The petition drive that would have put the question of whether to form a special hospital district in Sierra County on the ballot has failed.
The Sierra Vista Hospital Joint Powers Commission began seeking petition signatories in May. The commission needed 472 signatures to put the question on the Nov. 2 ballot.
County residents were required to go the Sierra County Clerk’s Office or various city halls to sign the petition. As the June 14 deadline for turning in the signed petitions to the county clerk’s office approached, JPC members began to implore voters to make a special trip to sign the petition on social media and in print.
The petitions submitted on June 14 had 353 signatures, according to County Clerk Shelly Trujillo. “They were 119 signatures short,” Trujillo told the Sun. “It won’t be on the ballot.”
The June 14 deadline was set in order to allow the clerk’s office time to ascertain whether the signatories were registered county voters—certification the office will now not have to perform. A certified petition had to be sent to the New Mexico Secretary of State’s office by June 24 in order for the question to be placed on the November ballot.
State law governing the creation of special hospital districts allows a county to put the question on the ballot if their petition is signed by the number of people equal to 10 percent of those county residents who voted in the last gubernatorial election.
Sierra County Commission Chairman Jim Paxon, a JPC member, led the drive to form a special hospital district. “No, I don’t have any comment,” Paxon said when the Sun reached him by phone today.
JPC Chairperson Kim Skinner, who is mayor pro tem of the City of Elephant Butte, stated in an email that she has been out of town. “At this time I have not visited with Frances [Frances Luna, JPC vice chairperson and a Truth or Consequences city commissioner] and Jim [Paxon] regarding an evaluation of the results and the process. The JPC will discuss the process and results during our next JPC Board meeting in July.”
The reason given by the JPC for forming a special hospital district was to replace the two separate boards (which have 12 and nine members, respectively) that govern the hospital with a single board that has five trustees who are directly elected by Sierra Countians.
Nothing in state law addresses what happens to failed petitions; it addresses only failures of petition referendums at the ballot box. If a special hospital district referendum makes it to the ballot, but is not approved by a majority of voters, two years must elapse before the question of forming a special hospital district can again be placed on the ballot.