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Mayor’s Hours Still Undefined

RIO RANCHO, N.M. — City councilors have given a thumbs down to recommendations from the committee they appointed in July to review City Charter changes.

Those changes were approved by voters in March and are now in effect.

The Charter Review Committee was asked to look at the duties and role of the mayor and to define what was meant by the term “full time.” It concluded that those decisions should be left to voters, and it suggested no changes to Charter language pertaining to conditions under which a mayor could hold another job.

One of the voter-approved changes said the mayor’s job is “full time” but it failed to define the term. It also said the mayor could have outside employment as long as it did not “materially conflict” with the performance of his duties. It did not address salary.

After a series of occasionally contentious weekly meetings between Aug. 6 and Sept. 13, the Charter committee limited recommended changes to a list of enhanced mayoral duties such as representing the city at Sandoval County Commission meetings and promoting economic development.

If councilors had approved the recommendations, they could have put them before voters at a special election in March 2013. The City Clerk’s office had budgeted $55,000 for election costs if needed, according to a briefing memo.

Acting City Manager Jim Babin told councilors they also could refer the matter back to the committee for further consideration. Councilor Chuck Wilkins instead moved against approving the recommendations and to have a resolution dismantling the committee.

“For me personally, I didn’t feel the recommendations they made were worthy of a special election,” Wilkins said.

Councilors Mark Scott, Lonnie Clayton and Tamara Gutierrez supported Wilkin’s motion. Councilor Patty Thomas left before the issue was discussed.

Councilor Tim Crum, voted against rejection.

Crum felt the committee had avoided addressing the major issue of the mayor holding another job and how to define “material conflict.” He pleaded with the council to reconsider voting against the recommendations and instead to refer the issue back to the committee, asking members to address that issue.

He said asking the mayor to work full time on a part-time salary is unfair and would limit the potential pool of mayoral candidates in the future.

Swisstack said he thought the ballot question in March was not clear. He believes the issues can be clarified for the municipal election ballot in 2014.

Swisstack is halfway through a four-year term as mayor with an annual salary of $26,749. His other job is deputy Bernalillo County manager for public safety, where he earns $106,548 a year.

Rio Rancho resident Cheryl Everett, who attended many of the committee meetings, said the process looked frustrating because some members appeared to be trying to change the form of city government from a weak-mayor, strong council, to a government where the mayor holds more executive power, as in Albuquerque.

Committee chairman Steve vanHorn said a majority of the seven-person committee favored retaining the city’s current form of government.