Letter to the Editor: Charter Vote is Turning Point in Los Alamos History
By Ellen Walton
Protecting citizen home rule in Los Alamos begins with the voter. You have before you four ballot questions for Los Alamos County charter amendments, and a very serious decision to make about your home rule government.
A vote of “yes” to these amendments will move us towards an impenetrable central government; a vote “no” will preserve the rights that were fiercely fought for by citizens who considered the original charter of 1967.
That charter was defeated, mostly because the petitioning requirements for referendum, recall, and initiative were considered far too restrictive.
Los Alamos became a county in the late 1940’s, after a period of not even being allowed to vote in presidential elections.
In the 1950’s the state gave us our special combined city/county classification, of which there are less than a handful nationwide.
In 1964 New Mexico passed legislation allowing Los Alamos citizens their own home rule charter, meaning that the citizens could govern themselves in the areas not explicitly dictated by state law through a charter just like that of an incorporated city.
However, Los Alamos is not an incorporated city; it does not have municipal articles of incorporation even though it is called “the Incorporated County of Los Alamos.”
What it does have, however, is this special privilege granted by the state to govern itself as a home rule county.
This grants us unprecedented flexibility in our local government, allowing for us to create a charter that both obeys state law and allows for maximum citizen participation.
In 1967 citizens were faced with a charter that imposed excessively strict requirements for referendum, recall, and initiative petitions.
They fought the proposal of a charter creating a closed central government and, in 1968, won a government that was at least accessible to citizens.
Referendum, recall and initiative sections had been wisely corrected to reflect our excellent voter turnout.
Let’s not go backwards. This is a turning point in Los Alamos history. We are losing our home rule.
We have all but lost our right to vote on large spending because the Council no longer comes to us for votes on funding for major projects.
Now petitioning local government with true grievances or creative new ideas will no longer be possible on a grass roots level.
Finally, discussions are already being held by the Council and by the Charter Review Committee appointed by Council to further limit the autonomy of the Utilities Board, eliminate the elected offices of County Sheriff, County Assessor and County Clerk, and introduce a mayor appointed by the Council.
Let’s not go there. Vote no on all four charter amendments and protect your home rule.