Quay County Sun - Serving the High Plains

Code of conduct gets nod

 

July 17, 2019



A proposed code of conduct for Tucumcari city government elected officials and employees Thursday received a nod from the city commission to be published, but with some enforcement provisions removed.

The commission gave the amended code of conduct ordinance a “first reading” approval Thursday, which means the proposed ordinance will be published and a public hearing held on it before it receives final commission action.

The code as drafted includes requirements that employees and public officials treat their positions as public trust and to do their jobs to benefit the city, not themselves.

It requires commissioners, among other things, to act in the public interest, avoid the appearance of impropriety, respect processes and rules of order, conduct themselves with courtesy, civility and decorum in public meetings; share communications but respect confidentiality; use their titles and influence only for city business, determine policy for the city not conduct day-to-day management; and not represent their own views as those of the city before other bodies.

The code also addresses conflicts of interest, requiring commissioners, among other things, to abstain from voting on matters that would benefit them directly and avoid selling services to the city that would profit themselves or their families

District 4 Commissioner Christopher Arias cast a lone vote against the motion to amend the ordinance but supported the decision to publish it in amended form.

He made it clear in earlier discussions he thought the ordinance needed to have “teeth” that would include enforcement actions.

The enforcement provisions that were removed included disciplinary actions for elected officials who violate the code that include public reprimand, removal from office by the commission and referral for criminal prosecution. Another clause that was removed would specify that such actions would be public.

The enforcement section of the proposed code now states only that cases of city employees accused of violations would be “handled according to the City of Tucumcari Personnel Policy.”

Cases involving accusations against elected officials would be “brought before the commission.”

The state’s Administrative Procedures Act “shall generally be used as a guide relating to procedure and evidence to be used” in commission hearings unless the city were to replace parts of the act with rules the commission adopts.

In a discussion of the proposed code during the public work session before Thursday’s meeting, commissioners focused on the disciplinary measures.

Mayor Ruth Ann Litchfield began the work session discussion by suggesting the removal of the enforcement provisions that were removed from the ordinance for first reading.

In a statement he referred to several times during the discussion, District 1 Commissioner Ralph Moya questioned whether the code was needed at all, since existing state statutes cover any “illegal or criminal” behavior.

“The proposed rules allow for an abuse of power by the majority elected officials to enforce and interpret vague rules and regulations,” Moya’s statement said. “They (elected officials) are not trained in the law or its implications.”

Moya said only voters in his district should be the “ultimate judge” of his conduct.

Mayor Pro Tem Todd Duplantis also expressed doubts about the effects of a public reprimand, especially if it results from a misinterpretation or misunderstanding.

If Duplantis were subjected to a public reprimand, he said, “it would embarrass me in front of the people” and be the result of “four different interpretations” of what was said or done.

Arias and City Manager Britt Lusk, however, favored commission enforcement for the code.

Arias said the enforcement section should preserve the public reprimand and assure that commission disciplinary action remain public.

The commission should be able to enforce its rules and not rely completely on state statutes.

Lusk asked, “Why do we have these rules if we can’t enforce them?”

Arias added if commissioners act illegally, the code “needs some teeth.”

The work session included a discussion between the commission and Tucumcari Schools Superintendent Aaron McKinney about the school system taking possession of the city baseball and softball fields on which high school baseball and softball teams compete in local games.

The matter has been discussed in previous commission and school board meetings.

McKinney said the school system is prepared to spend as much as $3 million to redesign the fields, bleachers, concession stands and other structures for the field.

Chris Van Dyck, an Albuquerque architect hired to redesign the fields, showed commissioners his ideas for how the fields should be laid out.

There would be one baseball field and two softball fields, McKinney said, and the school system would share the facilities with community activities.

The commissioners generally agreed the idea should be discussed at joint meetings of the school board and city commission.

In the regular meeting, the commission:

• Approved a corrected contract with Tucumcari MainStreet in which the city provides MainStreet with $45,000 for the year, not $35,000 as was approved at its June 27 meeting as a result of an oversight, Lusk explained.

n Cancelled a loan agreement with the U.S. Department of Agriculture that would have provided $1.3 million in grant funds as part of a $4.3 million loan tor the city’s plan to use treated wastewater to water fields near the city’s wastewater treatment plant to avoid releasing it to a streambed. Lusk said the restrictions of the USDA agreement were excessive and costly, and the city is working to develop a less burdensome alternative plan with the New Mexico Environment Department.

In his city manager report, Lusk said starting Monday, sections of East Hancock Street, College Avenue and Dawson Avenue would be partially blocked for about 60 days to accommodate work on water lines, street resurfacing and new curbs and gutters.

Lusk assured commissioners streets would remain passable during that time.

A Community Development Block Grant is financing the work.

 
 

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