Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

Council sets new standards for neighborhood associations

Albuquerque City Councilor Isaac Benton

Neighborhood associations seeking special treatment from the city of Albuquerque in land-use matters must have a democratic process for making decisions and cannot limit voting rights to only those who pay dues, according to newly approved legislation.

The City Council on Monday narrowly passed the updated Neighborhood Association Recognition Ordinance — the law’s first major overhaul since its 1987 inception.

The ordinance outlines the specific standards of an association must meet in order to get the privileges that come from official city recognition, such as special notice and standing in land-use appeals.

The association would have to hold at least one annual meeting after giving proper notice to all within its boundaries. Any decision described as representing the association would have to be made via an “orderly and democratic process,” such as a majority of votes cast by the association’s officers or members.

Under the ordinance, an association could not hold votes of the general membership unless it is advertised at least seven days beforehand, and would be barred from requiring members to pay dues in order to have voting rights.

The ordinance also prohibits new neighborhood associations with boundaries overlapping existing associations.

The legislation now heads to Mayor Tim Keller, who will have 10 days to act on it.

Council President Isaac Benton, who sponsored the overhaul, said it primarily seeks “some basic outreach on the part of the neighborhood associations and ask(s) for a very basic democratic process within those associations.”

It also cements the status and requirements for recognized “neighborhood coalitions,” which represent two or more neighborhood associations and/or homeowners’ associations “together with any community or business groups and any individual members within a specified geographic boundary within the city.”

Nearly identical legislation failed on a 4-5 council vote last September, but several of the councilors who voted “no” have since been replaced with new representatives. Benton revised the legislation last month. This time it squeaked through on a 5-4 vote, with Councilors Pat Davis, Tammy Fiebelkorn, Trudy Jones and Dan Lewis joining Benton in support.

Some members of the public complained that the city rushed this process.

Councilor Brook Bassan tried unsuccessfully to delay a council vote on it Monday, describing the process as “quite rapid” and noting that technical difficulties had prevented the council from accepting virtual public comment Monday. (It did take in-person and emailed comments.)

Councilor Louie Sanchez, like other councilors who voted against it, said neighborhood leaders said they did not like it.

“The only measuring stick I have is that 100% of my neighborhood organizations do not want anything to do with it,” said Sanchez, who joined Bassan, Renee Grout and Klarissa Peña in voting against the bill.

Benton defended both the ordinance overhaul process — saying it started in 2017 and involved contacting all of the city’s 222 existing neighborhood associations multiple times — and the outcome. He said he’s seen problems arising under the existing ordinance — including new groups trying to encroach on existing neighborhood association territory — and the rewrite addresses that and other concerns, such as a pay-to-join structure.

“If you don’t like the fact (it’s) saying you should not have to pay dues to be a member of an association, I respectfully object,” Benton said. “We don’t do that in voting in this country; we don’t make people pay to vote or to have their voice heard in a democratically run organization.”

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