Raton City Council recall, New Mexico (2012)
An effort to recall five members of the Raton, New Mexico, city commission was launched in September 2012. The targeted officials were Mayor Charles Starkovich, Mayor Pro Tem Chris Candelario, and city commissioners Neil Segotta, Sandy Mantz, and Jimmy Fanelli. Starkovich resigned in October 2012. The recall efforts against the remaining officials were suspended in October 2012 due to a lack of valid signatures. Raton, New Mexico has a population of 7,282.
Reasons for recall
Recall organizer Ward Shrake said he did not initiate the recall because of "any one specific thing that any one specific commissioner had done, or not done," but because of "the slow realization that I couldn’t come up with any specific positive things that any of them had actually done, individually or as a group." Shrake said, “obviously things weren’t going in a healthy direction in Raton; but try as I might, I couldn’t come up with any strong reason to spare any given commissioner from being considered for removal from office. So, I put the whole group up for consideration for removal."
Recall target Starkovich said the recall effort was “political blackmail by a handful of selfish malcontents at the expense of the majority of citizens.”
Path to the ballot
Ward Shrake filed the five recall petitions on September 30, 2012. Recall organizers needed to obtain 194 signatures on each recall petition in order to move forward with the recall effort. Shrake said that all of his petitions exceeded the minimum threshold. The city had until October 15 the validate the signatures. On October 16, the city announced that insufficient valid signatures had been submitted. Each petition had from 68 to 76 invalid signatures.
Controversial contract for city manager
After the recall effort was initiated, the city commission voted to enter into a new five-year contract with the city manager. The contract is designed to prevent the city manager from being fired should the make-up of the city commission change due to a successful recall election. The city commission voted 4-1 to enter into the new contract, which features a severance package worth almost half of a million dollars. Commissioner Sandy Mantz, who called the contract’s severance package “financially irresponsible," was the lone dissenting vote.
If city manager Pete Kampfer is fired without “good cause” before his contract expires in October 2017, he will receive at least $150,000 in severance. He could receive as much as $495,000 if he is fired in the near term, but the amount of severance will slowly decrease through the life of the contract to a minimum of $150,000. Kampfer's former contract called for $35,000 in severance pay. Kampfer's new contract also gives him a $5,000 annual raise, making his salary $90,000. He will receive an automatic $5,000 raise in each of the next four years, meaning five years from now he is guaranteed an annual salary of at least $110,000. The commissioners who voted for the new contract say they are trying to bring stability to Raton's government and ensure that a new city government would not be able to fire Kampfer, since the city cannot afford to pay the amount of severance in Kampfer's new contract.
Mayor Charles Starkovich said, “Professional leadership comes with a price tag. Mr. Kampfer’s main focus is economic development. The time that negotations (sic) take to recruit a business required a long term committment (sic) and investment from the City for our lead negotiator-Pete Kampfer. It is all about the economy, attracting business, and jobs.” The mayor also said that contract negotiations took place in a private executive session and "that veil will not be pierced.”
On October 10, Mayor Starkovich submitted a letter of resignation. He wrote that he was resigning because of the city's "discriminatory" form of government. Raton has an at-large voting system, which Starkovich believes is discriminatory toward the city's Hispanic residents. Starkovich, who plans to file a formal complaint with the U.S. Justice Department, says the at-large voting system violates the Federal Voting Rights Act.
- The Raton Range, "Recall petitions target city commission; Filing includes all five seats; mayor calls it ‘political blackmail’ orchestrated by ‘handful of selfish malcontents’," October 2, 2012
- KOB4, "Raton mayor resigns over 'discriminatory' gov't ," October 10, 2012
- Albuquerque Journal, "Raton Recall Petitions Fail," October 16, 2012
- The Raton Range, "Recall effort prompts new contract; Severance package aims to make firing city manager difficult," October 10, 2012