5 things to know about effort to recall Aztec city commissioners after 2nd Amendment vote
FARMINGTON — An effort to recall Commissioners Rosalyn Fry and Mark Lewis as well as Mayor Victor Snover has begun in Aztec after the trio voted against a Second Amendment Preservation City resolution.
“I don’t believe that they’re actually representing the people,” said Diane Hathcock, who has volunteered to circulate recall petitions.
She said after attending recent commission meetings regarding state firearm legislation that she felt that the three commissioners had their own agenda.
1. District court decision needed before petitions are circulated
The state statute allows recall petitions to be circulated only after a district court judge finds that the elected official has violated the oath of office or acted in malfeasance or misfeasance.
Recall petitions must be signed by at least 20 percent of the average number of voters who cast ballots in the past four regular municipal elections. Those signatures must come from people who are registered voters and live inside Aztec city limits.
If enough signatures are gathered, the San Juan County Clerk’s office would oversee a special mail ballot election. County Clerk Tanya Shelby explained that recent changes to election law require all special elections to be by mail-in ballot. That means every registered voter who lives inside Aztec city limits would receive a ballot in the mail. The City of Aztec would have to pay for election costs.
The commissioners can only be recalled if an equal or greater number of people vote to recall them than voted them into office.
That means at least 260 people would have to vote to recall Snover, at least 193 people would have to vote to recall Fry and at least 196 people would have to vote to recall Lewis.
2. Aztec is the only local city that hasn't passed a Second Amendment resolution
The commission received input from community members during three meetings over the course of March. In each of those meetings, the majority of people said they wanted the city government to pass a resolution stating no city resources would be used to enforce gun laws they believe infringe on constitutional rights.
Aztec is the only local municipality that has not passed a Second Amendment Preservation resolution. Other local governments have said their resolutions are largely symbolic and are intended to send a message to lawmakers in Santa Fe.
Tripp Stelnicki, a spokesman for Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, said in an email that the governor supports local jurisdictions approving resolutions that express shared priorities, such as support for the state and U.S. constitutions, including the Second Amendment.
“We all agree on that, we all share public safety as a priority, and we should all agree our constituents have a constitutional right to be safe in our communities,” he said. “That's what the governor has expressed in her communications with these folks. The problem arises when local jurisdictions openly claim they will not enforce duly enacted state laws — and when they spread unfounded fear about certain laws that do not, by any means, violate anyone's constitutional rights. That undermines the public trust and sends a dangerous and unfortunate message. One cannot claim to be a supporter of the constitution and in the same breath assume the authority to violate state law.”
3. Legal concerns surround resolution
When it came time for the Aztec City Commission to vote on the resolution, the city attorney had expressed concerns about the city being sued if it chose not to provide city resources to enforce state laws.
Aztec is not the only community that has concerns about the resolution creating liabilities for the city.
Linda Hughes, a member of Wheeler Peak Progressives, attended a Village of Angel Fire council meeting on Tuesday to express concerns that a Second Amendment Sanctuary resolution could open the village up to lawsuits. The council chose not to vote on the resolution.
4. Both sides point to same part of New Mexico constitution
Opponents to Second Amendment sanctuary resolutions say it usurps state power and violates the New Mexico constitution. Specifically, they highlight a portion of the state constitution that bars a city or county from regulating the right to bear arms.
This is the same section of the constitution that community members read when encouraging the commission to vote for the sanctuary resolution.
The 1986 election included a constitutional amendment prohibiting counties and municipalities from regulating the right to bear arms. The amendment resulted in one sentence being added to the constitution — “No municipality or county shall regulate, in any way, an incident of the right to keep and bear arms.”
Both Second Amendment sanctuary opponents and proponents are pointing to this amendment in their arguments about legality of either gun laws or sanctuary resolutions.
The Daily Times capital correspondent reported in 1986 that the constitutional amendment would guarantee freedom to travel from one county to another county in the state without fear of violating local ordinances. In addition, the constitutional amendment would keep the gun control controversy at the state level, the paper reported.
5. Aztec has never had a successful recall election
Aztec has had one previous recall election. In December 2000, three commissioners faced a recall election due to allegations of misconduct related to an annexation process. None of the three commissioners were ultimately recalled and one of them, Mike Arnold, went on to lead Aztec as the mayor from 2004 until 2008.
Lewis, who is now a city commissioner, reported on the recall election for The Daily Times in 2000. The election led to one of the highest voter turnouts in city history with more than 770 people casting ballots.
The city came close to having a recall election in the late 1980s when the City Commission was considering cat leash laws.
Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.