The four members remaining on the Truth or Consequences City Commission unanimously agreed yesterday at their Oct. 13 meeting that the commission’s empty fifth seat should be filled from the list of candidates running for commission in the upcoming election on Nov. 2. The informal decision will delay their appointment of a replacement for the seat vacated last month by Commissioner Randall Aragon until at least mid-November.
The four sitting city commissioners have the authority under state law to appoint a registered voter residing within the city to fill a vacant seat by a simple majority vote.
The first meeting after the election in November will be on the 17th. The city commission also voted yesterday to hold only one meeting in November and in December—a tradition “because of the holidays,” City Clerk Angela Torres explained.
Often public boards hurry to fill a vacated seat because they are plagued with tie votes that stall city action. That is not a problem with the T or C city commission. For the last two years, at least, the commissioners have voted unanimously on almost every issue that comes before them. All actions taken during the Oct. 13 meeting were approved unanimously, with little discussion.
Mayor Pro Tem Amanda Forrister led the discussion on the selection process to replace Aragon, who resigned at the Sept. 22 city commission meeting. “It is my will we wait until after the election. Those who signed up to run and who are campaigning—look at that pool.”
“I agree 115 percent,” Commissioner Frances Luna said. “It would be wrong to appoint from the candidate pool [at this time]. It wouldn’t be fair if we appoint an opponent to Commissioner Baca or Mayor Whitehead.”
“Good idea,” agreed Commissioner Baca, who is up for re-election, along with Mayor Sandra Whitehead. Commissioner Luna has decided not to run for her open seat.
Mayor Whitehead also agreed the appointment should wait until after the election.
Two T or C residents, Rick Dumiak and Art Berger, have submitted letters of interest, City Manager Bruce Swingle said. Would the city commission like to solicit more letters of interest? Swingle asked
“No. We’ll discuss it mid-November,” Whitehead said. “We’ll hold off until then.”
“Last time [the commission had to fill a seat] we didn’t have an election so close,” Forrister pointed out, “with candidates running and showing an interest.”
Judging by the discussion, it appears that neither Dumiak nor Berger will be considered.
When the city commission filled Brendan Tolley’s vacated seat in August 2020, it did not pick from the list of candidates who lost their bids to be elected to the commission in the previous municipal election, held six months earlier. The commission considered only individuals who had submitted letters of interest, choosing Frances Luna, who served as both a county commissioner and a city commissioner for three months after her appointment.
The city commission’s decision to wait until after this year’s municipal election is yet another demonstration of their solidarity. It seems likely they will appoint someone they can count on to continue the “tradition” of unanimity.
Mayor Whitehead underscored the value the commission places on presenting a united front in rushing to assure the public that Luna’s recent habit of attending commission meetings by phone, rather than in person, has not affected that body’s work. “Just know that Commissioner Luna is doing her best to keep us all together,” Whitehead said at the commission’s first meeting in September, when Luna’s absence first became notable.
If the voters do not return Whitehead and/or Baca to office in November, either one could be appointed to fill the vacancy, possibly preventing Forrister from becoming a sole minority voice. If Whitehead and/or Baca are re-elected, the commission could revisit its announced intention of choosing a replacement from the ranks of losing commission candidates and pick Frances Luna. By delaying the appointment until they see the election results, the sitting commissioners have given themselves a larger array of options for preserving their majority voice.