Bill Mandating Expansion of Some County Commissions

The House Passes a Bill Requiring the Extension of Several County Commissions

On Thursday, the House voted 40 to 28 in favor of HB 399, which would force counties with 35,000 or more inhabitants to increase the size of their county commissions to five members. If the law were to pass, only Otero, McKinley, and Rio Arriba counties would be affected.

“Thank you for the very strong-minded debate and the urgency that we all are coming to recognize,” bill co-sponsor Rep. Willie Madrid, D-Chaparral, said. 

“I have to say in closing, you know, when we talk about the statutes and listen to the discussion today, it was a start of the will of the people. They have to be a part of this.”

The population of a certain area alone should be used to determine the boundaries of commission districts. Legislative co-sponsor Susan Herrera (D-Embudo) explained that the new district maps are created by the boards of county commissioners.

Bill Mandating Expansion of Some County Commissions
Bill Mandating Expansion of Some County Commissions

Current law in New Mexico allows counties to increase their board of commissioners from three to five members. Then, using the latest census data, new districts will be drawn. It was Herrera’s contention that the bill was designed to provide historically marginalized groups like Hispanics a greater voice in government.

“Anytime people without power go up against people with power, there’s going to be a difficult struggle,” Herrera said. “These conversations are not easy and they are not easy to bring forward and they are not easy to solve. But I think it’s incumbent on all of us to hear voices that are not being heard and bring them forward.”

As an example, the Otero County NM Political Report contacted the county commissioners and county managers in the three counties that were impacted by the case. The answer came from a single one of them.

Amy Barela, a Republican from Tularosa who was recently elected to serve as the county commissioner for Otero County’s District 2, expressed her opposition to the bill in a letter she sent to the House Government, Elections, and Indian Affairs Committee and provided to the New Mexico Political Report.

“Otero County Commissioners currently represent 22,882 constituents in each district. The cost of each commissioner currently includes $26,257 for salary, $22,942.58 for benefits, $5,000 travel allowance and $2,075 for office equipment.  This does not include training expenses, staff support, office utilities, etc,” she wrote. “Each commissioner has an approximate cost to the county of $55,274.58.”

ZipRecruiter reports that $42,130 is the median compensation for a county commissioner in New Mexico. She added that moving or renovating the county commission chambers would set the county back hundreds of thousands of dollars.

In 2016, voters were asked if they favored expanding the Otero County Commission from three to five members; 74% of those who cast ballots in the election favored the expansion. The polling question had no legal weight but did provide a snapshot of voter sentiment at the time.

Otero County Commission members considered expanding the commission board to five members in 2018. According to former Otero County Commission Vice Chairwoman Janet White,

“The beauty of having five, is you are required to live in your district and the five redistricting maps, five scenarios, people would be required to live out in rural areas to represent rural concerns,” 

Under each of the five proposed redistricting maps and scenarios.  We won’t see a “It won’t be Alamogordo split five ways.” One vote was not enough to pass the motion to publish the ordinance, and White was the lone no vote. It’s safe to say that Alamogordo has more residents than any other city in Otero County.

As we get word of any major developments in the county, we will be sure to let you know. For up-to-date details, please check out our website County Current. Our number one priority is providing you with precise and up-to-date information.