TATUM — The Tatum Town Council voted two to one at Tuesday’s regularly scheduled meeting to cancel the special election and have the question of a fifth council member placed on the November ballot — and that move could land the town in more legal hot water.
Tatum resident Rusty Ramirez voiced his displeasure with the vote, saying the council did not have the authority to decide not to hold the special election.
Tatum Mayor pro tem Ron Smith said the resolution for the special election was not published on the agenda 72 hours in advance of the last meeting.
The agenda for March 14, under “discussion with possible action,” item D stated discussion on Special Election for the 5th councilor.
During the March 14 meeting, Councilor Leisha Joiner made a motion to change this to a resolution for vote because the council only had 10 days to vote on the resolution from the time the petition was deemed certified by Tatum Clerk Amanda Thomas.
At the council meeting on March 14, the council members and Tatum Mayor Amy Gutierrez sought City Attorney Patrick McMahon’s advice on whether the special election had to occur.
McMahon said the wording of the petition was “shall hold” and not “may hold” — deeming it a requirement and not a choice.
In an interview with the News-Sun on Wednesday, McMahon, who was absent from the council meeting on Tuesday, reiterated his original statement regarding the wording of “shall” verses “may” being used in the petition.
At Tuesday night’s meeting, Smith said he was present at city hall with Gutierrez and town clerk Amanda Thomas last week when a phone call with Lea County Clerk Keith Manes took place.
Smith told the other councilors Manes told those on the call the resolution for the special election was done incorrectly and would have to be redone, because it wasn’t published on the agenda 72 hours prior.
Smith said Manes also made the suggestion for the town to wait and put the vote for a fifth councilor on the ballot in November.
On Wednesday morning, Manes told the News-Sun he sent an email to the Town of Tatum, before the March 14 meeting, advising how much the special election would cost, that it would be an all mail-in ballot and the instructions on what he would need from the town to run the election.
Manes also said when he has been asked other questions outside of the special election process, he has recommended town officials to speak with their city attorney for legal advice — McMahon.
Smith said he was also present with Gutierrez and Thomas on a phone call with the New Mexico Secretary of State’s office. He said the trio spoke with a woman — saying he wrote her name down, but did not provide her name at Tuesday’s meeting — and were told if they wanted to continue with the special election they would have to re-vote on it.
During Tuesday’s meeting, Joiner argued that McMahon had told the council during the March 14 meeting, that moving the vote on a fifth councilor to November was not an option.
Smith again said he was present for the call and his understanding was the question of adding a fifth councilor could be added to the ballot in November, saving the town $8,000.
Smith voiced concerns about the mail-in ballot form for a special election, saying people didn’t usually do well with them.
Smith said it is “recommended in order to proceed, we (council) would have to re-vote whether to wait until November or go ahead and proceed with the August date.”
Joiner said she was under the impression, from former information from McMahon, the council didn’t have the choice to wait until November.
“That’s not what they (either Manes or female from the N.M. Secretary of State’s office) said. I was in the office when she (Gutierrez) called,” said Smith.
Tatum Resident Arnold Ramirez spoke, saying the council did not have an option — they must hold the special election, and they needed to look further into the matter.
Smith responded the special election wouldn’t make much difference since no one could be voted for until November anyway.
Rusty Ramirez pointed out holding the special election would make it to where they could vote someone into that fifth seat in November.
Smith responded the council could approve it and put a name on the ballot.
“I’d like to save money too, but by law I think we don’t have a choice,” said Joiner. “I’m concerned that we will be out of compliance with state code.”
“State code is up for interpretation apparently,” Smith answered.
Councilor Paul Ramirez made a motion to wait until the November election and have the question of a fifth councilor put on the ballot.
The vote was two to one with Joiner opposing the fifth council vote to be added to the ballot in November.