American politics

Well, it happened.

The Taos Town Council addressed the "election change issue" at its June 8 meeting and the result wasn't exactly what we expected. The council voted unanimously (save councilor Darrien Fernández who was on parental leave) to remove the item from the agenda and plan for it to be on the ballot in a future election - either a special August election, this coming November election, or next March's election.

For the past week, the Taos News has been flooded with letters. The issue that concerned letter writers and most people in attendance at the meeting was whether the town council would elect to opt-in to the Local Election Act, which would sync local elections with state elections. If the council decided to opt-in, which seemed likely, then they would need to decide whether to cut their own terms short by nine weeks or extend them by 22 months.

It was a tough position for the council. The benefits of opting-in to the election act are numerous, like saving the town money and increasing voter turnout (the Taos News is looking into Town Manager Rick Bellis' comments last week that the LEA would help curb voter fraud in Taos, which he claims is all too common.) That seems like an easy choice.

But what about extended versus shortened terms? The council members have had projects sidelined by COVID, and extending terms would give them a chance to complete those projects. But there isn't any good way to extend one's own term in office, without public input, and come out the other side looking like the "good guy."

So, with term extension looking like a closed path from a public relations standpoint, the solution Mayor Dan Barrone, Bellis, and the Town Council were faced with became bowing to public pressure (definitely not the worst reason for a politician to do something) and voting to shorten terms. While certainly a better solution than extending terms, even shortening terms doesn't really get at the heart of the matter. The issue the Taos News heard most from the public was if the voice of the voter should be removed from the equation.

In the end, Bellis, Barrone and company found an elegant solution to the problem. It may seem like a way for the council to get out of a tricky situation without losing face. And it might be. But it is also the correct decision.

The town council seems to have heard the public's voice (and if they hadn't, they certainly got a good listen at the June 8 meeting) and responded with a helpful solution.

They didn't vote to shorten their own terms, but they correctly recognized the conflict of interest and decided to remove the choice from their own hands and give it to the people of Taos, where it belongs.

Who knows what will happen between now and the election? Who knows what the council would have done were it not for the public outcry? But, what we do know right now is that the town council got this one right.

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