Friday, January 8, 2010

Statutes Governing Incorporation In Serious Need of Fixing

Readers who see the comment by Leila (A Tale of Two Proposed South Valley Cities) below will get a very different take on the incorporation process for Atrisco than mine. It is worth reading, and makes some of the same points I made: citizens may not have been provided a solid base of information relevant to the elections that determined the fate of incorporation.

In the case of Atrisco, if Leila is correct (I don't claim to know whether she is or not but at least she was willing to put her name behind them), the county may have passed out misleading information and one county commissioner, citing this information as fact, actually campaigned against incorporation. In Anthony the county commission took self-serving information written and presented by attorney Frank Coppler at face value without question, and proceeded to authorize the election. Some of that information, according to Assessor Gary Perez, was incorrect. Much of it was misleading, painting an overly rosy scenario which implied huge sums of money would suddenly grace the coffers of the new town, something that Anthony residents will soon learn was a gross exaggeration.

Statutes governing incorporation proceedings are in serious need of revision. Citizens targeted for incorporation should have a reasonable chance of learning relevant facts provided by a neutral party in government.

1. Since counties may indeed harbor negative or positive thoughts about a proposed incorporation process, the Secretary of State should be required to inform each resident within the proposed boundaries that they live within boundary lines; that an election will be held , and where and when, and that all voters within the boundaries are entitled to vote. At least three public meeting should be held, published beforehand in the media, in which officials present the facts dispassionately about the likely tax implications of the incorporation, providing ball park figures about likely budgets and city services that might reasonably be expected. Residents for and against incorporation should have an opportunity to debate the issue in the presence of a neutral moderator.

2. DFA or LFC should provide an official estimate of that portion of gross receipts taxes that would stay with the proposed incorporated city, and provide various examples of other sources of income for municipalities, based on taxes, fees, grants, etc. This information should be provided at required public meetings held to discuss incorporation.

If Leila is correct, then both elections were in fact badly tainted with false information, throwing into serious doubt the validity of the elections as a reflection of the will of the people. If people are not adequately informed or if they get misleading information, then the elections cannot be called an exercise in self-governance. In fact, they make a mockery of the concept of self-governance.

Whether Leila and I are correct or not, what is certain is that many citizens did not know an election was taking place, because apparently no official body was required to do so, and there appears to have been no neutral body providing information to residents about the likely consequences of incorporation. This is very easy to fix with the regulations, or something like them, outlined above.

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