Las Vegas Optic: Mayor told to sign law or resign
by Martin Salazar, Las Vegas Optic
May 24th, 2012
It’s been more than seven weeks since the City Council voted 3-1 to approve an anti-fracking ordinance, but the law has yet to be added to the municipal code book because of the mayor’s refusal to sign it.
On Wednesday, supporters of the controversial community rights ordinance showed up en masse to confront Mayor Alfonso Ortiz, telling him he had no authority to block the ordinance and calling on the Council to remove him from office if he refuses to sign it.
“It appears that you’re overstepping your boundaries,” Miguel Pacheco said during the public input portion of Wednesday’s City Council meeting.
“Mayor, I don’t understand how you can override that vote…,” he later added. “Where’s our democracy?”
Lee Einer called the mayor’s action “disgraceful,” alleging that Ortiz is in violation of state law and the city charter and that it constitutes malfeasance.
He told Ortiz he needs to sign it or resign and told the council that its authority was being usurped. Einer urged the council to remove the mayor if he refuses to sign the ordinance.
Eight others followed, questioning the mayor’s refusal to sign and stressing the importance of the ordinance.
Dubbed the Las Vegas Community Bill of Rights and Local Self-Government Ordinance, the measure seeks to elevate the civil rights of the community and of its natural resources while limiting the rights currently enjoyed by corporations. The council majority approved the ordinance on April 2, despite a warning from City Attorney Dave Romero that it is unconstitutional and that it violates the city charter.
Although the mayor doesn’t have veto power under the city’s current laws, city code spells out that ordinances shall bear “the signatures of the mayor and attesting officer.” Up until now, that provision has merely been a formality.
After listening quietly to the public input, Mayor Ortiz told the crowd that he is still against fracking and pointed out that the city already has a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing in place.
Ortiz said he will fight oil and gas companies to stop fracking in the area. But he said the city attorney and other attorneys objected to the ordinance because it violates the state and federal law.
Ortiz said he swore an oath to honor and obey the state and federal constitutions and city law.
After Ortiz addressed the criticism, Councilwoman Tonita Gurule-Giron, read two letters into the record signed by herself and Councilman David Romero.
The letters asked the city attorney and Ortiz for the legal authority under which the mayor can refuse to sign the ordinance.
The ordinance makes it unlawful for any corporation to engage in the extraction of oil, natural gas, or other hydrocarbons within the city of Las Vegas and its watersheds. It holds that wetlands, streams, aquifers and other water systems possess inalienable and fundamental rights to exist and flourish within the city.
And it tries to strip corporations of many of the rights they currently enjoy, including the commerce and contracts clauses of the U.S. and state constitutions.
The ordinance was drafted by The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, which is based in Pennsylvania.
While dozens of other local governments around the country have adopted similar ordinances, Las Vegas was the first municipality in New Mexico and possibly in the Southwest to do so.
Among those pushing for the ordinance was former City Councilor Andrew Feldman. Feldman attended Wednesday’s meeting but didn’t address the council.
Contacted on Thursday, Feldman said, “(The mayor’s) claiming that it’s an illegal ordinance and that it wasn’t passed, however, no legal authority in New Mexico has weighed in on it.
“To my knowledge no tort claims have been filed regarding that ordinance, and the mayor’s lack of action in not signing the ordinance is based on intimidation, misinformation and opinions from attorneys that are working on conventional notions of current law. I feel the council passed it legally, and we need to be leaders in protecting the people’s right to clean air, land and water.”