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Edgewood ‘at a stalemate’ over voters’ choice

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

The Edgewood Governing Body is heading to court again, this time to settle on its form of government.

Last summer, citizens of Edgewood voted to change the town’s government from a council-mayor form to a commissioner-manager style. Voters came out in record numbers to overwhelmingly approve the change, which would do away with an elected mayor and instead allow the Governing Body to hire a town manager.

But now, in order to implement that change, the current town government must take steps to implement voter-approved change by the November 2021 election.

And that’s where things have stalled.

Without a mayor since late last year, the four-member town council is split on how to move forward.

Sherry Abraham

Councilors Sherry Abraham and Audrey Jaramillo filed a writ of mandamus – a type of lawsuit that calls for government officials to do their public duty – to facilitate the necessary steps to allow the change in government.

The writ was filed earlier this month and is set for a hearing at 10 a.m. March 1 before 1st Judicial District Judge Kathleen McGarry Ellenwood.

John Abrams

Abraham and Jaramillo say they’re concerned that fellow town councilors John Abrams and Linda Holle aren’t taking the necessary steps to honor the will of the people.

Linda Holle

Holle and Abrams didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Audrey Jaramillo

In the lawsuit, Abraham and Jaramillo ask for clarification as to whether the town should continue operating under a council-mayor form of government until this November’s election, or implement the switch to a commissioner-manager style.

“There are serious deadlines that have to be met,” Jaramillo said in a recent phone interview. “There’s all kinds of things.”

District lines would have to be drawn before the next election, candidates have to decide whether to run for office and begin organizing campaigns, and the town would have to hire a town manager, she said.

She said that, without the writ, she’s afraid things will come to a standstill. She said Abrams, the acting mayor, hasn’t allowed any topics related to the governmental switch onto the agenda, and that she shuts down Abraham and Jaramillo when they try to bring up these issues at town meetings.

Santa Fe County Clerk Katharine Clark, who oversees Edgewood elections, said she needs to know the election districts for the town 70 days in advance of the election, a date that falls in late August. She said the current councilors are elected at-large, but the new form of government calls for commissioners to be elected within geographical districts.

Delays in the census results interfere with redistricting, Clark said. At this time, it’s unclear how that will affect Edgewood.

The issue isn’t without precedent in Edgewood, either.

When citizens were originally trying to petition for a special election in 2020 to change the form of government, they had to take to the courts then, too. The town wasn’t meeting the necessary deadlines to hold the special election on time. It took an order from District Judge Bryan Biedscheid for the town’s Governing Body to hold the necessary meetings for the special election.

“My stance is how can we be councilors when the people have said we clearly want a different form of government?” Abraham said. “Their decision was overwhelming. To me, if we have to listen to somebody, we have to listen to the public.”

Resident Sabina Price, who voted for the change of government, thinks members of the town government should be ashamed of themselves for what she sees as embarrassing behavior. She said they get away with things, such as harassment and bullying, that the general public could never get away with. She said she’d like to see Edgewood restored to a respectful type of government.

“What I have witnessed here in Edgewood is we have power-hungry individuals,” Price said. “I think under the commissioner-manager (form of government), there would be better oversight and, hopefully, would actually also put some regulations in place.”

Resident Linda Starling shares the sentiment.

“I think what it is, is that people are thumbing their nose at the voter,” she said. “We voted for something (and) it had not happened. We are at a stalemate because we have two councilors who, for lack of better terminology, are in the back pocket of the former mayor.”

Former mayor John Bassett was ordered removed from office by a district court judge last year after a group of Edgewood residents filed a lawsuit alleging Bassett violated the town’s nepotism ordinance and failed to recuse himself from votes on town projects that benefitted him personally.