Ceil Levatino will have to resign from her position as a Las Cruces city councilor if she wins a state Senate seat she’s seeking this year, according to a legal opinion from the city attorney.
If that happens, the city will hold a special election to replace Levatino as the District 6 representative on the City Council. That could change the dynamics on the Council, where Levatino is currently the only Republican. Councilor Gregory Z. Smith is a registered independent, and the others are Democrats.
Levatino announced last month that she is seeking the Senate District 37 seat currently held by Democrat Bill Soules. The race is expected to be one of the hottest legislative contests this year.
Levatino initially said it was too early to know whether she would continue to serve on the Council if she was also elected to the Senate. But Las Cruces Mayor Ken Miyagishima pointed to a provision in the city charter that states, “Except where authorized by law, no councillor or mayor shall hold any other elected public office or city employment during the term for which the individual was elected to the council.” He said Levatino would have to resign.
Levatino asked for an opinion from the city attorney. The Las Cruces Sun-News reported last week that City Attorney William “Rusty” Babington Jr. confirmed what Miyagishima said.
“I respect the legal opinion,” the newspaper quoted Levatino as saying. “But I’m committed to my campaign. I’ve officially announced I’m going to run.”
The city charter says a Council vacancy created more than 9 months before the next regular election shall be filled by a special election. If Levatino wins the Senate race, she would take office on Jan. 1, 2017. The next regularly scheduled election for the District 6 council seat is about 11 months later, in November 2017.
So a special City Council election would be held within 60 days of Levatino’s resignation. The seat would be up for grabs again in November 2017, meaning the winner of the special election would have to begin thinking about re-election pretty soon after taking office.
Las Cruces’ prohibition on city elected officials simultaneously holding other elected offices appears to be unique. Some other elected officials serve in two positions at once. They include Brad Winter, who is the New Mexico secretary of state and an Albuquerque city councilor, and Andy Nuñez, who is a state representative and the mayor of Hatch.