The Truth or Consequences City Commission reversed course today, deciding to widen the pool of candidates it will consider to fill a vacant seat on the city commission.
The seat was held by Randall Aragon, who resigned in September, too late to allow his replacement to be chosen at next week’s general election. Two years remain on Aragon’s term.
State law gives the remaining members of the city commission the authority to appoint by a majority vote a “qualified elector,” i.e., registered voter, to fill a vacant commission seat.
At their regular meeting on Oct. 13, the city commissioners decided to limit the pool of potential appointees to those running for one of the three seats that are up for election on Nov. 2. They also decided to wait to make the appointment until after the election, which would further limit their choices to the losing candidates. At the earliest, the selection would be made on Nov. 17, the commission’s only meeting in November.
Subsequent criticism of these decisions on social media and in the Sun prompted Mayor Sandra Whitehead to again put the selection process on the agenda of today’s city commission meeting. “I just wanted to let you know we are not violating our job duties,” Whitehead said, denying public outcries that the appointment needed to be made before the election. City Attorney Jay Rubin concurred, stating that the commission was obeying both state law and city policy.
Mayor Whitehead did not address the other major public criticism that the city commission was delaying the selection until after the election (but before a new commission is seated in January) in order to give the present commissioners the opportunity to appoint an incumbent—either Whitehead or Commissioner Paul Baca—should either or both lose their seats on Nov. 2.
Whitehead provided a recapitulation of how replacements were selected on the four occasions when commission seats became open over the last 10 years due to death and resignations. In one instance, former Mayor Steve Green “was allowed to appoint his successor,” Whitehead said, “and we [the city commission] approved it.” A special election was held after the death of Commissioner Freddie Torres, and letters of interest were solicited in filling other empty seats.
“How we do it is our decision,” Whitehead concluded.
Whitehead then suggested that letters of interest be solicited again this time, after dismissing that course of action at the last city commission meeting. She mentioned that residents Rick Dumiak and Art Berger have already submitted letters.
City Clerk Angela Torres suggested that candidates running for city commission seats who are interested in being considered for the seat should also submit letters of interest. The commissioners remained silent about the advisability of considering potential appointees that the voters had rejected.
In fact, Commissioner Frances Luna cut off further discussion that might tie the commissioners’ hands in regard to how they made their selection. “We [the city commission] can do what we want,” she said, echoing Whitehead’s sentiments that they had unlimited flexibility of action. Luna then made a motion to have letters of interest submitted by Nov. 10, which was unanimously approved.