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Another Perspective: The mayor's term in office

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By The Staff

Recently I read in the Optic a couple of articles that question whether Las Vegas’ charter properly sets the mayor’s term at two years. I understand that the New Mexico Municipal League’s attorney, Randy Van Vleck, has taken the position that the mayor’s term must be four years under state law. If that is the position he has taken, I beg to differ. One must look deeper into the statutory history to avoid this incorrect conclusion. Let me explain.

In 1965, Chapter 330 of the Laws of New Mexico was adopted as Senate Bill 11. This law repealed all earlier laws relating to municipalities and was referred to as the Municipal Code. Section 14-14-1 of that Municipal Code allowed any municipality to adopt a charter and to provide for a system of government that was deemed expedient and beneficial to the people of the community. Charters were to control when a state statute was inconsistent. It was specifically stated that any law relating to municipalities that was inconsistent with the charter, would not apply. It was under this portion of the Municipal Code that Las Vegas adopted its current charter. Later, this part of the Municipal Code was repealed and those provisions were replaced with the Home Rule Charter language that still exists in state law.

Las Vegas was the only municipality in the state that was created under this original charter provision of the Municipal Code.

The statutory sections that Van Vleck uses as the basis for his contrary opinion relate to the non-charter form of government called a Mayor-Council Municipality, as established by the New Mexico legislature. This alternative form of government for a non-charter municipality calls for a four-year mayoral term. This statute gives the mayor wide powers as the chief executive officer of the municipality. These provisions, inconsistent with our charter, do not apply to Las Vegas. We are ruled by our charter. It is our constitution.

Sometime in the mid 1960s, pursuant to the provisions of the Municipal Code, a Joint Commission on Consolidation was formed involving citizens from both sides of the bridge. Those citizens created the form of our current charter. A referendum was held both in the City of Las Vegas and the Town on Las Vegas on Feb. 27, 1968. By wide majorities in every precinct, consolidation of the two cities was approved as well as the new City Charter providing for a council-manager form of government. Our charter form of government centered on the mayor and council hiring a professional city manager to run the city.

Lynn Perrigo, head of the Joint Commission on Consolidation, which drafted the original charter, in a May 1985 letter to Bill Fulginiti, then the director of the Municipal League reported that while he and the other charter commissioners were working on a preliminary draft of the charter, they were kept on the right track by lawyers in the Attorney General’s Office and the then-director of the Municipal League. Perrigo also reported that in April 1970, after its approval by the electorate, the New Mexico Attorney General released an opinion sustaining the Las Vegas Charter.

The charter specifically calls for a two-year term for the mayor. So, Las Vegas and its mayor and City Council should put to rest the idea that there is any question about how long the mayoral term will be for the mayor elected next March. The mayor will have a two-year term.

In my opinion, it was not by chance that the drafters of our charter made the mayor’s term two years, rather than four. When Las Vegas has had a really effective mayor, it has often given him a “free ride” in subsequent elections. When we’ve had a mayor that was not so great, we’re relieved to have a chance to elect a new one after two years. Maybe that was what Lynn Perrigo and the others had in mind.

Danelle J. Smith was the first in-house city attorney for Las Vegas, serving from 1984 to 1988, then was a contract attorney for 10 years after that. She may be reached at 505-425-9346.