Bernalillo County cannot put a proposal to boost Albuquerque’s minimum wage on the Nov. 6 ballot unless city councilors or a court authorize it, election officials said Thursday.
The City Council refused to do just that earlier this week, and now it could be a judge’s turn to weigh in.
The coalition in support of the wage hike said it’s seeking an order in state District Court to get the proposal on the general election ballot. The deadline for certifying the ballot is Tuesday.
About “25,000 people signed our petition to raise the minimum wage,” said Mary Lee Ortega, president of OLÃ‰, an advocacy group. “Albuquerque wants a fair election on this issue.”
The council – with no public discussion – voted unanimously Wednesday to withdraw a proposed election resolution that would have approved the wage proposal for the fall ballot.
Some councilors said outside the meeting that they didn’t believe the resolution was necessary, because the City Charter already outlines the requirement for an election.
But the person in charge of running the fall election, County Clerk Maggie Toulouse Oliver, said Thursday that she doesn’t have authority to add a municipal item to the ballot.
Her counterpart in city government, City Clerk Amy Bailey, agrees.
“I am still meeting with the attorneys to figure out the next steps,” Bailey said. “At this point, I cannot have an election or put an issue on the ballot without council or court action.”
City and county attorneys cite a state law that says, in part: “When a special election is called or required by law, an election resolution shall be adopted by the governing body calling for the election.”
But councilors apparently believe a resolution isn’t necessary.
Councilor Ken Sanchez, one of the resolution’s sponsors, said a similar wage proposal seven years ago went on the ballot in a city election even though a resolution failed. Furthermore, he said, this year’s proposal contains a typo in the ballot summary, making unclear what it means.
“I think this issue needs to be decided in court,” Sanchez said. “The faulty language was one of the big concerns.”
The controversy comes after thousands of registered voters signed petitions this summer in favor of an initiative to raise the city’s minimum wage from $7.50 to $8.50 an hour. Bailey certified last month that supporters had enough valid signatures to move the proposal forward.
Under the City Charter, that means the measure was supposed to be proposed to the City Council. The charter says if the council fails to act, amends the proposal or doesn’t approve it, then “an election on the issues must be held within ninety days after the date of filing the petition.”
Councilors didn’t ask City Attorney David Tourek about the matter during Wednesday’s meeting or otherwise discuss it. Tourek told the Journal on Thursday that he was researching whether the wage measure can still appear on the ballot.
An election resolution for another city measure proposed for the ballot – bonds to improve the Paseo del Norte interchange at I-25 – was adopted in May.
— This article appeared on page C1 of the Albuquerque Journal