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City Council asks county to put 3 items on ballot

Copyright © 2014 Albuquerque Journal

Albuquerque voters can forget about seeing reduced marijuana penalties or a city tax increase for social services on the ballot this fall.

The City Council adopted an election resolution late Wednesday that doesn’t include either question.

Instead, councilors want to ask Bernalillo County commissioners to place three less-controversial items on the Nov. 4 ballot, if there’s room.

The election resolution now goes to Mayor Richard Berry, who vetoed an earlier version that included the tax and marijuana questions. He doesn’t oppose sending the other three measures to voters, a spokeswoman said.

They include:

• Granting the City Council approval authority over the mayor’s hiring of a police and fire chief. Council Democrats out-voted their Republican colleagues to make this the top priority, if the county can fit only one city question on the ballot.

• Changing the voter-initiative process so that successful petition drives don’t cause frequent special elections. Republican councilors wanted to make this the top priority, though the idea failed on a 4-5 vote along party lines.

• A bond proposal to fund metropolitan redevelopment.

The election resolution containing three items was adopted on a 8-1 vote, with Republican Trudy Jones in dissent.

City Council President Ken Sanchez, a Democrat, said he preferred to send all five questions over to the county for inclusion on the ballot.

“I’m disappointed,” he said after the meeting, but “this is a compromise.”

Sanchez said the ballot question on the police chief should be the top priority because of the tremendous public interest in seeing reform in the Albuquerque Police Department. His fellow Democrats agreed.

Councilor Don Harris, a Republican, argued that the petition initiative changes ought to be the priority because the city isn’t expected to hire or fire a police chief soon, and the chief question could go before voters in the city election next year. Petition initiatives, meanwhile, can be launched anytime.

County Clerk Maggie Toulouse Oliver has said she expects to have room for at least one municipal item and maybe more, but not all five the city originally requested. The general-election ballot includes state and county candidates, ranging from the U.S. Senate to the flood-control board, in addition to bond issues and other items.

City councilors said they hope the County Commission will meet on Monday next week to consider which items can fit on the ballot. The county must turn the ballot over to state election officials the next day, on Sept. 9.

Even with the setbacks at Wednesday’s council meeting, supporters of the marijuana and tax proposals can still seek to get them before voters in a future election, though Berry’s opposition remains a barrier at City Hall. Attempts to override his veto failed Wednesday.

The marijuana question, sponsored by Councilor Rey Garduño, would have asked voters whether they want the city to reduce the penalty for possession of less than an ounce of marijuana. It would have been up to the council to craft an ordinance with the details afterward.

The tax proposal, sponsored by Klarissa Peña, was to seek voter approval of a one-eighth cent gross-receipts tax to fund social services.

If approved, it would have raised about $16 million – with half going to fund services to help people struggling with mental illness, homelessness or addiction. The other half would’ve gone toward those services, too, or for construction of “capital improvements” needed to carry out the work.

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