It has been a stressful few months for all of us. But, with the election behind us and the holidays approaching, I’m starting to think about gratitude. I’m especially grateful for our political system, for government of the people, by the people and for the people. I believe in our system. As a former Albuquerque City Council attorney, an assistant city attorney, a Municipal League attorney, a Santa Fe city attorney and a Village of Los Ranchos municipal judge, I’ve had the privilege of working with many municipal officials and employees dedicated to public service. I was also involved with state politics for 10 years when I was married to a lawyer who successfully ran for state attorney general and later lost a bid for governor. In the process, I learned many things, including the difference between people of integrity who are motivated by a desire to serve the public and people who are motivated by a desire for money and personal power.
As difficult as some of these lessons were, I was grateful for them because they helped me understand what was happening in the Village of Los Ranchos where I live. This past summer, residents of the village were suddenly faced with several proposals for high-density housing projects, all in close proximity to each other. These projects not only posed a threat to a valued, semi-rural way of life, but also they shook the trust of many residents in their elected public officials. One project, the Village Center, had already been approved by the time residents were given a presentation on what was planned. It was a confusing process. The trustees first chose the developer through a selection process that did not require public notice and, when concerns were raised, they promised notice and a full hearing for the site development plan, with plenty of opportunities for public participation and input. That never happened. The mayor signed a Property, Sale and Development Agreement with the developer and donated approximately 12 acres of Village Center property to him for $1 per parcel.
Fortunately, Village residents had some recourse. Dozens of residents filed citizen complaints with the Attorney General’s Office for governmental misconduct and violation of the state Constitution’s anti-donation clause. Friends of Los Ranchos filed a complaint with the State Ethics Commission. Two state officials asked the State Ethics Commission for advisory opinions concerning the legality of the Village Center Project. The state auditor began an investigation of the Village Center Project, with an independent auditor’s report due at the end of the year.
Laws are not effective unless they are enforced and, rather than wait for state officials to act, Friends of Los Ranchos filed a lawsuit in District Court challenging the legality of the Property, Sale and Development Agreement for the Village Center. Many people contributed money to cover the legal expenses. I am grateful to them and to all the people who worked together to protect the Village. I am grateful to the Albuquerque Journal, and Ollie Reed in particular, for excellent coverage of the Village Center controversy. Many people have worked to obtain justice and I believe that all their efforts will pay off. As the saying goes, “It takes a village.”