Albuquerque Journal (New Mexico)
BYLINE: Rene Romo Journal Southern Bureau
LAS CRUCES – The term of new Sunland Park Mayor Javier Perea is getting off to a rocky start – and it could be short-lived.
Perea, a 24-year-old political newcomer, took the oath of office Monday morning and officially claimed the seat to which a divided City Council appointed him during a chaotic meeting last Wednesday.
By Monday afternoon, however, another prospect for the mayor’s office, Jesse Grajeda, said he was preparing to file a formal complaint alleging the City Council violated the state Open Meetings Act when Perea was appointed because members of the overflow crowd were prevented from entering the Senior Center hall where the meeting was held.
City police kept an estimated three dozen or more residents from entering the Senior Center last Wednesday because the hall’s seating capacity of 150 was reached when the 6 p.m. meeting began. Among those kept outside, and unable to address the City Council, were 28-year-old Marvin Martinez and Grajeda, 27, who had both publicly stated their desire to be considered for appointment to the mayor’s office.
The Open Meetings Act requires that when public bodies meet to form policy or vote on official business, “all persons desiring shall be permitted to attend and listen to the deliberations and proceedings.” The law adds that no resolution, ordinance or action of a public body is valid unless taken in accordance with the Open Meetings Act.
District Attorney Amy Orlando said Monday she was looking into whether the office of Attorney General Gary King would handle Grajeda’s complaint or “if it needs to be us.”
Last week’s council meeting was rescheduled from the previous week, when an overflow crowd swamped council chambers. At the April 12 meeting, former mayor Jesus Ruben Segura told the board the Open Meetings Act required accommodations so the people outside City Hall could hear what was happening inside.
On April 18, instead of inviting other candidates for the mayor’s office to enter the Senior Center and state their qualifications, the council moved quickly to vote on Perea’s appointment less than an hour after receiving his résumé and hearing Perea’s responses to a few off-the-cuff questions. Perea was appointed to fill the vacancy created because former Councilor Daniel Salinas, who is facing charges of extortion, bribery, tampering with evidence, and receiving kickbacks, was unable to take the oath of office by an April 6 deadline.
Gwyneth Doland, executive director of the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government, said the Sunland Park council was required by law to accommodate everyone who wanted to attend the meeting.
“Just a little bit more effort could have avoided all this extra drama, which is exactly what Sunland Park did not want or need now,” Doland said.
Copyright 2012 Albuquerque Journal