Nuisance ordinance tabled indefinitely

CNJ staff photo: Sharna Johnson Curry County Commissioners Caleb Chandler and Chairman Bobby Sandoval listen Wednesday as a resident offers opinions on a proposed public health and safety ordinance.

By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer

An embattled ordinance aimed at public health and safety appears to have run out of lives.

During an informal committee meeting Wednesday, Curry County Commissioners decided to indefinitely table the ordinance and lift a one-month deadline in favor of more research.

No new timelines were set. Commissioners said they would like to hold more informal sessions to work through the issue.

Commissioners scheduled the special meeting to come up with a revised public nuisance ordinance — known as “An Ordinance Affecting General Public Health and Safety” — reintroduced within a month.

Efforts to create an ordinance have been ongoing for more than two years, spanning two commission terms.

The latest decision came after about three dozen members of the public and the committee agreed the ordinance’s history was convoluted and the results are a proposal that is probably not enforceable and potentially unconstitutional.

“I believe where we are right now is we’re stuck in forty feet of mud,” Walter Bradley told commissioners.

Bradley, a former lieutenant governor, advised commissioners to take their time and research the issue, not to succumb to pressure that led them to create a flawed proposal.

“Do not rush to legislate,” he said. “Identify what it is that this county needs in an ordinance.”

Bradley suggested using state resources, such as the Legislature’s counsel service, Eastern Plains Council of Governments and the New Mexico Association of Counties.

Bradley said commissioners need to research existing laws that could address some of the issues of concern and to be sure what the county is trying to do doesn’t create legal conflicts.

He also suggested the county look at extraterritorial zoning the city has in areas of the county and determine if collaboration with the city could give additional enforcement options.

Commissioner Caleb Chandler said he agreed with Bradley.

“If we enact something, it has to be something that we’re not going to have legal problems with in the future,” he said.

“I don’t think we want to hurry this up and put it on the books just so we can have something on the books.”

Commissioner Frank Blackburn, a member of the Land Use Committee that drafted the ordinance, said he too supported taking more time to make sure the ordinance is done correctly. His comment brought applause from the crowd of about three dozen in attendance.

“I’m going protect property rights,” Blackburn said. “I’m not going to violate property rights.”

County Attorney Stephen Doerr told commissioners he believed the current ordinance has reached a point where it no longer provides a workable foundation for the future and it should be tabled indefinitely.

“I think the commission is stymied and you’ve been trying to patch it (together) with duct tape,” he said. “Legally I would not recommend adopting the ordinance you’ve tabled.”

Chairman Bobby Sandoval allowed limited public comment. Sandoval said he did not think it productive for the commission to hear more comments regarding whether people support the need for an ordinance or not.

“We’re getting people coming to the podium telling us that we’ve got problems,” he said.

“We know we have problems,” Sandoval said, noting commissioners welcomed suggestions for a solution.

Resident Patsy Delk asked commissioners to give thought to illegal businesses operating in the county. She said even protective covenants in subdivisions are often unenforceable, bolstering the need for an ordinance.

Gloria Wicker, a resident of south Clovis, urged commissioners to move forward.

“Let’s get on with it,” Wicker said. “Let’s not wait eight months or a year until we get something done.”