Urban Charter: The Breakdown


Local leaders of Bernalillo County will have more of a voice in governing the county thanks to the Home Rule Urban County Charter Measure passed during the November elections.

After voting yes on the charter, residents may now adopt “home rule,” which in many ways acts as a constitution for the county. Home rule will act as a way for the local government to have more power and be less controlled by the state legislature, according to the communication director in charge of the Urban Charter, Andy Lenderman.

“It [Urban Charter] lays out very basic rules for how our government is organized,” Lenderman said. “So really what it does is it gives local government more independence and flexibility.”

Lenderman stresses the importance of voters having passed this charter by what he calls an “overwhelming” margin.

According to Bernalillo County Clerk, 57.64 percent of Bernalillo County residents voted yes for the Home Rule Urban County Charter Measure.

Under the Urban Charter, residents of the county will be able to change previous rules and regulations that do not best fit the county. The charter recognizes that Bernalillo County is the most populated county in the state. Lenderman says the size of the county means it has obligations and needs different than other counties in the state.  The goal is to modernize and update procedures and rules that are no longer relevant to an urban county.

For example, Lenderman points out, the charter gives residents the power to create amendments like adding a new county commissioner — given the growing population. He also says it will manage how the county government is organized, how it spends tax dollars and would allow the county to receive many more federal grants directly. Lenderman also says that the charter allows the county to write its own purchasing rules, which previously had to go through the state legislature.

Some oppose the charter

Chloe Polanco, 23, says she voted against the charter. Polanco says she thinks poorer counties will be overlooked.
Chloe Polanco, 23, says she voted against the charter. Polanco says she thinks poorer counties will be overlooked.

Dede Feldman, a former New Mexico senator who helped write the ballot measure, says the only reason this charter exists is because the voters approved it. “So really the power lies with the people of Bernalillo county,” she said.

But support for the charter was hardly unanimous, with almost 42 percent of voters opposing it.

One of those voters is Chloe Polanco, 23.

“I think it will cause smaller, poorer counties to be overlooked,” Polanco said.

She also says she worries that local residents will end up paying for “random expenses” while local officials get a pay raise.

Polanco says she voted against the measure. “I can appreciate the facade of wanting to make our community more responsive to the needs of Bernalillo County, but I am against the county charter,” citing her concern it allows tax dollars to be spent excessively in the county.

What lies ahead for the county

The newly passed charter includes the Urban Charter County Commission. The commission was in place before the the charter was passed. According to bernco.gov, the commission has three main goals. The first is to create a document that allows the county the power to effectively address constituent needs and provide services. The second is to engage county departments to understand the need for a home rule. Finally, the commission is intended make sure the charter preserves the State of New Mexico statutes that deal with the duties and responsibilities of elected officials.

Dede Feldman worked on the Urban County Charter Commission. Now she sits on a committee created by the Bernalillo County Commission. Photo courtesy of dedefeldman.com
Dede Feldman worked on the Urban County Charter Commission. She says the power now lies with the people of Bernalillo county.
Photo courtesy of dedefeldman.com

The elected leaders of Bernalillo County — the members of the Bernalillo County Commission — began the home rule process last year. They created a committee, which includes Dede Feldman, Terry Brunner, Randy Autio, Albert Chavez, Tasia Young, Lorri Zumwalt and Jordy Stern. Each county commissioner nominated a member from their district. Now that the measure has been passed, this committee has been dissolved.

“We were writing it in a way that we would support it, and put it on the ballot so we all voted for it.” Dede Feldman said.

New Mexico is one of 10 states that uses home rule to govern locally. The nine other states include Alaska, Iowa, Massachusetts, Montana, New Jersey, Ohio, Oregon, South Carolina and Utah. The rest of the country uses “Dillon’s Rule,” which is where a state legislature controls the structure of local government, financing and authority to undertake functions. Thirty-nine states use Dillon’s Rule in all municipalities. The remaining nine states employ Dillon’s Rule only for certain municipalities.

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