?
Or do we rise to the top among Southwest cities, whose residents will unite and sacrifice to achieve excellence?
You be the judge.
(Cheryl Everett is a Rio Rancho resident and former city councilor.)