Councilors Circumvented Charter In Wage Effort
On Sept. 8, the Las Cruces City Council voted 4 to 3 to accept the citizens' ordinance on minimum wage. The ordinance resulted from a petition drive in accordance with Article VIII, Initiative, Referendum, and Recall see, 8.01, General Authority (a) Initiative which states: "The qualified resident voters of the city shall have the power to propose ordinances to the council. If the council fails to adopt an ordinance so proposed without any change in substance, the voters shall adopt or reject it at a city election."
On Dec. 1, City Council voted 4 to 3 to adopt the ordinance, but with an amendment that substantially extended the implementation of wage adjustments and advanced the cost of living index to 2021. In effect, they denied citizens of Las Cruces the right to vote on the wage ordinance in the general election or special city election, violating the City Charter.
It was obvious to those who attended the council meetings and particularly those signing the petition, the council had circumvented the charter.
They were driven by other interests and heavily relied on advice by the city attorney that council had the authority to adopt or amend ordinances and confirmed their decision to accept the ordinance — with the intent to amend it — rather than submit it to the will of the voters.
After many presentations by employers, community leaders and workers, it appeared councilors' concern was more on balancing the business community's bottom line than elevating the wage earners' poverty line.
The Dec. 1 vote on minimum wage by City Council was an injustice to workers and a dark day for the perception of democracy in Las Cruces. It was both a denial of wage equity to low income families and tipped workers, and a reprieve for the business community.
Oscar Vasquez Butler, Past Dona Ana County Commission chairman, New Mexico Association of Counties president Las Cruces