City Council approves ballot questions on referenda requirements, charter commission guidelines

Aug. 23—The Santa Fe City Council has rejected or blocked six of eight ballot questions that would have asked voters to decide on proposed city charter changes.

Along with a proposed excise tax on high-end home sales to fund affordable housing initiatives, Santa Fe voters will see questions on their November ballots about whether to lower the percentage of voter signatures required on a petition seeking an election on an initiative or referendum, and whether to establish clearer guidelines for the Charter Review Commission, a group convened at least every 10 years.

The decision came in a special meeting at the Santa Fe Community Convention Center that began Tuesday evening and stretched into early Wednesday morning. While dozens of residents lined up to weigh in on whether the city should ask for voter approval of the home sales excise tax — with most speaking in support of the effort — no members of the public spoke on the proposed charter changes.

Still, the issues spurred some lively debates among councilors.

In split votes, councilors voted down ballot measures proposing to create an independent city inspector general's office and to require all elected officials as well as appointed boards and commissions to adopt procedural rules "stating that they must adhere to established principles of procedural due process and fundamental fairness when functioning in a quasi-judicial role."

Ballot measures on the creation of an office of equity and inclusion and a human rights commission were indefinitely postponed, along with a measure that would have created a new city charter article titled "financial management" and one that would have limited the mayor's role on the governing body to voting only in the event of a council tie.

Sponsors of some of the tabled measures said they needed more time for discussion.

Many of the ballot measures under consideration were suggestions of the recently convened Charter Review Commission, which is required to meet at least every 10 years to propose changes to the city charter.

Councilors repeatedly asked during Tuesday's meeting why some of the ballot measures were proposed as changes to the charter, which require voter approval, rather than introduced as council ordinances, raising questions about the role of the charter commission.

Councilor Jamie Cassutt said she struggled when considering many of the ballot questions with the dual nature of the charter. It's role as the city's governing document gives it strength and means that anything put into the charter has longevity, she said, noting it also has less flexibility and can limit the city's ability to adapt in the future when circumstances change.

"I do not know what the city will look like in 10 years," Cassutt said.

Councilors also worried in some cases about asking voters to decide on issues without adequate time to educate them about the proposed measures. This was a particular concern during discussions about a proposed office of equity and inclusion and a human rights commission; some councilors said they worried that the city's work on equity issues could be impeded if one or both ballot questions were rejected by voters.

The measure asking voters whether to lower signature requirements for petitions, which passed 5-4, sparked similar concerns among councilors who said they feared the change would lead to a small minority of voters trying to get legislation on a ballot that conflicts with the city's "progressive" values.

This is a developing story and will be updated.