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City Council directs staff to investigate suing governor

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The Roswell City Council approved in a split vote at Thursday night’s special meeting to direct the city manager to investigate legal action against the state to recover damages from the governor’s health order.

The item was placed on the agenda for Thursday’s meeting at the request of Councilors Jacob Roebuck, Margaret Kennard, Jason Perry, Jeanine Best and Barry Foster. Councilor Savino Sanchez joined those five in voting for the directive, while Councilors Judy Stubbs, George Peterson, Angela Moore and Juan Oropesa voted against.

As presented on the agenda, the item directs City Manager Joe Neeb “to investigate litigation options against the governor of the state of New Mexico for damages to the city of Roswell caused by emergency orders concerning COVID-19.”

Interim City Attorney Parker Patterson addressed the council, discussing lawsuits that have been filed against the governor over the emergency orders and explaining their objectives.

It’s unlikely, he said, for a court to determine the governor’s order lawful or unlawful based on one lawsuit.

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“That’s not how cases come before the court,” he said. “They only deal with the specific controversies in front of them.”

He then outlined what the city would be looking at in determining whether or not to pursue its own litigation.

In order to file a lawsuit, a plaintiff must meet three requirements, he said — injury of fact, causation and redressability.

“The injury has to be caused by some conduct of the defendant, and the court’s decision has to be able to redress the problem. It has to be able to help you,” he said.

Foster said the order mandating hotels and motels to operate at 25% occupancy has hurt the city.

“Of all the things we have seen in the last few months, our lodgers’ tax and our bed fee has been cut and we do have a grievance as far as that,” he said. The bed fee pays for the renovation of the city’s Convention & Civic Center, where the council meets.

But Stubbs, speaking immediately after Foster, said she did not see where the city has suffered damages.

“So far, our (gross receipts taxes) has maintained a level that we didn’t need to implement furloughs and many of our departments are rethinking how they operate. To me, that’s a really good outcome,” she said.

Foster later said the June lodgers’ tax is $50,000 less than April and $80,000 less than May.

“Those are damages,” he said.

Several of the councilors who voted for the directive noted it does not mean the city will sue the governor, it just gives city staff the freedom to gather information to make that decision.

“I think it’s a tool we can have in our toolbox that we can use for later if we need it,” Best said.

To keep up with local coverage of the coronavirus, go to rdrnews.com/category/news/covid-19-situation/.

City/RISD reporter Juno Ogle can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or reporter04@rdrnews.com.