Voting makes a difference
Vote. If you are registered, you have every right to cast a ballot. Unfortunately, there are some who only want the “right” people to vote. Therefore, voters need to be prepared if they vote in-person for attempts to limit who votes.
On election day, Nov. 3, as happens at every election, local police and sheriff’s deputies will periodically stop by polling places to make sure there are no problems. But voters may also see people dressed in clothing designed to look like official uniforms. The intent is to intimidate those who are fearful of going to the polls, for whatever reason. Don’t be!
There will also be legally allowed poll watchers at election sites. Some may try to challenge people they regard as the “wrong” type of voters, people they fear won’t cast ballots the way these poll watchers want.
Voters may also encounter political zealots beyond the 100-foot limit around polling places whose intent is to harass or intimidate. This is a democracy. Do not be intimated or bullied. If you are fearful, bring a trusted friend with you.
Obtain information about candidates from reputable news organizations. Attack ads are notorious for misleading material and outright lies. Voting against someone based on attack ads is an unwise strategy.
Keep municipal court
The Belen City Council recently held a workshop to review the budget and performance of the Belen Municipal Court and Judge Kathy Savilla. Although nothing was settled, the takeaway is that certain council members are contemplating dissolving the court.
The importance of the court outweighs any reason to remove such office. Our courts’ history dates back to when local judges were referred to as justices of the peace.
After working in Belen city government for more than 20 years, I have seen other ways the city can save money, curtail waste and be fiscally responsible to the citizens. The city could stop paying out-of-court settlements designed to deter disgruntled or terminated employees from filing lawsuits. The city could discontinue outsourcing work and labor that city personnel can and very well should do. And lastly, the city could stop paying the gasoline bill for employees issued a city car that do not reside in Belen or Valencia County.
I agree that all city officers issue citations primarily through our local court unless serious or major violation(s) justify citing through magistrate, only as secondary which is logical due to the higher level of criminality and the legislative-controlled fine structure. Any fines collected by the municipal court directly supports the local budget. Fines issued by a county magistrate do not go to the local municipality, which has a negative effect on Belen’s primary budget.
Additionally, if the proposed dissolution of the court were due to budget constraints, current court employees would be offered a transfer to another department. So what would be intended purpose or expected cost savings of the proposal while continuing to pay their salary and benefits?
It is known that the Belen Magistrate Court is one of the busiest courts in our state with an already tremendous caseload. There is no reason to continue to add to the burden and workload of cases that should be handled by local jurisdiction in Belen within a reasonable amount of time. Adding to the caseload will force a backlog for weeks — if not months — for simple cases that should be handled by the municipal court.
Senate Bill 173 (2019) allows for communities with less than 10,000 people to transfer jurisdiction to the local magistrate. Although Belen’s current population technically fits this rule, we are more advanced with an adequate tax base than smaller and more rural communities around the state this new law would favor.
It is easy to look at reported numbers and see an unassuming deficit for an office that is not created to earn a profit. Besides the city’s water enterprise fund, gross receipts and property taxes, secondary revenue produced by grants, permits, and fees; there is not a single city department that generates adequate revenue. All departments cost the city money. The city of Belen is not a business, it is a government; a government charged with providing services to the taxpayers, municipal court included. If generating revenue is the subject and solely the case, then the city council’s focus should be to clean up our town, knock down old or abandoned buildings and follow campaign promises we hear election after election to grow our community, support established businesses by shopping local and bringing new commerce to Belen.
With a local election in the coming year that will decide a mayor, two councilors, and a municipal judge, it makes more sense to wait until after the election and results of the census to explore such an extreme change to city government. Starting the process now is unnecessary, inappropriate and untimely. The city council that takes office on January 1, 2022 should allow a potential new judge the chance to continue to prove why the Belen Municipal Court is important for our community. Although the municipal court does not engage in city policymaking or administrative decisions, it still has a great deal of importance and influence in city government.
It is extremely important for you as a citizen to vote, complete the 2020 census and not allow what appears to be a hidden motive, personal agenda or power grab that will change the face of city government. There are three branches of government for a reason; keep it that way!
Candidate for Belen Municipal Court Judge, retired fire chief
The Valencia County News-Bulletin is a locally owned and operated community newspaper, dedicated to serving Valencia County since 1910 through the highest journalistic and professional business standards. The VCNB is published weekly on Thursdays, including holidays both in print and online.