2006 election may have been illegal

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By David Giuliani

In late 2006, then-Las Vegas City Councilman Michael Gallegos was the subject of a recall election, but he beat it back.

Now it turns out the recall election may have been illegal in the first place. An expert in municipal government told the council last week that the city wasn’t supposed to have provisions to recall an official in the city charter.

Randy Van Vleck, an attorney for the New Mexico Municipal League, said that the city is not a home-rule community, so it is limited by state law about what it can have in its charter.

“If you had a recall, there would be a good argument that it wasn’t a proper exercise of your authority,” he said.

That advice came a little late for Gallegos, who had to endure the recall process. Indeed, 58 percent of voters supported his ouster, but the recall organizers needed the same number of votes as Gallegos got when he was elected. They fell nearly 200 votes short.

A decade ago, the city amended its charter to give voters the power of recall, referendum and initiative. But Van Vleck said such powers aren’t available in non-home-rule communities, unless the city had a different form of government.

For the last few weeks, the City Charter Commission, whose members were recently appointed by the mayor and council, has been meeting to consider changes to the city’s 39-year-old charter. But Van Vleck said many ideas discussed, including instant runoffs, aren’t possible in Las Vegas because it’s not a home-rule community.

Van Vleck said state law sets forth a procedure for how a city can become a home-rule community. The state has about a dozen home-rule cities, nearly all of which are larger than Las Vegas.

Van Vleck said home rule gives a city more flexibility with its charter. He said it would take a 50 percent vote of the people to become a home-rule community.

“A home-rule community can legislate on any matter if the state Legislature doesn’t expressly deny you (that power),” Van Vleck said.

He suggested that if the council wanted to convert to home rule, it would need to reconstitute its charter commission under the procedures set forth in state law. No more than four members of a seven-member commission could be members of one political party.

Matt Martinez, chairman of the Charter Commission, said the charter’s current requirement to have 60 percent of voters to approve an amendment was a high hurdle to surmount. He suggested requiring a simple majority, which would give more power to the people.

Mayor Tony Marquez agreed.

“Let’s put the power where it should be — in the hands of the people,” he said.

Council members generally agreed that they would reconstitute the Charter Commission into one designed for a home-rule city. They said the would take up the matter at a coming meeting.