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In 28 pages, the City Charter (2019) embodies the structure of self-governance agreed upon by the voters of Las Cruces. First codified in 1985, the Charter has been amended five times to remain a living document. As a city councilor in 2019, my fellow councilors and I approved the changes being recommended for revision authorizing the amended charter to go before the voters of Las Cruces for approval.
The Charter is divided into 10 sections. Section 1 states Las Cruces is organized as a Municipal Corporation to maximize local self-government. The city declares certain powers for governance, lays out its geographical borders, and imposes limits on powers as required by federal and state statutes and constitutions.
Section 2 covers the establishment and maintenance of a seven-member city council. Divided into six distinct districts (subject to change after each national census), voters in each district choose their individual City Councilor. The seventh member, the mayor, is elected by voters of all six districts. The mayor chairs all meetings of the council and is recognized as head of the city government for ceremonial purposes. The council elects a mayor pro tem to act in place of the mayor as availability dictates.
The council serves as the legislative arm of the city government. “All powers of the city are vested in the council, except as otherwise provided by law or this Charter, and the council shall provide for the exercise thereof and for the performance of all duties and obligations imposed on the city by law.” Councilors are prohibited from holding any other elected offices or city employment. In fact, former councilors are barred from compensated appointive city office or employment until one year after the expiration of their term. Also, councilors shall not in any manner usurp the administrative authority of the city manager as outlined in Section Three.
Section 2 then sets out the procedures council is to follow, actions requiring ordinances, structures of ordinances and resolutions, emergency ordinances, codes of technical regulations, how the authentication and recording, codification, and distribution of council actions are to be managed, and how to establish and maintain boards, commissions, authorities, and agencies established to assist the council with their responsibilities.
Section 3 discusses the city manager; how the city manager is to be appointed (by a vote of at least four councilors), qualifications, and removal (by a vote of at least four councilors). The powers and duties of the city manager are clearly stated; “appoint, suspend or remove all administrative officers and employees, subject to the limitations and procedures established in the Charter and in any personnel rules adopted by the council.” Meeting attendance requirements, budget, and capital improvements responsibilities, annually reporting a complete summary of finances and activities, keeping the council fully advised, and other duties as specified or required by the council.
Section 4 discusses the administration of the city and describes how the council controls policy, and the city manager executes those policies. “The administration of the affairs of the City of Las Cruces shall be divided into organizational units established by the council. All organizations units shall be under the direction and supervision of the city manager,” is an example of that separation of powers and duties. A personnel system is to be maintained by administration respecting the required council ordinance. A city attorney licensed to practice in New Mexico is to be appointed by the city manager and serve as legal advisor to council, the city manager, and all organizational units of the city. A city clerk is to be appointed by the city manager. Also, “the council shall provide a method for receiving, acknowledging and striving to resolve complaints or grievances concerning the city or its operations.”
Section 5 discusses the finances of the city. The fiscal year begins on July 1 and ends on June 30. The city manager is to submit a budget for the ensuing fiscal year no later than April 30/May 1. Likewise a five-year capital improvement budget shall be prepared and submitted. This section is very specific on how these duties are to be accomplished by the city manager and city council.
Section 6 covers the duty of city council to plan for the “coordinated and harmonious” development of the city. A comprehensive plan must be adopted by resolution to guide such development.
Section 7 discusses city elections, how they are to be planned and executed. Much of this section was revised by the 2019 amended version of the Charter which includes election management by the city to administration by the county.
Section 8 details the authority to institute initiatives, referendums and the recall of elected officials. Petitions, referendum petitions, and actions on them are discussed in detail.
Section 9 describes the municipal court. Section 1 of the City Charter states that the city is limited to administering penalties of misdemeanor charges only. Section 9 then prescribes how those determinations are to be handled. In this section, the city council’s responsibility is to authorize additional judges if it decides there is such a need, and to appoint a municipal judge to fill a vacancy. A municipal judge is to be elected for a four-year term by voters of the city.
Section 10 outlines general provisions which tell how all by-laws, ordinances, and resolutions in force when the amended charter takes effect “are repealed and superseded to the extent that the same are inconsistent with the provisions of this Charter. All other resolutions and ordinances remain in full forces and effect.” It then discusses existing ordinances and resolutions, the duration of same, and that “all rights and property which were vested in the city shall remain so vested under this Charter. No existing right or liability and no pending litigation of any kind shall be affected by the adoption of this Charter.”
I encourage you to read and understand the city charter for yourselves. Since municipal elections are just days away, informed voters will better understand the importance of their choices.
Jack Eakman served as Las Cruces City Councilor from District 4 from 2015 through 2019. He currently is Chair of the Oversight Committee of the City of Las Cruces.