RIO RANCHO, N.M. — The City of Rio Rancho’s proposed amendments to its code of conduct do a good job of increasing transparency and allowing people to use public property to participate in self-government.
The changes will have to pass a second reading, but Rio Rancho Governing Body members supported them during the first reading at their Nov. 13 meeting.
The code of conduct as adopted in 2016 prohibited the use of city facilities to campaign or try to influence elections. That prevented candidate forums from being held at city libraries during the 2018 municipal elections, which was a shame.
The proposed changes still prohibit the use of city money, facilities and personnel for campaigning, and have other common-sense provisions to prevent abuse. But now residents will be able to reserve spaces already open for public meetings for any number of political activities.
People wanting to use a public space, such as a library meeting room, for a political purpose must use proper procedures to reserve it and pay any required rental fee. Space in facilities used as polling places can’t be reserved for political activities within 30 days of an election to abide by laws forbidding campaigning too close to voting locations.
Those changes make a lot of sense.
It’s wrong for a candidate to spend city money or resources to further his or her campaign. However, there’s no reason people shouldn’t be able to host candidate forums or even hold a campaign meeting in spaces designated for use by the general public, as long as they cover any cost to taxpayers.
Participating in democracy is a legitimate use of that space. Allowing political activity, especially forums, there gives voters more chances to become well-informed, which makes for better decisions.
Also under the changes, campaign-specific handouts still couldn’t be distributed in city buildings, but non-partisan voter guides that provide information without taking a side would be allowed. Those rules are also appropriate, again giving voters more opportunities to become informed without allowing campaigning willy-nilly.
On the transparency side, with the proposed amendments, elected and appointed officials would have to file updated disclosures of financial interest every January, and candidates for elected or appointed positions would have to reveal financial interests when they filed to run for election or applied for appointment.
We understand some people may squirm at revealing their personal financial interests to the public when they don’t know if they’ll actually get the job.
Nonetheless, we agree with City Clerk Rebecca Martinez that the public, in the case of elected officials, and the governing body, in the case of appointed officials, should be able to consider any possible conflicts of interest when making their decisions.
People who are prepared to become public officials need to be prepared to share financial interests, anyway, since they’ll have to do so if they get the job.
We applaud the code of conduct amendments and urge the governing body to continue to support them.