Consideration of possible amendments to Santa Fe city government’s governing charter may get into more than the nuts and bolts of municipal elections.
Former City Councilor Steven Farber, at the new Charter Review Commission’s first meeting Monday evening, said he wants a ban on assault weapons and gun magazines that hold an “excessive” number of rounds included in the city charter.
Farber, a member of the commission, said after the meeting that the proposal isn’t just in reaction to Friday’s massacre at a Connecticut school in which a gunman with an assault rifle and other weapons killed 20 young children and six adults.
“We need to make a statement as citizens,” he said.
He acknowledged that a City Council-approved ordinance is another option for an assault-weapons ban, but said that his idea of including such a provision in the charter “gets the discussion started.”
Farber said he also wants the Charter Review Commission to consider establishing an independent auditor within city government to review city investments, procurements and other financial matters and a policy statement that enforcing laws against possession of an ounce or less of marijuana is the lowest priority for Santa Fe police.
The commission, chaired by retired state Supreme Court Justice Patricio Serna, is tasked with reviewing the charter that Santa Fe voters adopted in 1997 and which was last amended by measures approved in a March 2008 city election.
Any changes the commission recommends would go first to the City Council, which would decide which if any changes to propose to city voters.
The City Council, in establishing the commission, asked it consider two specific, possible charter changes: term limits for city councilors, which in addition to city action would require an amendment to the state constitution, and whether councilors should have to give up their council seats should they choose to run for mayor in the middle of their four-year council terms.
The City Council resolution suggesting the second change says it’s “unfair” that councilors running for mayor at the end of a four-year council term have to give up their seats to become mayoral candidates but that those who run for mayor in the middle of a four-year term can still be on the council of they lose the mayor’s race.
Four council seats come up for election in a mayoral election year — the next one is 2014 — and four other seats are filled in non-mayoral-election years.
Former City Councilor Karen Heldmeyer, who is not on the review commission, suggested another election change at Monday’s meeting — moving municipal elections from March to the fall.
She said voter turnout would be better and door-to-door campaigning would be easier because the weather is less uncertain in the fall. Many people involved in city politics are working at the Legislature or lobbying for the city at the Roundhouse during or leading up to a March election, Heldmeyer added.
She also said that with newly elected councilors taking seats in March, they are thrown immediately into budget deliberations without much time to get up to speed on the details. She noted that Albuquerque holds its city elections in October.
The League of Women Voters, in a written statement, asked the commission to “offer a clear schedule of its deliberations and provide time for the public to come forward with new ideas for the charter,” in the interest of openness and transparency.
The League also said it supports having an independent group develop redistricting plans when council districts are redrawn after the census every 10 years. Currently the City Council itself is in charge of the process.
John Otter asked the commission to look into implementing ranked voting, a charter change voters approved in 2008 but which has been stalled because city officials say voting machine technology isn’t available to make it happen.
Otter said voting machines have been used for ranked voting around the country, including in jurisdictions with much larger populations than Santa Fe.
In ranked or “instant runoff” voting, voters rank candidates in order of preference. If, after counting all voters’ first choices, no candidate emerges with a majority of votes cast, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated.
Each ballot listing the eliminated candidate as first choice is recounted using the voter’s second choice. The process can be repeated until a candidate receives a majority of votes for a particular office.