Editorial – Council: check the rules

Posted 4/5/18

Was the March 19 vote to appoint Rick Bellis as the town of Taos manager legal?

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Editorial – Council: check the rules

Posted

Was the March 19 vote to appoint Rick Bellis as the town of Taos manager legal?

The question will take a lawyer, and perhaps a judge, to answer.

But no one yet has formally challenged the vote, perhaps in part because it could mean an expensive and time-consuming trip to court.

What happened during the two and a half minutes it took for the town council and mayor to vote on Bellis' fate - twice - raised eyebrows and had some proponents of Robert's Rules of Order and state law scratching their heads.

Bellis, for those of you new to the Taos scene or otherwise oblivious to the town's politics, has been a flashpoint of controversy in the last couple of years. An adroit money manager adept at accomplishing projects, his methods for accomplishing his ends have lead several people to cry foul. His primary supporter, and the man charged with appointing him, is recently re-elected Mayor Dan Barrone.

Barrone is charged with appointing the town manager, but he needs the approval of a majority of the council for his choice.

It was no secret before the March 19 vote how the council members felt about Bellis.

Councilors Fritz Hahn and Nathaniel Evans wanted to keep him.

Councilors Darien Fernandez, who ran against Barrone for the mayor's seat in March, and Pascualito Maestas, wanted Bellis out.

Now comes time to vote that Monday afternoon. We'll lay out the scene for you, but you can watch a video clip of the interaction for yourself on our website, taosnews.com.

Sure enough, Hahn and Evans vote "yes" for Bellis as manager.

Fernandez abstains.

Maestas votes no.

Now, readers, here's where Mayor Barrone drops the bombshell.

He is only supposed to vote in the case of a tie.

According to Robert's Rules of Order, an abstention is not a "yes" or "no" vote unless a town specifically has other policies in place.

Barrone says: "In this case, a vote to abstain is a no vote on my appointment of Mr. Bellis. I therefore break the tie and vote in favor of Mr. Bellis."

Hahn immediately moves to confirm the previous vote for Bellis, and Evans seconds it, at the same time Fernandez is asking to have a point clarified. "Where are you getting this (abstain) is a "no" vote?," Fernandez asks the mayor. "According to Randy Van Vleck (attorney with the municipal league) it is not considered a 'no' vote, and it doesn't allow you to break a tie."

Mayor: "Well, that's the way I'm gonna move today and I do break that tie."

Was the mayor simply rewriting the rules to suit his own needs?

Van Vleck, general counsel for the New Mexico Municipal League, has said twice to this newspaper that the first motion to have Bellis appointed died when Fernandez abstained because a majority did not exist.

That would make the second motion null and void.

And, that would mean Bellis was not duly appointed.

But things are never that simple.

Indeed, while the town follows Robert's Rules of Order, it also has a specific policy that says a council member must vote "yes" or "no" on motions unless they declare a conflict of interest.

It will take a court to determine whether the vote on Bellis' appointment should stand.

Short of that, we urge the council and the mayor to have a copy of Robert's Rules of Order, Revised Edition beside them and a copy of their own procedures. When making controversial votes, they should clearly state the procedure and make sure they are following it.

This mayor and his manager can't afford not to be careful.

Their constituents are watching every move.

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