Thanks to a rarely used section of the New Mexico Constitution, a new Valencia County commissioner was sworn into office before the expected Jan. 1 ceremony.
However, there seems to be a conflict that makes it unclear whether that should have happened.
After last Friday’s special county commission meeting to certify the canvassed results for the 2020 General Election, Republican Troy Richardson was sworn in as the newest District 2 commissioner.
The decision was made based on Article 20, section 4 of the state Constitution, vacancy in office of district attorney or county commissioner.
“If a vacancy occurs in the office of district attorney or county commissioner, the governor shall fill such vacancy by appointment, and such appointee shall hold such office until the next general election,” it reads. “His successor shall be chosen at such election and shall hold his office until the expiration of the original term.”
Late Tuesday afternoon, District 2 Commissioner Tom Mraz pointed out the section preceding says something quite different.
Section 3, commencement of term of office, reads, “The term of office of every state, county or district officer, except those elected at the first election held under this constitution, and those elected to fill vacancies, shall commence on the first day of January next after his election.”
Mraz said former state senator and Los Lunas attorney Michael Sanchez reached out to him, saying he didn’t agree with the county’s action and encouraged him to call the New Mexico Attorney General.
After speaking to NMAG chief council Matt Baca, who told Mraz he also didn’t agree with the swearing in and encouraged him to contact the Secretary of State’s Bureau of Elections, Mraz said he had second thoughts about handing over the seat early.
“I didn’t resign last Friday. I was willing to go along with it, but after I talked to (Michael) Sanchez, I thought about it. Everyone told me until Jan. 1,” Mraz said. “And I still have more issues to bring up.”
Mraz, a resident of Meadow Lake, was appointed to the seat by the governor, after it was vacated by David Carlberg in December 2019, with a year left on his term.
Mraz lost the June primary to fellow Democrat Ralph Miramontes, and wasn’t on the November ballot.
Other commission seats have been filled by appointees, however, they were successful in their bids for re-election. Jhonathan Aragon, for instance, was appointed to the District 5 seat in 2013 after Donald Holliday resigned nearly three years into his term. He ran for the seat in November 2014 and won. Aragon was just reelected to his second four-year term and will serve for 10 years if all goes as planned.
Last week, when asked what his top priorities would be, Richardson said he wanted to keep the hospital project moving forward.
“It looks like they may have cleared the legal hurdles and be ready to get that done. From what I can tell they’re ready to start with a feasibility study again to get some companies to bid to build it,” Richardson told the News-Bulletin. “That looks likes it’s probably priority No. 1 to everyone. It’s been 14 years, 15 years in the making and I’d like to see that get done.”
Additional areas of focus for the new commissioner include public safety and the perennial favorite, roads.