CIBOLA COUNTY – “The issue is regulation, not qualification,” said Attorney Travis Steele of Sutin, Thayer and Browne, an Albuquerque law firm.
During a July City of Grants’ council meeting last year it was decided to let the court decide whether Walter Jaramillo is eligible to be on the City Council while also being a representative on the Cibola County Commission.
He was elected to the City Council in 2006 and was elected to the commission in 2008.
Jaramillo is currently serving his second consecutive term, however, the city charter that was passed by a majority of voters in 2006, 1,005 to 488, states in Article II, Governing Body, Section 8.02, A, “Except as authorized by state law, no elected officer of the City shall hold any other elected public office during the term for which the official was elected.”
The election results in 2006 were canvassed and approved the city council, according to City Clerk Denise Baca.
Jaramillo’s argument is “the people put me in [office] and I will stay until the people take me out.”
Councilors Martin “Modey” Hicks and Ruben Sandoval pushed the issue last summer and argued that Jaramillo was in violation of the charter. The councilors and mayor finally washed their hands of the issue and said, “Let the court decide.”
On Tuesday, the issue finally appeared in district court with Judge Camille Martinez-Olguin presiding.
Steele argued the issue is not on qualification. “Jaramillo is well qualified and has obviously proven that he can do the job. However, the issue is regulation,” said Steele. “The charter clearly regulates a person to one elected position.”
“Despite the fact he qualifies for the job, because of the regulation, per the city charter, he is no longer qualified. Per the state constitution, the city has a right to regulate its officials. The two-term limit is a regulation and Jaramillo is in violation of it and we, the City of Grants, are asking for Jaramillo to step down.”
Frank Davis, Jr., the attorney representing Jaramillo, argued that the state constitution protects Jaramillo’s right to run for any office, and furthermore, no state law backs the city charter.
“Making a law that prohibits Jaramillo from being in office is like punishing him. It would take an amendment to the state constitution to not allow him to serve in two elected positions,” said Davis.
“We ask that you [Judge Martinez-Olguin] enforce the will of the people until the state amends its constitution.”
The state constitution, Article VII, Sect. 2, Qualifications for Holding Office, reads: “Every citizen of the United States, who is a legal resident of the state and is a qualified elector therein, shall be qualified to hold any elective public office except as otherwise provided in this constitution.”
Both attorneys provided the judge with many examples that backed their arguments.
Ultimately, Judge Martinez-Olguin denied both requests, the City of Grants’ and Jaramillo’s, until she had gathered more information in regard to the city’s charter – whether it is a true and correct copy.
Until then, both parties will have to wait for the judge to make a decision. A second hearing is yet to be scheduled.
On Wednesday, Jaramillo sent a press release to the Beacon that included, “The [state] constitution article reads not one office, not two offices; it reads any office.
The attorneys [from Sutin, Thayer and Browne] are costing the taxpayers $17,294, and counting,” Jaramillo said. “For what, a regulation that is not supported by the constitution.”
“My opinion is why are the taxpayers paying the tab? Ruben [Sandoval] and [Martin] Hicks should dig into their own pockets to pay the attorney fee’s as they have their own personal agendas for having me removed from office,” Jaramillo added.
Sandoval attended the public hearing on Tuesday, Hicks did not.
Councilor Hicks early yesterday said, “The residents voted for a revised charter in 2006, which limits an elected city official to only serving in one position and he [Walter] is violating it now. I’ve been questioning the conflict since 2008 when Jaramillo was elected as county commissioner. However, I could not get any support from [former councilmen] Ron Ortiz and Fred Rodarte. Now I have support from Ruben [Sandoval]. Walter is making this a personal issue and it is not personal. I don’t care if it was Sandoval; it is a violation of the charter. His lawyer said there is no conflict and Walter recently abstained from a vote to approve county dispatch expenditures at the city level and he abstained because he is in conflict. At the county level, he voted for a $500 Christmas bonuses for dispatch employees and then at the city level he voted against it. The list goes on… there is no integrity.”
Sandoval reportedly said the issue is not Jaramillo; the issue is abiding by the charter.
Hicks recently publically announced that he is running for mayor next year.
On Tuesday, April 2, Jaramillo said that he might run against Hicks.