SANTA FE, N.M. — The city clerk of Las Vegas, N.M., on Tuesday announced that more than half the names have been purged from a petition to recall Mayor Alfonso E. Ortiz Jr., leaving the mayor’s detractors more than 200 names short of what they need to trigger a recall election.
But a leader of the petition drive said this isn’t the end.
“We can see just from the number of people who were purged that this is a case of voter disfranchisement,” said Lee Einer. “We have 10 days to correct records at (the) county. We don’t believe that those people that were purged were done so appropriately.”
Einer said he also plans to notify the Attorney General’s Office and consult an attorney about taking legal action.
“This cannot be allowed to stand,” he said.
The petition, submitted June 21, charges that the mayor has “repeatedly demonstrated a contempt for the rule of law, the process of democracy and the authority of the governing body.”
It also claims that Ortiz caused the city to enter into employment contracts with city directors in violation of the city charter, used a “high-handed” approach toward regulating acequias that resulted in exorbitant legal fees, and has done little to address the needs of the city’s youth and impoverished residents.
Ortiz responded with an 11-page document answering each charge. Several of those pages address the mayor’s decision not to sign a community rights ordinance passed by the City Council last fall that he says is unconstitutional.
The ordinance would have placed a ban on hydraulic fracturing – better known as fracking – within city limits. The way it’s written, the ordinance would supersede the city’s charter, state and federal laws, he said.
“It’s not about fracking, it’s about being anti-American,” Ortiz said in a phone interview Tuesday.
Einer, a Las Vegas resident since 2005 and self-described “unpaid community organizer,” sits on the board of the Community for Clean Water Air and Earth and is co-founder of the New Mexico Coalition for Community Rights and the Committee for Honest Government. He was behind the effort to pass the ordinance, but said the mayor’s refusal to sign it is only part of the reason for the petition drive.
“His refusal to sign is just one instance of many of his disregard for the city charter and the governing council,” Einer said. “Add to that the fact that, during his first several years as mayor, he held two elected positions, in violation of the city charter, and named himself head of the finance committee at the same time he was county treasurer, which calls into question any type of checks and balances.
“I can go on and on about the kind of stuff he does to run roughshod over the City Council.”
Einer also claims that Ortiz used taxpayers’ money to hire three lawyers to defend against the recall, which he said a city employee told him probably amounted to about $3,000.
Ortiz, who was elected to his second term as mayor last year, dismissed the allegations.
“Those kinds of comments are just sensationalized statements on his part,” the mayor said, declining to respond further because he said Einer lacks credibility. “If it were a credible party … but these are not reasonable people. These people are radicals.”
Ortiz stuck to what was stated in the 11-page document titled “Mayor’s Response to the Alleged Reasons for Recall.”
It lists 12 executive orders he issued since becoming mayor in 2010 and points out that the council has the right to overrule any of them, but it has not.
It also lists more than $22,000 in charitable distributions that benefit youth and impoverished people that have been made since he became mayor; outlines what’s been done to improve senior citizen centers; and notes a growing number of youth that have been hired by the city for summer employment.
And it mentions the city’s efforts to use reclaimed water to water its parks and delineates more than $20 million in state grants and loans that have been procured for water and infrastructure projects.
“I didn’t secure all of that myself, but I played a major role,” he said of the state funding and loans. “I’m proud of what I’ve done.”
Both sides slung other allegations against the other, claiming dirty politics and intimidation.
The petition included 1,490 signatures, but only 733 were certified as valid by the clerk’s office. The total number of valid signatures needed to call a special election is 937.
City Clerk Casandra Fresquez said people signing the petition must be registered voters within the city limits and the address used on the petition must match their voter registration, as per state statute.
“If they did not match, they were purged,” she said.
Fresquez said other signatures were purged because a nickname was used or the name on the petition was not legible. She said several people who signed the petition later notified her office that they wanted to withdraw their names.