How does Magdalena work?

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I’ve been taking some time to learn how government works here in Magdalena. The first thing I learned is that the employment policy is village ordinance. Being subject to village ordinance and being married to a village employee, I had two reasons to be interested in the special public meeting held by the Magdalena Board of Trustees “for discussion and possible decision” on the personnel policy. Mayor Julian had submitted a version of the policy she wanted and Trustee Baca had submitted a version.

I assumed there would be a process of meaningful dialogue that would lead to agreements and necessary compromises through which a new policy would be jointly crafted. I assumed wrong. I asked a question about the paragraph that deals with compliance. There was some discussion about that and then the mayor said that there would be no further questions or comments from the audience until the board completed their business. I was the only person in the audience.

The second thing I learned about local government is that the person conducting a public meeting has the right to silence the public when that person determines that the public is interfering with business. The Public Meetings Act says that the public ONLY has the right to be present and to hear. I thought the point of a public meeting was so that the public could be involved. I thought wrong. The point of a public meeting is so that the public can be informed. If you’ve ever been silenced in a public meeting, the difference between informed and involved becomes crystal clear.

The trustees voted between Trustee Baca’s version and Mayor Julian’s version, and Mayor Julian’s version received the majority support. Besides micro-management and power mongering, my other specific disappointments are:

1. The mayor’s personnel policy specified that “the village clerk shall be responsible for the day-to-day supervision of all employees in the village excluding the public works director. This position will be overseen by the deputy “clerk.” The deputy clerk is supervised by the village clerk. Trustee Baca’s version said, “In such cases where immediate family members are employed simultaneously by the village, said family members will not be employed in a situation in which one relative directly or indirectly supervises another. Family members will be directly supervised by the next highest supervisor than their relative occupies in the chain of authority.” Trustee Allen openly objected to this paragraph for being vague and wordy. She reminded the board that she taught government. She also taught English.

2. Mayor Julian’s policy contains only an outline of what the village expects from its employees and allows the mayor with the board to decide and approve on a case-by-case basis what employees should be doing and how they are behaving. Trustee Torres affirmed that whenever there’s a personnel problem, the mayor calls each trustee to discuss possible actions. I haven’t learned all about polling the board yet, but I think that’s illegal.

3. The Magdalena Marshal’s Office already had to work up to 98 hours before they qualified for time-and-a-half for overtime, but the Fair Labor Standards Act says that if a police department employs less than five personnel, the employer doesn’t have to pay those employees time-and-a-half. Guess what Mayor Julian put in her policy. This one impacts me most directly. I was expecting a diamond for my anniversary; so much for that.

The lowest paid deputy position in the Marshal’s Office is $18,000 per year. At Monday night’s regular meeting the board voted to increase the budget so that they could buy a $24,000 car for the mayor and trustees to drive to meetings and events.

The third thing I learned is it’s easy to be informed, but difficult to get involved.