Public-comment period reinstated
—Jack E. Thomas
Sandoval County Commission
Spend a few minutes watching kids at play and you'll get a quick reminder of how things happen in the adult world. Most of us learn at an early age that few endeavors involving more than one person have much chance of success unless we effectively communicate our wants and limitations.
The ability to work together and provide assistance toward reaching a common goal, especially when performed in an atmosphere of mutual respect and open communications, are among lessons we pick up early in life. They also are lessons I intend to apply to government as chairman of the Sandoval County Commission.
I want to thank my fellow commissioners for unanimously electing me to chair the commission this year. I also welcome our newest commissioner, Dave Bency, whom I have the privilege of knowing from our days together on the Rio Rancho City Council. Dave represents Commission District 3, which includes northern Rio Rancho. I also wish to welcome the newly elected sheriff, John Paul Trujillo, and assessor Rudy Casaus.
One way I hope to improve accessibility and communications with county government is to reinstitute the public-comment segment during commission meetings. That way, county residents are assured of the opportunity to express their views on any topic or concern. The added input will help guide the commission as we work to balance the needs of residents across Sandoval County.
The public forum will be held at the end of each meeting. The only ground rules are that comments be addressed to the chairman and that comments be offered in an atmosphere of respect. Criticism certainly is acceptable, but personal attacks have no merit in government and will not be tolerated.
As approved by the commission during my first meeting as chairman, times for commission meetings will remain unchanged. We will continue to meet at 3:00 p.m. on the first Thursday of each month and at 6:00 p.m. on the third Thursday of each month.
The commission began the staggered meeting times last year as a way to encourage greater participation by residents who must work nights or who have to travel long distances from our county's more mountainous regions, especially during times of threatening weather.
As my neighbors and constituents know firsthand, I strongly believe government officials must be accessible to the people they were elected to serve. In that regard, as county employees have come to realize and expect, I'm at the courthouse on an almost daily basis. With a little notice, I could be available for anyone wishing to discuss any aspect of county government. Contact the county manager's office, 867-7538, if you wish to schedule a time to meet.
While I believe face-to-face conversations are often the most effective way to discuss issues or ideas, I can always be reached by calling my home, 892-1320. The coming year promises challenges that will require considerable time from all of us. By working together, we can confront many of the challenges that will influence the future of our neighborhoods, communities and county.
It is the responsibility of county residents, I believe, to bring their ideas or concerns to the table. Making sure the lines of communication are open for those discussions is the job of elected officials.
Questions or comments for Commissioner Thomas can be mailed to him in care of Sandoval County Administrative Offices, P.O. Box 40, Bernalillo 87004.
State representative Ron Godbey comes to Placitas
A handful of people turned out to the community center on December 28 as Ron Godbey stood dutifully by for four hours ready to answer questions and take suggestions about the 2003 legislative session. Following redistricting, Godbey became state representative for Placitas in 2002, shortly before he was elected to that position. He promised to "unite both sides of the Sandias" in his constituency, which includes the East Mountains.
One issue that both sides have in common is the proposed New Mexico Products Pipeline, a fifty-year-old inactive pipeline that Shell wants to use for the transport of gasoline and other hazardous refined petroleum products. Godbey said that things have changed since the fifties, and that the old Tex-New Mex line now runs right through La Madera, PaaKo, and Sandia Knolls subdivisions. He said, "It also goes through Edgewood, just eleven paces from a private elementary school." The pipeline also runs through Placitas—near the elementary school and right through the parking lot of the community center where this meeting was held.
Godbey stated, "I've met with Citizens for Safe Pipelines and have contacted the BLM and Shell about my concerns. I proposed that Shell move the pipeline away from populated areas to the right-of-way that already exists for three other pipelines that run through here. That way they would use improved technology and consolidate inspections. It would cost Shell about $30 million. They didn't much like the idea."
Water and development are other common issues. Large newly proposed residential developments—Campbell Ranch in particular—emphasize the need for statewide standards regulating growth. Godbey said, "These developments are drawing from a water source that is not defined by county lines, yet counties regulate with completely different standards about the years of guaranteed water supplies." Godbey favors Governor Richardson's plan to appoint a water czar and replace the state engineer."We need water courts to adjudicate rights along the Pecos, the Rio Grande, and the Rio Chama individually. Only 15 percent of water rights have been adjudicated, and we're facing major lawsuits with Texas over interstate compacts. Richardson will need all his negotiating skills." Godbey anticipates legislation that will require metering of domestic wells. He advocates water harvesting. He also said, "The departments of economic development and tourism need to work with Office of the State Engineer before we outrun our headlights."
Godbey also plans to cosponsor a bill to put convicted sex offenders on lifetime probation, define groups they may not associate with, and require drug testing. He also wants to work on improving DWI legislation and, as newly appointed chair of the interim legislative educational study, he hopes to initiate legislation that will improve the schools.
Godbey, a Republican, said that only about 5 percent of legislation breaks down along partisan lines, and that "economic development is a New Mexico platform."
Balancing improvement with budget
Sandoval County Commissioner
All politics, as aptly noted by late Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill, is local. The same affirmation applies to the myriad of critical issues confronting Sandoval County residents and their county commission: all of our challenges are local.
Four years ago, as I began my first term as a commissioner, I noted we needed open communications and dialog in an atmosphere of respect, that government must include divergent views and suggestions from all sides of the table. Only in that way, I still believe, can we best solve our common problems.
I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to represent many good friends in Commission District I. We have accomplished much together in the past few years. We also have broadened the range of ideas and viewpoints as we have worked together to improve our neighborhoods and communities.
My pledge as I begin my second term on the commission is to continue working closely with our district’s residents as we confront the challenges before us.
I already have been asking neighborhood groups, associations, and residents across our district for ideas and suggestions toward developing a responsible and “livable” water plan. Use, conservation, and management of our most precious resource are critical issues that county and state government must face.
What I envision locally is a plan that will heighten public awareness of appropriate water use and promote effective resource management, a plan that will offer useful benefits rather than rigid and punitive mandates.
Another challenge I’ve been discussing with residents from Rio Rancho to Bernalillo, Placitas, La Madera, and beyond is development of the former Del Norte Gun Club property just west of NM 528 at Idalia Road. We must take steps to assure development of the county-owned property is well planned and then implemented in ways that will offer maximum benefits to all of Sandoval County, especially nearby neighborhoods.
The property will provide an ideal location for the justice complex that voters approved in 2000. We hope to break ground soon on that comprehensive project. In the future, the site may be suitable for a much-needed county health complex and other commercial or retail development. Yet any subsequent development of the property, as I have assured local neighborhood groups and residents, must reflect the needs and suggestions of county residents.
The county commission, too, must implement steps to nurture and assist our greatest asset. County employees must be utmost in the commission’s deliberations, second only to county residents. We must continue encouraging employees to go beyond the quality service they currently provide to county residents, even as resources become more limited.
At the same time, the commission must grapple with the rising costs of benefit plans that are straining county budgets and, in many instances, causing declines in employee take-home pay.
There are many more highly complex issue confronting our county as we enter a new year. Yet by continuing to work together in a two-way dialog and atmosphere of mutual respect and commitment to our friends and neighbors, we can continue to improve our neighborhoods and communities.
Pueblo of Sandia appoints new leadership for 2003
Tribal leaders at Sandia Pueblo have appointed Stuwart Paisano as governor for the fourth straight year. Felix Chavez is the new lieutenant governor, Vincent Avila continues as war captain for a fourth term, and Malcolm Montoya is the new lieutenant war captain. There was an installation ceremony for appointed officials and their officers on January 6 at the pueblo's Saint Anthony de Padua Catholic Church.
Bernalillo loses police chief, town administrator
—Greg Johnston and Ty Belknap
Action taken at a Bernalillo Town Council meeting on January 13 resulted in the termination of jobs for town administrator Ron Abousleman and police chief William Relyea. A motion was made at the meeting by Councilor Serafin Dominguez to reappoint the two, but the motion died when it did not receive a second. Councilor Helen Sandoval said that the motion’s not being seconded spoke for itself. She said councilors had not been in contact with one another prior to the meeting as to how they were going to vote.
Sandoval said of her decision, "I've been under a lot of pressure not to vote in their favor. That’s what they (residents) have been asking of me for two years." Sandoval said she answered nearly fifty phone calls from town residents the day following the meeting. “All were in support,”she said. “I spoke to only one resident who was upset about the termination.” Councilors Dominguez and Sisneros had no comment when the Signpost contacted them.
Abousleman had worked as town manager without a contract or council approval since last March. At that time Councilor Jose "Sharkie" Chavez died before the council’s organizational meeting. His position was not filled until December, when Sisneros won in a special town election.
At the January meeting, Bernalillo mayor Charles Aguilar told the council that Abousleman and Relyea would continue in their positions until replacements were appointed. However, Sandoval believed that state statutes required that the two positions be filled prior to the council meeting on January 27. She said it is now up to Mayor Aguilar to make a recommendation to the council as to who will fill the positions.
Sandoval said that people have complained to her about the way reports are handled by the police department. She has been told that following a theft at a home or an incident involving a vehicle, police reports were not made at the scene; people reporting the crimes were required to go to the police station in order for a report to be filed. "I think this needs to be changed," Sandoval said. "Also, I would like to see the police chief wear visible identification and not be dressed as a layperson while on the job."
Regarding the town administrator replacement, Sandoval believes he should be responsible for keeping the council informed between meetings. "Councilors need to answer questions about town issues and vote on funding of projects," she said. "We need better and more communications between the manager and the council." She cited a recent example of an agreement for residential development to begin on the old Price’s Dairy land west of the Rio Grande. The land had been zoned for development since the dairy closed but construction start-up had been delayed. Sandoval learned of the decision to start development at a work session with legislators rather than at a council meeting. "It's always better that everyone is informed ahead of time," she said.
Days after the January 13 council meeting, a work session was scheduled for the mayor, town administrator, and councilors to meet with elected state officials and review legislative priorities. Senator Steve Komadina and Representative James Roger Madalena attended the meeting. Sandoval said a top concern is to obtain funding to remodel the police station. She said an area is needed for public privacy, away from the officer's desks. The Bernalillo police station occupies space originally built for the town bank. Sandoval said new space is also needed to house the emergency medical services.
Relyea had worked as Bernalillo police chief since 1998. Prior to serving in Bernalillo, Relyea had worked for the state police for twenty-six years. His tenure was lengthy by Bernalillo standards. He was credited with bringing stability to the department and for his work with community policing. He has vacated his position and the job opening has been posted. Larry Tafoya, who works in the radio room, said, "This is a great loss. Chief Relyea did a lot for this town." Sergeant Mark Aragon is filling in administratively, but hesitated to call himself the "acting chief." He said, "The transition is moving along, but the chief will be missed."
Ron Abousleman was town clerk of Bernalillo (a similar position to the one he is losing) from 1967 to 1979. He was mayor from 1986 through 1990. He served as Sandoval County Public Works director from 1990 through 1994. He had been Bernalillo town administrator since 1994 under the administration of Mayor Aguilar. He said, "I'd like to thank the community for the support that they have shown the town. Hopefully things will continue to go in a positive direction. A lot has been accomplished in the last nine years and I feel good about it. Nothing has been done that is improper or that did not benefit the town."
Mayor Aguilar stated, "A team had been assembled that was moving ahead on behalf of the citizens of Bernalillo. It won't be easy to replace these people." He pointed out a number of accomplishments that included expansion of the police department and emergency medical services, improved parks and recreation facilities, improved infrastructure (including roads, water, and sewage treatment), and better wages and benefits for town employees.
Historically, governing bodies in Bernalillo have never been particularly open or inclusive. The new faction that has come to power is obviously fed up with business as usual. They have been somewhat mysterious (except for Helen Sandoval) concerning the motivation behind these recent developments. It is unclear at this point whether this agenda reflects the majority of public sentiment and signals a positive change for the town. To a great extent, it depends on when they find replacements for the two important officials that they fired and who those replacements are.
Business and community support Enchanted Hills park
Photo caption: Newly erected community playground in Enchanted Hills
The Enchanted Hills Neighborhood Association took advantage of of circumstances, the generosity of several local firms, and an enthusiastic volunteer effort to acquire a state-of-the-art playground. Association president Todd Hathorne said that Rio Rancho's Parks and Recreation Department had budgeted $40,000 for a playground in the Enchanted Hills twenty-acre park. The association was given a a great deal of authority in how the total $125,000 park budget was spent.
It just so happened that Landscapes Structures, a company associated with the city's new skate park, was hosting a January conference at the Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort at Santa Ana Pueblo. They needed a place to assemble a playground for demonstrations, and the location at Enchanted Hills was ideal. As a result, the park got a $200,000 system of playground equipment for a mere $20,000 and three hundred hours of work by volunteers.
Hathorne said that the playground is within the four acres where the association has been landscaping and installing two acres of turf for soccer and football fields. He credited local biologists Jim and Paula Nellison for their extensive study of the park that identified vegetation so that the playing fields could be laid out in the least environmentally destructive fashion possible.
The story almost had an unhappy ending. Just days after the playground was completed, two vandals (who appeared to be teenage boys) hot-wired a forklift and were knocking down trees and ripping up the turf at 3:00 a.m. They were chased off by a neighbor before they could get to the playground. Hathorne said that volunteers will repair the turf. This adds to the $36,000 worth of damage from vandalism that Parks and Recreation has incurred over the last year. Hathorne said that he will press legislators to impose a curfew to try to control this growing problem in Rio Rancho.
“All things considered,” Hathorne said, "This park makes the neighborhood a better place to live and we're very happy with the way things have turned out. We are very thankful for the generosity of the companies that contributed to the effort. AMREP provided $80,000 worth of dirt work. UNM gave us $40,000 worth of dirt, and their School of Engineering helped with the master plan. McClintock Surveying and Drafting donated $10,000 worth of surveying and helped assemble the playground."
SC Commission declares emergency moratorium on billboards
On January 16 the Sandoval County Commission passed an interim resolution placing a moratorium for the next nine months on the approval of outdoor advertising. Commissioner Damon Ely made the request on behalf of county residents who are opposed to billboard pollution. Ely said that the emergency action was a standard procedure to prevent a stampede of permit applications that could occur before the non-emergency moratorium is passed.
Planning and Zoning director Michael Springfield pointed out that the county controls minimal billboard space, and that it has only granted one billboard permit in the last three years. Most billboards along I-25 and US 550 are on tribal land. Ely said that he hoped to set a precedent that would encourage the pueblos to remove existing billboards. He also said that the billboard industry is out of control and that it negatively impacts economic development and tourism. Commissioner Elizabeth Johnson stated that she refused from the outset to even consider such a moratorium because she represents several constituents who depend on billboards for income and advertising.
During the public comment period, Orlando Lucero told the commission that some property on Hill Road has depreciated as much as 30 percent. The signs create light pollution and obstruct the view of the mountain. He said that the town of Bernalillo has a moratorium that is not effective.
A Mr. Archibeque testified that Algodones, "the billboard capital of New Mexico," has fought the industry for years, but that out-of-state companies were "dumping all the billboards they can because most states are banning them." He said that some of the signs include eight unshielded 1,000-watt halogen lights that make it difficult for residents to sleep at night.
Rick Roberts said that billboard proliferation is creating "a land of entrashment." The resolution passed three to one.
Commission chairman Jack Thomas was absent from the meeting due to illness.
In other business, the commission voted to support the Bernalillo School District two-mill levy, which will appear on the February 4 ballot. Only Commissioner David Bency voted no, saying that while he supported the levy personally, he did not think it was the commission's place to tell people how to vote.
The commission approved a resolution authorizing the sale of general-obligation bonds in the amount of $7.9 million for the construction of the judicial complex on the recently acquired gun club site. County Manager Debbie Hayes said that master planning of the project would be delayed until June.
County clerk Victoria Dunlap requested an additional full-time position. There was a brief verbal tug-of-war between Dunlap and Michael Springfield over a temporary part-time employee who is apparently essential to the operation of both the Planning and Zoning Commission and the Bureau of Elections. Every department is short-handed, due to a hiring freeze during a time of rapid growth in the county. The commission agreed on a temporary solution to get through the February election.
The commission approved the preliminary plat for the 102-lot Anasazi Trails subdivision in Placitas. The approval came after a period of public comment during which no one objected. The commissioners seemed surprised and even invited comments over an issue that in the recent past would have prompted lots of gavel banging.
Placitas village experiences water shortage
The Board of Directors of the Las Acequias de Placitas water system posted notice on January 25 of a severe water shortage. The board members were not available for comment. Several members of the water system contacted were not yet aware of what was going on. Some said there could have been a problem with the pipes. KOAT Channel 7 news reported that the underground springs that feed the system were going dry. The springs in the village of Placitas depend on snow melt for recharge. The TV report said that water was being rationed and turned off from 11:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m. for the following week.
Tim Lucero appointed undersheriff
Sheriff John Paul Trujillo has appointed veteran law-enforcement officer and Sandoval County native Tim Lucero undersheriff of Sandoval County. Lucero's fourteen years of experience includes work as a supervisor. He worked for the Sandoval County sheriff's office from 1988 through 1995, the Santa Fe County sheriff's office from 1996 to 2000, and the New Mexico Lottery from 2000 through 2002. He was a candidate for Sandoval County sheriff in the 1998 primary.
Sheriff Trujillo said, "Undersheriff Lucero is well known and highly respected within Sandoval County and surrounding areas. He has a tremendous amount of experience working in every division of a sheriff's office. His experience and familiarity with the county will greatly help our office and the residents we serve. Within the first week of office, the undersheriff and I have reorganized and created separate divisions within the sheriff's office. These steps will provide structure and accountability within the office, and efficient, comprehensive services to residents of Sandoval County."