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It’s crossed your mind. They’re making such a mess of things. You could do better. Well, the time has come. Make up your mind and run for town council.

Municipal elections happen in the off-years from state, county and national elections. Our small towns have delegated elections to the Grant County clerk. Next Tuesday, Aug. 29, is the deadline for fi ling at the clerk’s office. That also applies to Santa Clara, Bayard and Hurley, but since I have limited space, I’m going to concentrate on my hometown, Silver City.

Districts 1 and 3 are up for election. Councilor Rudy Bencomo was appointed in May to fi ll a vacancy in District 1. I haven’t heard whether he is running to remain in the seat. Councilor Jose Ray has announced that he is running for reelection in District 3. There are rumors about who else might be running, but we won’t know for sure until after the fi ling date.

It could be you, and I hope it is. But fi rst, I’m going to talk about an issue that might affect your decision.
Town elections are controlled by state law, town ordinances and the town charter. Mayor Ken Ladner looks great in a top hat on Charter Day, but that’s not what counts on Election Day. The charter line that affects us most is Article I, Section 1: “The corporate powers and duties of said town shall be vested in a mayor and four councilmen who shall serve without compensation…”

In other words, councilors don’t get paid. (We’ll ignore the original “councilmen,” which obviously doesn’t apply to Councilor Lupe Cano.) The pay issue has come up repeatedly in rumors of potential candidates and attempts to recruit them.

Councilor Nick Prince estimates that he spends about 12 hours a week on council business. Former Councilor Lynda Aiman-Smith estimated she spent 20 hours until she became experienced, then 9 to 12 hours per week, not including council meetings.

Not every councilor does that much homework. Who can afford to work those hours for nothing?
I have followed town elections for 20 years, and often, candidates run unopposed. Councilor Ray was appointed to the job after an unchallenged candidate quit immediately after winning.

Ray has since been elected, but he is a target of controversy. His District 1 includes the historic district, which has a lot of liberals and progressives. He is too conservative for many of them, and this year, as in previous election years, there has been an underground attempt to recruit an opponent.

I know of several people who have been recruited unsuccessfully. The recruiters get excited about each new prospect, but the prospects aren’t so excited when they realize what’s involved.

It takes a special kind of person to want to be a councilor. That’s because the people most drawn to run aren’t necessarily the ones most qualified to serve. Also, you need time to spare. That rules out a lot of qualified people in the middle of their careers.

Nevertheless, we have had good councilors, such as Aiman-Smith, who emailed me about her two terms. She said prospective councilors should not run in outrage about one problem, but with “an open mind and heart” to improve the lives of citizens. She says candidates will have “a big learning curve, moments of frustration, as well as moments of gratification.”

I’ve discussed the pay issue before, in relation to the Legislature. You get what you pay for. If you don’t like the way the Legislature or the council operate, blame yourself and other voters for not insisting on putting pay in the state constitution and the town charter.

The county pays commissioners a reasonable salary for part-time work. No one runs to get rich, but you don’t have to have an independent income. I’ll vote for state and town candidates who support the county model.

Some object that councilors would be voting to pay themselves, but that can be handled by making the law take effect after the next election. If voters don’t like councilors voting for future pay, they can turn them out of office. Those like me will turn them out if they didn’t vote for pay.

To allow a paid council, councilors would have to put amending the charter on the ballot for public vote. The charter has been amended several times since 1878, and we could do it again. If the no-pay clause were removed from the charter, the council would still have to pass ordinances setting up a pay system.

I hope that someday — maybe next year — a new council will put amending the charter on the ballot. But first, I hope for good candidates and a lively election campaign this fall.

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Southwest Word Fiesta™ or its steering committee.

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Bruce McKinney

Bruce McKinney is a Silver City business owner, close observer of local government and occasional troublemaker. In his column, which appears every other Wednesday, he tries to address big questions from a local perspective. Send comments and ideas to
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