Last week, 56 percent of voters approved a new charter for the city of Las Vegas — a 35-page document that includes, among other things, a requirement for runoff elections when no candidate gets a simple majority of votes.
But now some people, including former city attorney Danelle Smith, are suggesting that 60 percent was needed to pass the charter, which serves as the city’s constitution.
When the city started drafting a charter a year ago, the Municipal League advised it to closely follow a state law for such a process. That’s advice the city took.
Sure, the current charter requires 60 percent for amendments. But the charter on the ballot was not an amendment; it was a complete replacement.
Indeed, the state constitution states that a simple majority is needed for a community to pass a charter. And the state law in question reflects that mandate in greater detail.
Charles Rennick, the lawyer the city hired to help the charter commission, stands by his original advice: Only a simple majority is needed to pass a charter.
In response to the questions, City Attorney Dave Romero said he will recommend to the City Council next week that it file a lawsuit seeking a declaratory judgment, letting a district judge decide the issue. That would be one of the council’s options, he said.
He suggested that the matter be taken up by the City Council in closed session. When asked why he would shut the doors, he referred to the fact that governing bodies in New Mexico are allowed to discuss litigation in secret. In this case, he said, the reason for closing the doors would be the city’s consideration of filing a friendly lawsuit on the charter.
The exception under the state Open Meetings Act for the discussion of litigation in secret is to allow elected officials to discuss legal strategy. Doing so protects the financial interests of taxpayer-supported institutions.
There is no such concern here. A majority of voters passed the charter, so the council should keep the public in the loop and reject Romero’s advice to close the doors. Such an approach would serve no one.
To its credit, the city was diligent in closely following state law and the state constitution in developing the charter.
If the council decides to take this matter to District Court, it should argue in favor of respecting the voters’ will in this matter. We believe the state constitution and state law are clear in this matter.