Clerk, group at odds over procedure

By Vanessa Kahin
Staff writer

The city clerk and a conservative political group are at odds over how an issue of local concern becomes a city ordinance.

A spokesperson for the High Plains Patriots claims the city’s charter allows them to  petition for the adoption of an ordinance requiring photo identification to vote in municipal elections. The group has joined forces with the New Mexico Citizens Coalition in pushing for the change.

The Patriots submitted two different versions of such a petition May 1 to City Clerk LeighAnn Melancon for certification.

Melancon said Wednesday she hasn’t certified the petition because it is under review by the city attorney. She also said she doesn’t believe there is any such provision in the city charter and ordinances can only be introduced by city commissioners.

Patriots President Carolyn Spence said she was notified the petition could not proceed. Spence said according to state statute, it is only the form of the petition — aspects such as the number of columns it contains — that is up for approval by the city clerk, not the subject of the petition itself.

The issue of petitioning for an ordinance has now become a concern for the Patriots, in addition to the issue of voter identification, Spence said.

“At this point, the process is more important than the issue itself,” Spence said. “We want the process to be used for the citizens to have a voice.”

Spence said the Patriots have filed a complaint with the New Mexico Secretary of State.

On the issue of voter identification, “The majority of the people would like to see the integrity of our vote protected by at least this simple measure,” Spence said.

“The issue is,” Melancon said, “I’m only required to certify a petition that can trigger an election, and our charter does not provide for this initiative.”

In Clovis, Melancon said, “ a petition can be used for a recall of a standing elected official, or (to repeal) after an ordinance has been passed.”

In other words, should anyone not agree with an ordinance, individuals have 30 days to petition against it, she said.

“(One) cannot file a petition for an ordinance to be introduced,” Melancon said.

Melancon said petitioning for an ordinance would require an amendment to the city’s charter.  She said Spence and the Patriots may still pursue the issue of voter identification, just not through a petition.

“Citizens always have the right to ask a commissioner to introduce an ordinance,” Melancon said. Furthermore, “(The Patriots) can still do their petition, without requesting my signature, then they can present that petition to a commissioner,” Melancon said.

Spence disagrees.

“Just because they’ve never done it, doesn’t mean it isn’t there,” Spence said.

“The election process is so important to a free republic,” Spence continued. “We are going to work to ensure that it is properly used.”