More thoughts on Charter Task Force

Sitting through a two-hour meeting is not usually my idea of fun. But I have to say that attending the highly-charged City Charter Revision Task Force meeting on April 23 was pretty fascinating.

Charter Task Force meetings are usually sparsely attended, but this one was packed. In the audience were representatives of at least a dozen non-profit organizations who showed up to speak in opposition to a proposed amendment that would severely affect their public education and advocacy work by forcing them to register as measure finance committees – the city’s equivalent of political committees.

The move at the city level was similar to a failed effort during the recent state legislative session that sought to force nonprofits to register as political committees.

Both city and state measures are widely considered to be retaliation against several nonprofits, including the Center for Civic Policy, for communications sent out last year to educate the public about the voting records of elected officials.  Some of the elected officials later lost their reelection bids.

So much was said, starting with the long line of advocates who spoke passionately about how the proposed amendment would negatively affect their organization’s mission and bottom line, not to mention limit their own free speech.

Then came a report from the city attorneys, who said the amendment was redundant and unnecessary.

Finally, the charter task force members got to speak.  Developer Chuck Gara said he spearheaded the amendment in the name of election transparency, not as an attack on non-profits.

A visibly frustrated Gara said he had called on the city attorneys several times to write an amendment that would allow him to keep “a couple of bad apples” from ruining “the whole bushel.” At the same time, Gara said, he had no desire to censor nonprofits or hamper their missions.

But task force member and University of New Mexico law professor Gloria Valencia-Weber challenged the constitutionality of the proposed amendment and said she firmly believed it would in fact punish and censor non-profits.

After almost an hour of talking around the issue, the central argument was finally laid out for all the task force members to discuss.

For me, though, the real show-stopper came in the form of a puzzling monologue by task force member Steve Gallegos.

Saying he remembered the days when nonprofits used to be strictly service oriented, Gallegos asked,  “Who’s really representing the people? The poor people in our community?”

Lamenting the existence of “advocacy groups that exist for… advocacy,” Gallegos then said something so off-topic it even made some task force members laugh.

“I love my animals, but animals are getting more rights than people!”

After subsequent minutes of debate which brought the task force right up to its two-hour meeting deadline, Gara withdrew his amendment.  Instead the task force voted to write, essentially, a note asking the full city council to consider the issue.

So much was said at the meeting, but if you read the Albuquerque Journal and its subsequent editorial, so much was left out.

As a former reporter, I know it is tough to condense everything that happened in a two-hour meeting into a 12-inch news story.

But what was really unforgivable was the Journal’s editorial, written days after the meeting, which failed to mention that Gara’s amendment was withdrawn.

If you read only the Journal’s coverage, you would never have known that, as task force member and Center for Civic Policy Executive Director Eli Lee pointed out in his post last week.

It pains me to say it, but I guess if you really wanted to know what happened at that meeting, you had to put in your two hours like the rest of us did.

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