The controversy over the decision to censure Rio Rancho Mayor Tom Swisstack, has centered over the question of how the role of mayor is interpreted in the city charter. Some say that the council members who voted to censure where interpreting the charter too narrowly, while supporters of the Mayor were interpreting too broadly. This can be pretty confusing to every day citizens who have found better things to do than comb through legal documents on the city's website.
So let's try and break this down.
What does the city charter say about the role of the Mayor?
(A) The Mayor is the chief executive as provided in § 3.01.B(2) of the City Charter and shall:
- (1) Sign all ordinances and resolutions adopted by the governing body;
- (2) Sign all commissions, licenses and permits approved by the governing body;
- (3) Execute all contracts, legal processes and bonds approved by the governing body by ordinance; and
- (4) Upon an immediate danger to the public health, safety or welfare of the community, declare that a state of emergency exists within the city.
There are two basic ways that you can interpret this.
Some people ask, "what does the text say?" while others ask "what does the text not say?" These questions are good to ask, but before we answer them, we need to ask, "who wrote the charter, and to whom is the charter intended?"
This is a much harder question to answer. Many corporations and private organizations have some sort of charter, or bylaws, that they follow. Basically, the governing body of a corporation invents for itself governing rules. The board comes up with a set of rules and whatever is not expressly forbidden, is generally allowed.
There are some forms of government that also operate this way, and they too have constitutions. Great Britain and China are great examples of these. Great Britain is a socialist democracy and China is a communist republic. Their constitutions were written in a manner that permits that which is not expressly forbidden. They were written by the government to itself.
However, America's constitution was not written this way. America was founded as a democratic republic. That is a republican form of government that has it's members democratically elected - ie. voted upon by the majority. The constitution was designed to be from the people to the government, not from the government to itself.
Watch the video above to see more on the different forms of governments.
Like the US Constitution, Rio Rancho's City Charter is also a document that is written from the people to the city government. Why does this matter? The founders believed that the authority to govern lay with the individual, and that individuals delegate a certain amount of power to other individuals who exercise those powers in a governing body.
The founders did not believe that the authority to govern was inherent in government, because government does not exist in the same manner individuals do. The government is comprised of individuals, and without individuals there would be no government, therefore its state of being is completely dependent on the individual.
Since the city charter is written by the people to the city government, the only way to interpret the charter is to presume that, that which is not expressed is retained by the people. In other words, only what is written into the charter is allowed, and that which has not been written into the charter, has not been delegated to the government by the people. To put it more simply, that which is not stated in the charter is expressly forbidden by it's absence.
How does this effect Mayor Swisstack?
This greatly effects whether or not Mayor Swisstack was legally allowed to request funds for a project not approved by the city council. When looking at the role of the mayor (above), we see that the Mayor can only act independently when declaring a state of emergency. Otherwise, in every other role, the Mayor is subject to the decisions of the governing body. Since the power to act as an independent agent for the people is not expressly permitted, it is presumed that that power has been retained by the people and therefore is forbidden.
The crux of the matter.
If our governing officials are going to interpret our laws (and the city charter is law) as though we live in Great Britain or China, they are telling us that they do not support the form of government here in America. The Rio Rancho Observer chastised the Mayor and city councilors for infighting calling the council dysfunctional and that the solution is to simply get to know one another.
But the problem is not simply personality conflicts. The problem with the council is that two foundational principles are warring with one another. On the one hand, you have a principle belief that the power to govern is inherent in government, and on the other hand you have a principle belief that the power to govern is derived from the people. It's not easily solved by "getting to know each other." Both sides know each other quite well, and both sides are fighting over where the final authority to govern rests - with the government or with the people.
What are your thoughts? Does the authority to govern rest within you, or the people who lay claim to authority over you? Has Swisstack violated the city charter? Do you agree with the Rio Rancho Observer in that this is purely a matter personality conflicts? Comment below and share this article by "liking" it above.
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Kerry works to provide a refreshing alternative to the mainstream news sources in Rio Rancho and beyond. Don’t miss future news and editorials by subscribing to Kerry’s articles. As the Albuquerque Government Examiner, Kerry reports on all levels of government that affect Rio Rancho and New Mexico.
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