News

Charter Tour

Commission recommends rewriting the powers of the mayor and voters in Santa Fe’s charter

(Anson Stevens-Bollen)

Santa Fe’s Charter Review Commission, the volunteer board tasked with proposing changes to how the city is governed, will deliver several proposals to the mayor and City Council on May 10 that include changing the powers of the mayor and a measure to make it easier for voters to put their own ideas on the ballot, among others.

The governing body will ultimately decide which, if any, of the commission’s ideas should go to voters for approval in November’s election.

But in wrapping up the once-a-decade charter review process, commissioners punted on a few proposals, quashing a push to bolster urban farming and demurring on the idea of making the job of city councilors a full-time gig.

And the months-long process concluded with the commission receiving relatively little input from local residents, leading to calls for the city to give more power and resources to future charter commissions.

Here are a few of the commission’s recommendations:

Democracy

It was not until the last few weeks that City Hall began publicizing commission meetings and set up a webpage where local residents could submit their ideas.

Until that point, the commission—a nine-member body with one member appointed by each city councilor and the mayor—had received just a handful of comments from the public.

“The composition of the charter commission is professional and impressive in the breadth of experience they have and unfortunately, the public never really got to see that,” says Adam Johnson, executive director of the Old Santa Fe Association, who was the only nonmember to regularly speak at commission meetings. “The city didn’t really make it clear this was happening.”

So, among the commission’s recommendations is a proposal that the charter give future commissions more time and resources to engage with the community.

The commission proposes the city set up future commissions at least 15 months before the next election, provide it a webpage and require the group hold at least two meetings in each council district.

The recommendations of future commissions would also go on the ballot unless rejected by a supermajority of the City Council, making it harder for the city’s governing body to quash proposals from the group.

“The process itself had certain drawbacks—not enough time, not enough public-facing outreach, not enough ways to encourage public participation,” Peter Ives, a commissioner from District 2 and former city councilor, said during the group’s final meeting May 8. “This was an effort to try and ensure that there was adequate time for any ensuing commission to do the work that it needs to do.”

The commission also recommended the city lower the number of petition signatures needed for voters to put a proposed law on the ballot, or repeal an unpopular law through a referendum.

Under the current charter, ballot measure backers would need to get signatures from voters equal to 33.3% of the number of people who voted in the last mayoral election. The commission proposed lowering that requirement to 15%.

Mayor and council

Recommendations also include recasting the role of the mayor.

The last charter review commission reshaped the role of Santa Fe’s mayor, proposing the job be full time and recommending the mayor get a vote on all matters before the council—ideas approved by voters in 2014.

But the changes have blurred some of the lines between the mayor and council. In setting up the current charter commission, the mayor and council asked the commission to consider whether their roles should be better defined.

This commission proposed the mayor only get a tie-breaking vote on matters before the council. The mayor would also get the power to veto legislation approved by the council, though the council could override vetoes with a supermajority vote.

Instead of serving in both a legislative and executive capacity, the mayor’s role would be characterized under the commission’s proposal as that of a “political leader, public convener, and head of city government.”

Though the council also tasked the commission with considering whether councilors should be full time, the commission recommended that the job of councilors remain part time. But the commission recommended the city assign one staff person to each councilor—a move the body says would not require changing the city charter.

Equity and inclusion

A new Human Rights Commission and Office of Equity and Inclusion to examine equity and inequity in city government is another commission recommendation.

While the commission received comments from relatively few local residents, suggestions from the public led to at least one of the commission’s proposals.

Johnson and others raised concerns that the city’s process for handling land use cases—which have included acrimonious rezoning debates in recent years—limits public participation.

With the council handling such matters as “quasi-judicial,” councilors say they can’t respond to constituent questions and local residents who want to engage in the process don’t have the same role as other parties, like developers and city staff.

The commission recommended an amendment to the charter that would require the city to adopt procedures for ensuring “procedural due process of law and fundamental fairness” to members of the community participating in those proceedings.

Food and hunger

Still, commissioners curbed one of the most ambitious proposals the group considered, which would have made it a goal of the city to eradicate hunger and would have tasked city officials with supporting urban farming to help meet that goal.

For all of Santa Fe’s green credentials, the city’s codes don’t particularly accommodate urban agriculture.

And after District 1 Councilor Signe Lindell raised concerns at a recent commission hearing about the potential impacts of encouraging more urban farming, the body voted not to recommend changing the charter to address the issue.

That was a disappointment to John Paul Granillo, a commissioner from District 3 who helps run a farm just outside city limits.

Granillo said the commission should have not have carved out time to hear from city councilors before the group finished its work—and particularly when it had heard from so few other local residents.

“I think the charter commission this year, it already had its agendas pre-set,” says Granillo.

Instead of putting a section on hunger and urban farming into the charter, the commission recommended the city council forward the issue to a proposed Human Rights Commission.

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