Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

Editorial: City Charter needs a tune-up

When a US president is re-elected, his cabinet does need to go before the US Senate for reconfirmation. Same goes for the New Mexico governor. She doesn’t have to resubmit nominations to the state Senate.

In both cases, the chief executive, by virtue of being re-elected, is afforded the opportunity to keep his or her cabinet secretaries in place.

A new confirmation is only needed for a new nominee. The process is pretty straight-forward and balances the powers of the executive and legislative branches.

But that process isn’t so clear in Albuquerque’s City Charter, which unfortunately has embroiled Mayor Tim Keller and the newly reconstituted City Council in a small-time turf battle when the city faces so many more pressing issues, like crime, homelessness and getting New Mexicans back to work.

Some city councilors are interpreting the City Charter to require that the legislative body reconfirm the key posts of chief administration officer, police chief and fire chief. The discussion about reconfirming CAO Sarita Nair recently became moot after Nair announced she is leaving city government. Her replacement will require City Council confirmation, as he or she should.

Police Chief Harold Medina told Journal editors and reporters Wednesday he doesn’t mind going through a second confirmation process in a year’s time (he was just confirmed in March 2021), but he doesn’t want it to become a distraction. And he does believe “the mayor has the right to have the team he wants.”

In an effort at compromise, Keller recently nominated Nair, Medina and Fire Chief Gene Gallegos as a bundled package. The mayor also added Chief Operating Officer Lawrence Rael and Chief Financial Officer Sanjay Bhakta to the five-person bundle. The mayor wants the council to vote on them as a package, rather than hold individual hearings.

But City Council President Isaac Benton, Vice President Dan Lewis and City Councilor Pat Davis want to pursue the confirmation dispute. It’s worth noting that both Benton and Davis were on the council when it confirmed the key positions in question.

The dispute over the council’s confirmation authority, which could call to action an obscure committee designed to resolve such conflicts, is slated to come to a head next week when the City Council meets. Ultimately, the issue could end up in court.

But the best path forward is to clean up the language of the City Charter so that this reconfirmation dispute is laid to rest for good.

The charter currently says appointees needing council approval “shall be presented to the Council for confirmation within 45 days after the Mayor takes office.” It also says that the clerk and attorney appointments “shall be for a term that coincides and terminates with the term of the Mayor making the appointment.” It doesn’t use that language for the other positions.

Benton says he plans to trigger the process through which the special three-person committee would be convened to settle the dispute.

City leaders have more important things to do. Besides, one bite at the apple per nomination should be enough. If the City Charter is made more clear, we shouldn’t need to have this discussion again.

This editorial first appeared in the . It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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