Mayoral candidate sues city over forum

Mayoral candidate Chris Muldrow

Mayoral candidate Chris Muldrow verified last week that he is suing the City of Rio Rancho for denying a social group access to Loma Colorado Main Library for a mayoral forum.

According to the complaint, the city granted the social group Common Ground Community Trust a permit to hold a candidate forum hosted by the League of Woman Voters in the library’s auditorium Feb. 17.

The complaint says that on Jan. 19, after the planned event was advertised and permitted, city officials notified Common Ground that they were revoking said permit because no mayoral candidate forums were permitted at the library. However, the city allowed the Los Rios Neighborhood Association to host a similar mayoral forum at the library Jan. 30.

“While government may impose narrowly drawn time, place and manner restrictions on the exercise of the rights to speak, petition or assemble, including permit requirements, the First Amendment prohibits the government from blocking these types of activities on content or viewpoint,” Muldrow said. “The revocation of Common Ground Community Trust (‘s) permit was based on viewpoints and was not necessarily to achieve any compelling government interest.”

Chapter 39.13 (A) of the city’s code of conduct states: “Public resources, including funds, facilities and personnel, may not be used to further partisan campaign purposes or to influence the outcome of an election…”

Muldrow said in his complaint that all three mayoral candidates committed to participate in the Los Rios Neighborhood Association’s forum.

Yet, only two of the three attended at the Los Rios meeting. Hull verified in a letter of apology he sent to the neighborhood association that he was at a public meeting at the Cabezon Community Center discussing bond questions on the ballot.

“It is always my goal to meet with as many citizens as possible whenever possible; last night, I was meeting with citizens, not just as a candidate, but as mayor,” Hull wrote.

Terry Iliff, member of the LRNA, said the event wasn’t a mayoral forum but a private annual meeting where the association asks someone to speak.

“It was a presentation and Mr. (Tom) Swisstack spoke first and we had a list of questions that I actually read out loud,” Iliff said. “Candidate Muldrow did the same thing, but they did end up taking some verbal questions as well.”

Originally, Iliff said, she had a sign in front of the auditorium inviting others to join the association’s meeting, given that the LRNA is a small group in a big auditorium.

“I wasn’t allowed to keep that sign up,” Iliff said. “The reason we were told was because we weren’t allowed to have a political ‘thing.’ We were also told if we have a closed-door neighborhood association meeting and only those people were coming, then it was allowed.”

Iliff said she wouldn’t have known about that rule had she not put out her sign.

Elaine Cimino, co-director for Common Ground, said she felt like her organization’s rights were violated.

“We feel like the city had it out against us after I made a phone call to the mayor asking him to participate,” Cimino said. “We are a non-partisan group, we stand neutral and after all, we just reserved the room; we weren’t going to run the forum.”

Cimino said she wants Hull taken to task on the matter, given the optics of one group being allowed to do the same thing her group wasn’t.

City of Rio Rancho spokeswoman Annemarie Garcia said in an email that the city found out about the Los Rio event hours before the event took place. She said staff was as accommodating as possible to avoid having to cancel meetings on short notice.

As for the lawsuit, the city has no comment on pending litigation.