City Council approves recall petition shortfall

City Council approves recall petition shortfall

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By Las Cruces Bulletin Following a court ruling that sided with the Las Cruces city clerk’s decision to not count recall petitions after being notified by signers they were mislead, the City Council approved the counts Monday, June 1, ending the effort to recall three councillors, unless further court action is taken. City Attorney Rusty Babbington said the state court’s ruling on a writ of mandamus did result in one minor adjustment in the count on one petition, but the number was still insufficient for a recall. “It’s legal,” he said. The petition sought to recall councillors Gill Sorg, Olga Pedroza and Nathan Small for their support to have a minimum wage increase be decided by voters in the last general election. Samantha Barncastle, a lawyer for recall petitioners via the political action committee New Mexicans for a Better Tomorrow, said the City Charter lacks guidance for rejecting petitions by people who later notify the clerk’s office they want their names removed. The City Clerk’s Office should have defaulted to state law, she said, which gives a short window of time for people who have signed a petition to have their names removed. Supporters of Sorg, Pedroza and Small have accused the petition gatherers of telling people the petition wasn’t to recall city councillors, but for other purposes, most commonly to keep the Police Athletic League’s boxing club open. While the petitioners acknowledge there have been accusations of petition misconduct, they dispute the claims, Barncastle said. “There are only allegations of fraud,” she said. “None have been proven.” Speaking in support of the targeted councillors, Peter Goodman said in talking to people who signed the petitions, there was evidence early on for “widespread misconduct.” That 757 voters who signed the petition would formally ask to have their names removed later is “an extraordinary amount,” Goodman said, amounting to one quarter of the valid signatures. No one has stepped forward saying anyone pressured them to withdraw their names, he said, and state law did give the city clerk the authority to respond to an apparent major infraction. “The city clerk was made aware of a problem and responded to it,” Goodman said. “It is a red herring to say that the fraud wasn’t proven.” Most petition signers said they thought they were signing something else other than a recall petition, Goodman said. At the City Council meeting, several petition signers spoke and said they had been misled about the purpose of the petition. “The fact is that they misled a lot of people,” Goodman said. Jordan Benegas, one of the recall petition organizers, said the petition circulators were trained to state the reason for the recall petition. Patricia Gonzales said she was told by a recall petition circulator that it was to keep the city from tearing down PAL building to enlarge the aquatic center. “There was no mention of this being a recall,” she said. When she saw a letter to the editor describing the deception, Gonzales said she went to City Clerk’s Office and recanted her petition signing in writing. Gonzales said the circulators came to her door again and claimed the city was using money intended for speed bumps by Conlee Elementary School to instead be used to tear down the PAL boxing center. Sharon Shoemaker, a resident, said the dispute about how councillors voted on a particular issue wasn’t a good cause for recalling them. “We recall people when someone breaks the law or does something particularly egregious,” she said. Nancy Greene said recall petitioners didn’t have a good reason for the recall, but that people should be more careful about what they sign. “Shame on them and shame on us,” she said. Todd G. Dickson may be reached at 680-1983 or todd@ lascrucesbulletin.com. ‘The fact is that they misled a lot of people.’ PETER GOODMAN About recall petition circulators

Todd G. Dickson

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