Perplexity, Persistence, and the MRGCD Elections

This is a tale of perplexity and persistence. More than a decade ago, when I purchased my first home and moved to Barelas, I registered to vote, wanting to do my civic duty and wanting to have my say about matters close to home. I read all of the election literature I received, including the newsletters sent out by the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District, and was ever so disappointed when I showed up for my first election and was turned away because I was not eligible to vote.

They told me I did not live in the district.

I was a bit perplexed, since I was getting MRGCD literature and I knew that my neighbors voted, but I accepted this at face value and walked away. (Having a toddler on my hip and a slightly older child holding my hand meant I wasn't likely to linger).

A few years later, I tried again, since it was an election I really wanted to vote in and I knew that my neighbor, who lived just slightly closer to the river (3 houses closer, to be exact), was voting. So I contacted the MRGCD, asked, and got the same response: Not In The District.

In addition to my almost daily stroll along the banks of the Rio Grande, which is a scant 5 minutes walk from my front door, I had other reasons to be interested in the rio. At that time, my family was heavily involved with an awesome children's peer education program called River Rangers. Among other things, we monitored two BEMP sites, checking water table, rainfall, and litterfall values. So we were a wee bit more involved and aware of politics and policy re: the Rio Grande than your average voter.

We went to MRGCD meetings and worked alongside members of the Army Corps of Engineers and UNM field biologists. Heck, I even knew the history of the founding of the MRGCD and the site of its first flood control levees.

I was really disappointed the second time I checked into the district boundaries, but I assumed we must be just a hair outside the district boundaries, despite having a house that was in an area that flooded repeatedly long ago.

(In Barelas sighting pre-flood and post-flood 19th century homes is easy - just check to see if the home has an elevated foundation. The really old homes in the neighborhood along Barelas Road (circa 1830 would be my guess) have next-to-no-rise in the foundation. Those built in the railroad section of Barelas (circa 1880) tend to have elevated foundations.)

Yesterday I received yet another notice of a MRGCD election. I was about to toss it in the recycling bin, when I noticed that my name on the mailing label was ordered wrong (middle, last, first). In the interests of conserving paper and saving the taxpayer money and all that jazz, I picked up the phone and called the Election Director listed on page 2, planning to ask him to take me off their mailing list.

He told me to call the Election Officer, who is also listed on page 2. And so I did, leaving a message for her to call me back.

In the five short minutes between leaving my message and getting a return call from the Election Officer, I decided to check out the MRGCD website. Just for fun, I decided to look up the boundaries of the district, expecting to see a line somewhere between my neighbor's house and my own.

Guess what?

My house is smackdab in the middle of the MRGCD!

Lest you bawl me out for not checking this earlier, remember that 14 years ago these maps were not available online.
And I figured that perhaps the boundaries had changed recently.

So when the very nice and very professional Election Officer called me back (very promptly, I might add), I asked her whether the boundaries had indeed changed.

They hadn't.

Now, I could take umbrage at the fact that I had been denied my civil rights and so forth, but that's all water under the bridge now, eh? (Get it? WATER under the bridge?)

But I won't.

Instead, I will urge you all to take a good look at this map and see if you are inside or outside the district. (Note - this is especially important if you live within easy walking distance of the river, as I do).

If you do, and you plan to vote on June 2 and you have not voted in the MRGCD elections before, do as the Elections Officer suggested and bring both a photo ID and a copy of your tax bill. You may not need it, but it might be helpful. Here's a link to voting locations.

Views: 186

Comment by Barelas Babe on May 29, 2009 at 12:44pm
Kenny - from what I was told (and I suggest you contact MRGCD yourself to doublecheck), they pull the information from the county assessor's database. The suggestion to mail a copy of your filed deed to MRGCD seems to apply to those who have recently acquired property (past 3 months) in the district. So if this applies to you, you may not be qualified.

I'm planning to show up Tuesday with my photo ID and a copy of my property tax bill (which actually lists MRGCD) to see what happens.

Good luck to you as you pursue this.
Comment by mombat on May 29, 2009 at 1:44pm
I just called the MRGCD 247-0234 and talked to a very helpful woman who found our information in the qualified voter list. She also said that photo ID should be the only thing that you need but that your tax bill is helpfull.
The recreational path issue is not about change but about recognizing that the ditches are a de facto trail system.
There was alot of misinformation spread during the past year and the project seems to have been tabled
Here is a previous DCF entry from early in the process.
Comment by Bill Turner on May 29, 2009 at 2:12pm
The only requirement is that you are a property owner within the district boundaries. Call Evelyn Bennett at 247-0234 to verify. She has the voters list. It took me four years to get the district to go with a voter ID to reduce election fraud. No a vote for incumbents is not a vote for the status quo. I spent the first two years on the Board breaking up the rubberstamp Board. I was successful. Up until that time the District was run by three people Shah, the attorney, and Jose Otero the Board Chairman. Today, Shah has almost no power. We have deprived him of issuing licenses and of his position as Executive Director. We now have a number of functioning committees and are re-writing emplyment policies, employment contracts, and ditch rider policies. I am still striving for improved transparancy, accountability and good governance (and we have made strides in these areas probably more than the new faces to the election would have you believe. I have had to break a few eggs to this point. We still need an engineering audit of infrastructure. a safety engineering audit of our facilities, long term capital improvement programs. The District infrastructure has been mismanaged and even destroyed over the past 34 years. I cut $2.4 million from the FY 2010 budget and Roberts and I found ways to hold the line on advalorem taxes. I was even so bold as to suggest an increase in the water service charges that irrigators pay so we could reduce the ad valorem taxes by requiring them to pay their fair share. These charges haven't increased since 1997 and should be raised by at least $25 per acre. This would raise about $1.35 million of additional income. To hear the outcry from one member at the budget hearing you would have thought I was using a hat pin to persuade them. I will be putting this matter on the agenda at the first meeting on June 8th if I am re-elected. So a vote for me (Bill Turner) is not a vote for the status quo.
Comment by Bill Turner on May 29, 2009 at 2:19pm
Further you hear a lot about ditches with trails and how people are unable to walk the ditches. This is nonsene. Everyone uses the ditches and the trails. The MRGCD is a sponsor of the Rio Grande Park from Bridge to I-40. What is true is that the MRGCD in Bernalillo County is amidst an urban area now and we must accomodate the urban user of our facilities. This may require obtaining some of the 1/8th cent open space tax for improvements. It will require MOUs with the City and the County. It may require some signage. It will require good communication with neighborhood associations and other land users. The MRGCD must look into its herbicide policy and in particular as regards organic farmers. This process is just getting under way. I have been visiting neighborhood associations beginning about 6 months ago and I have been to some on several occasions. I also do a newsletter to the NAs. so, if you are on my list you would have had the results of the MRGCD budget hearings within 3 hours of it being finalized. By the way, we did not raise the advalorem tax. It has been steady for three years now.
Comment by Barelas Babe on May 29, 2009 at 3:36pm
@ Bill Turner - thanks for commenting on these issues. It is great when elected officials comment on DCF.

I have a question about the ditch trails (and I hope I am not opening up a can of worms). I'm very much in favor of keeping as much of the natural feeling to the trails as possible; however, given that my life's work has been with various disability communities, I'm aware that unpaved surfaces can be barriers to access. So I think there are some exceptions to your comment that "everyone uses the ditches and trails" - there are some people who are not able to access these.

I'm torn between my belief that all people (including those with mobility disabilities) should have some access to the amazing network of trails that we are so fortunate to have here in Albuquerque (I'm not sure how Title II of the ADA applies here and it may be that the trails near the nature center suffice), and my desire to have as little impact on the "natural environment" as possible. (And yes, I'm fully aware that there's some irony in using the phrase natural environment to describe an artifact of human construction, but I hope my point is clear, even though the language is muddled). I'd love to know more about how this issue plays out in the discussion about ditches and trails.

Anyway, thanks again for commenting.

I'm sorry that I will not be at the Special Meeting tonight - those of you wanting more info re: the Water Bank Rules can head over to the Mid-Regional Council of Governments Board Room, 809 Copper Avenue NW in downtown Albuquerque. Meeting starts at 6 pm.
Comment by JMG on May 29, 2009 at 8:05pm
Just to reiterate..... the large majority of the funding of the MRGCD comes from taxpayers who live in areas of the city with ditches but who do NOT irrigate. We pay for these ditches and have a right to use them. Several in the north valley near my house have been filled in and lost and others have been fenced off. We used to be able to walk/run a beautiful loop along historic, shaded ditches in the north valley. But suddenly fences have appeared in a couple of areas that block pedestrian access to this trail, even though we pay hundreds of dollars a year in taxes for them. When I asked Bill Turner about this at a recent neighborhood association meeting, he seemed unaware of this issue.

Some people who live nearby are afraid that maintaining a trail along the ditches will encourage gangsters, vandals and thieves to congregate in their backyards. The opposite is true. When people build walls and fence off ditch areas, they create exactly the kind of secluded, private areas that encourage drug users, litterers, vandals and taggers to be there. When trails are opened up to hikers, joggers, dog walkers, kids walking to school, people going to the grocery store, etc., the ditches are no longer attractive to criminals and other no-good-niks, who tend to like privacy from the law and the public.

The MRGCD election generally has an appallingly low voter turn-out. We have some very good, new candidates this year. PLEASE vote if you live within the boundaries.... you don't even have to be registered to vote!
Comment by JMG on May 29, 2009 at 8:09pm
For more information, check out Senator Dede Feldman's blog. She has some endorsements and this:

[[The last day for Early Voting is Saturday May 30th and Lora Lucero and I are sponsoring a free Huevos Rancheros Breakfast at the Red Ball Café, 1303 4th St. SW from 8- 10:00 a.m. Come by have some eats and go vote early down the street at the MRGCD District Office, 1931 2nd St. Bring your drivers license, a property tax bill, utility bill or voters ID card—something official that shows an address.]]
Comment by JMG on May 29, 2009 at 8:53pm
Kenny: [[I've always enjoyed walking the ditch banks in the valley and I'm not sure it really needs to change.]]

The fact is that, if we don't change the leadership of the MRGCD, we may continue to lose our ditches. Taxes from non-irrigators makes up 68% of the funds enjoyed by the MRGCD (over $20 million), and in the last couple of decades, a number of ditches have been discontinued or filled in because there "aren't enough irrigators." Ironically, developed land brings in more revenue than farm land, because of the taxes we home/landowners pay to them. "No change" means endangering the future of the ditches you enjoy walking on today.
Comment by JMG on May 29, 2009 at 8:56pm
ps - I completely agree that ditches should not be paved or developed. But formalizing a trail system does not mean that. This is the only way, I think, we can save them for their recreational, pedestrian travel and historic value.
Comment by JMG on May 29, 2009 at 9:07pm
Just want to add here that Bill Turner, an incumbent board member (who posted in this thread, above and is being challenged in this election) is also a water broker. He strongly defended the board’s decision to halt the ditch trails program.


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