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Zane's World: Charter Starter

February 19, 2008, 12:00 am
The reaction to last week�s column, which encourages people to be more engaged in local politics and pay attention to the upcoming municipal elections, has been an electrifying and prolonged yawn.
There�s no denying the City Council races are almost stupefying in their dullness. The only seat sure to change is the District 2 position being vacated by Karen Heldmeyer, in which Rosemary Romero and Robbie Dobyns are facing off. Romero is about as smooth and on-message as a presidential candidate, while Dobyns is the one with the punch lines and the free packets of red chile, doled out as tiny voter bribes. The chile is appropriate, as Dobyns does add the only spice to this tired campaign. But if he thinks the mouthy rambunctiousness of a lone councilor, should he be elected, is going to effect the kind of change he rambles on about, well, he must not pay much attention to what happens when councilors try to get things done without a strong coalition or at least some blackmail leverage: nothing.

Meanwhile, anyone who has ever watched paint dry will understand there is no comparison: It is significantly more interesting than the race between Miguel Chavez and Martin Lujan for the District 3 seat.

We keep hearing this district is the youngest, fastest growing, most dynamic and most challenged district (not to mention the most strangely shaped) in the entire city. So when will it have a young, fast, dynamic, challenging councilor to match? Instead, it�s a toss-up between Lujan droning on about �educating� as the solution to better revenues, less crime, drought, additional police, teen pregnancy and bad traffic (Is he trying to ride his school board credentials or what?), or Chavez suddenly standing up at public gatherings to once again remind us that he is, indeed, an independent furniture maker and craftsman. Hey, the guy has skills, it�s just that, you know, we know already. Also, I wonder how different things might be if Wal-Mart were trying to muscle in on the Spanish Colonial furniture market?

As for the District 1 race between incumbent Patti Bushee and her challenger Anthony Garcia, well, um, good luck Anthony, you crazy dreamer, you.

Nonetheless, there are compelling, even critical, reasons to head to the polls. Amendments to the municipal charter�the document that defines how city government works�are on the ballot, and are considerably more scintillating and efficient than a random gift basket full of incumbents and pretenders. There are seven charter amendments in total, including two that would ease the process for initiative and referendum, which are the citizens� most valuable tools in defense of poor government.

Another would allow ranked-choice (sometimes called instant run-off) voting, which is how most of the planet�s civilized and intelligent people vote, so it�s about time we joined them.

Yet another initiative marginally increases the mayor�s voting power during Council votes. And if there�s one thing this city could use a bit of, it�s some executive muscle. What�s the point of bothering to elect a mayor with some vision if all the power is held by the Council and the city manager?

Look at state government for example: Gov. Bill Richardson may not be getting much of what he wants so far, and the Legislature may have sicced the attorney general on him as punishment for his bullying ways, but he�s still out-maneuvering the House and Senate at every turn. Dude vetoed the entire capital outlay spending bill and then casually hopped in the car and went to watch cage matches. Cage matches! With a beard! The guy is unshakable and he is manhandling that legislature.

I�m not saying Mayor David Coss should get physical with the City Council, but there are times when that august body deserves punishment�serious, S&M-style beating�and in a real city government, the mayor would have the power to pull out his paddle and get the job done.

There are plenty of people who might say Coss is lucky there�s no mayoral election this time around. Much of the enthusiasm surrounding his election has waned at this point and, as was recently pointed out to me, two heavy winters packed with road and water infrastructure problems tend to be blamed more on the guy in charge than, you know, the weather (see SFR Talk, page 7 for the mayor�s take on this and other matters). Still, this is the dawn of a bold, new millennium and all, and there are many kinds of infrastructure.

So if the mayor can be blamed for the ridiculous and mal-timed condition of Guadalupe Street (a bizarre city press release promises that a �safer, more user friendly, and more beautiful roadway environment can be expected soon�), he probably deserves some credit for the city�s new Web site. Against all odds, it works. It�s easy to navigate, simple to use, up-to-date and chock full of features. City code? On tap. Documents needed for everything from dealing with the city attorney to water conservation? Downloadable. Bids and RFPs for city contracts? Enumerated and available. Photographs of cool fire trucks? Free for the browsing.

The only thing missing is the ability to pay parking tickets through Paypal. You�d think for $74,900, you�d get online fine paying. Actually, considering  that the Web site�s price tag includes staff training, and a $30,000-a-year contract will keep the site, equipment and staff skills from atrophying, it�s a bargain. It even has all 11 pages of proposed City Charter amendments, only a click away.

Look for SFR�s endorsements for the March 4 City of Santa Fe Municipal Elections in the Feb. 27 edition.