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City ballots need full text for initiatives

Today, the Bernalillo County Commission will take up a question of grave importance. In a “special meeting,” the commission will make a decision regarding whether to include two city questions on the General Election ballot in November.

One nearly doubles the amount of your tax dollars going to mayoral candidates who choose to go the public financing route. The other is a ballot initiative that, without the benefit of debate or revision, would be placed before the public after which – if approved – would adversely impact small business and make it even harder for Albuquerque to create jobs.

From a policy perspective, I oppose both measures as they will either cost taxpayers millions of dollars for the ambitions of individual mayoral candidates and their hidden supporters; or cost businesses millions of dollars and directly harm small businesses along with the very people that they claim to be helping.

But the more important question is one of process and respect for the laws that govern how we make laws and run elections.

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Bernalillo County is constitutionally mandated to prepare a general election ballot that lists the names of the individuals seeking national, statewide, legislative and county office. In addition, the ballot shall contain county taxing questions, such as approval of general obligation bonds or mill-levy proposals.

Other issues that the commission has determined should be placed before county voters (such as a non-binding vote to vote on ART) are included despite the commission lacking the explicit authority to do so – but I digress.

In other words, county, state and national issues take precedence over city issues governed by their home rule charter and determined in city elections.

Including city questions governed by city rules in a general election governed by the county is a courtesy and not mandated by the state Constitution, statues, nor by precedence.

At today’s meeting, the commission should rightly be focused on whether the city questions can be placed before the voters of Albuquerque in a discretionary election without adversely impacting the ballots of every county resident.

The commission also will be asked to become the judge and subsequent defender of the City Charter at county expense as legal action will almost certainly follow.

Questions such as: Should the full text of proposal be printed or is a summary adequate? What size font will be necessary in order to accommodate these discretionary questions?

Early discussions indicate that a 7- to 7½-point font will be required to include the city’s questions even in summary.

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To give you an idea of how big, or rather how small that is, chances are you are reading this in no less than 9-point text. If the commission decides to include the city questions, every voter in Bernalillo County will suffer through at least one full page of 7- to 7½-point text asking voters important questions regarding public debt and even the future of Bernalillo County.

If 7½-point text is required to print a summary version of the city ballot initiative, abiding by the City Charter and including the full text of a seven-page ordinance is simply impossible.

So what’s the problem? Put it on in summary form, let the voters suffer through an excruciating ballot, and be done with it.

The problem is, the City Charter requires that ordinances be presented to the voters as they were presented to the city.

That means the full text.

More importantly, ignoring the City Charter and its voter-approved provisions creates an end run around the lawful city governing document. That’s cheating folks – cheating the charter, cheating the process, and cheating you.

County commissioners are not bound by the City Charter. But in order to present a valid and binding city question – regardless of the issue or action – we must abide by the charter and respect the votes cast by the citizens of Albuquerque who approved the City Charter in the first place.

If we, as commissioners, believe in the rule of law, respect the voters of Albuquerque and Bernalillo County, and hold dear the values of transparency and voter participation, there’s really only one course of action – allow the city questions to be placed on the next city ballot in the next city election.


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