Commissioners pass yard sale ordinance

Thomas Garcia
QCS Senior Writer

Despite a threat of recall by a county resident and public objection by several residents, Tucumcari city commissioners approved an ordinance placing a six-per-year limit on the number of garage sales residents have conduct.

“To use the word ‘recall’ is an ugly word and that is nothing that any of us wants to do but saw how easy it was for Tony Leal and I to get 600 signatures, I only spent five hours to get those signatures and could have probably collected more with additional time,” said Dena Mericle, who resides just outside the city limits. “If you know how a recall works, we only have to have 20 percent of the of the turnout from the last election or the elections held in the last four years. You all (commissioners) know it would take nothing for us to get those signatures.”

Mericle said of a recall that “this is not something we want to do. The commission works for us, you work hard, you’re our commissioners, our mayor and we respect you all but we can do the recall, we’ve look at the laws and we will if we have too.” She said residents want commissioners to listen to them.

Mericle said if there were no yard sales, then people would be prompted to leave to another town for yard sales and then would proceed to buy their groceries and other needs out of town. She said if there is an issue of people operating a second-hand store and calling it a garage sale, then the commission should target them not the community as a whole.

“This is Tucumcari. We are a little town, we want to be a little town and we want a little-town feel,” Mericle said.

Mericle said she called 50 cities in the state and they all did not have an ordinance is place regarding the number of yard sales.

Mayor Ruth Ann Litchfield suggested tabling Ordinance 1138 and setting up a task force to amend the ordinance even further; that motion drew immediate opposition from Commissioner Ralph Moya.

“No, I do not think so, this is getting to the point where this has become now more like a crusade than an ordinance or rules and regulations,” Moya said. “Do we feel that we cannot continue to enforce or make laws in the best interest of the community? The best thing is not to table this but do away with it. We must stand up and face the music. I will not look for a tabling. I want it to be over and done with.”

Moya said he spoke with residents in his district and they did not have a problem with six garage sales a year. He said he understands that people hold garage sales to make ends meet and pay for food and medication.

“We also have great organizations in this community that will help should a resident need assistance with bills, foods or even getting medication,” Moya said. “That is one of the beautiful thing about small communities, the way they work to help each other.”

Commissioners voted 4-1 to approve the ordinance, with the amendment for additional sales submitted to City Manager Jared Langenegger. Mayor pro tem Robert Lumpkin voted no.

Before commissioners voted, they invited the public to offer comments about the ordinance.

“I have been threatened for recall and I’m sorry our opinions disagree but every time we pass an ordinances that you don’t agree with are you going to threaten me with a recall,” Litchfield said.

Litchfield said she spoke with constituents in her district and they were not opposed to the ordinance. She said it’s the residents’ privilege if they want to have her recalled. “That would be OK I suppose, I would be able to spend more time with my grandchildren,” she said.

Litchfield said when the ordinance was first brought before the commission, she noted that the ”garage sellers” would be upset. She said Langenegger told her the ordinance was meant to deal only with those people who operate a second-hand store without a license.

“I’ve considered this a lot and prayed about it,” Litchfield said. “Now I’m being pushed and what happens when you’re pushed? You dig in. Now that every time something that they don’t like, they are going to push again. You all have put us in a hard place because now if we change our mind, you’re going to say good now anytime they say something I don’t like I’ll threaten to recall them.”

Litchfield said garage sales are fun and she attends them and holds one during the summer. She said the commission is not trying to take liberties away.

“I understand everybody’s point, the perceptions of the limitation of liberties and I also understand when we live communally without rules there is chaos,” said Commissioner John Mihm. “I have to make a decision tonight that may or may not be favorable and may ensue the act of recall but nonetheless I have to make a decision.”

“I have to make a very difficult decision, while sadly being threatened with a recall and it makes me angry because with the exception of Commissioner Moya, who is new to the commission, I am the only commissioner who has not missed a meeting,” Mihm said. “I am dedicated to my city, I love my city, but if my city rebukes me, I have to decide if this is my city anymore,” Mihm said. “I have to address a complaint and if we don’t address the complaint of a resident then that is not governing. I may have to pay for the consequences of my decision but that is God’s will.”

“I have heard arguments for and against this ordinance. I respect everybody’s opinion and the commission isn’t trying to take away your liberties but we are trying to put something in place that is across the boards for everybody, said Commissioner Amy Gutierrez.

Gutierrez said six yard sales annually are enough and that no one is trying to take away residents’ liberties. She added that the city is merely trying to keep people from abusing yard sales.

“This is part of the commissioners’ duties and after hearing from everything during this meeting my feelings on this matter are now wavering back and forth to do what is best for the city,”  Lumpkin said.

Lumpkin said the issue has come before the commission several times. He said there was a point where the commission could have simply dropped the ordinance and worked toward further enforcement of business licenses. He said the commission does not want somebody to operate a business in a neighborhood and disturb the residents.

“Garage sales are a social event, a family event and entertainment for the residents of Tucumcari,” Lumpkin said. “I was told that we were under-regulated in this area and that didn’t settle well with me. There are some things that should be regulated and others just need to be wholesome.”

Lumpkin said the ordinance is not saying people cannot sell things to their neighbors or friends from their homes.

“I’m not threatened in this particular instance but I don’t think you should threaten a recall over a matter such as this,” Lumpkin said. “If the person was doing something illegal or immoral or purposely hurting the community, then that would be a different matter.”

Lumpkin said some of the things said tonight could be looked at as aggressive and maybe a threat or ultimatum. He said communication is the best option if commissioners sat down with residents and ask them how may garage sales would be enough and work toward a compromise.

“I still think there is a need for communication and we don’t want to put this issue off any longer because it seems like when we do the worse it gets,” Lumpkin said. “With understanding, the residents might see that we are trying to do this in a way to benefit the entire community.”

“The way I understand it, is that the commissioners are supposed to be representatives of the people, you received two petitions with 300 signatures each against this ordinance and that to me would point out what the citizens of Tucumcari want,” said Leal, who lives inside the city limits.

Leal started one of the two petitions opposing the ordinance.

Leal asked, “What do the residents do to make the commission change its mind about the ordinance?”

“The definition of liberty is a condition to be free of restriction or control,” said city resident Nick LeCompte, who also spoke against the ordinance.

LeCompte said, “Little by little, we people are picking at our liberties.” He added, “Every time you turn around it seems someone is trying to take a little bit of your rights away.

LeCompte said at age 66, he cannot believe that he or another resident of Tucumcari will need to have a permit to hold a garage sale. He said only a few have complained about yard sales, but yet the entire city is being punished.

“People should have the right to sell things in their yards,” LeCompte said.

“By passing foolish ordinances regarding the actions of citizens it forces citizens to commit crimes punishable by fines or imprisonment for actions as bazaar as holding a yard sale,” said another city resident, Janie Bahrs.

“When a government decides they are empowered and they’re going to use that power over the citizens, that becomes a tyrannical government,” Bahrs said.

Bahrs said government needs to be used as a guide to correct behavior and not as an enforcement tool. She said if a person has a grievance with a neighbor, then they should speak with them and work it out. A person should not call upon their commissioner to settle the grievance and a commissioner should not make policy to suite that one person,  Bahrs said.

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