Sandoval Signpost


An independent monthly newspaper serving the community since 1988
  Up Front

President Clinton

President Clinton explores rural health care in Bernalillo, twenty years ago
Photo credit: Barb Belknap

Paging Through The Past: Signpost reprints from twenty years ago
An excerpt from:

The surrealistic journey of President Clinton to Bernalillo, NM

—Barb Belknap

In the press tent, with hands too cold to write, we watched as the stage was set for the 1993 Presidential visit of Bill Clinton to Bernalillo. Two stools and a small hay-bale coffee table were arranged with a pitcher of water and two glasses. There were three pick-up trucks filled with hay, parked strategically for rural background camera shots—to include goats climbing on tin roofs. Country music bellowed “I’ve Got Friends In Low Places.” Secret service personnel climbed onto rooftops with long, black rifle cases slung guitar-style on their backs. Helicopters circled above. Locals and out-of-towners were all psyching up for the moment to come.

After an hour passed, the scene continued to tighten with blowing heaters, spotlights, camera crews parked elbow to shutter, no-nonsense secret servicers designating seats and checking press passes. Even with the tightest security involved in obtaining press passes (mandatory background check for history of murder or assassination—took about two minutes), the tent was filled with many more bodies than expected, possibly the cause of some stern-looking secret service people.

Placitan crowd members Tom McCool and Ann Heinrich, along with Michael Bladegroen of Llanito, noticed a few people passing through a security gate in front of the laundromat. Acting on the cue, they passed through the metal detector, becoming three of the lucky approximately one hundred people to shake Clinton’s hand. McCool, who ended up shaking Clinton’s hand twice, slipping him a second “bro” handshake, relayed, “If there was a hand out, Clinton was shaking it. There was so much excitement in the air. When we got home, we didn’t want to sleep. People stayed up and just partied.”

Owner of Bernalillo’s Mundo Video, Bill Hoock, also pressed the flesh with the Prez. He recalls, “It was very definitely a thrill. More than a thrill. It was magical. This was a human vibe I felt for the very first time. Finally, I understand the word “charisma!”

Darri Harrison, staff member of El Pueblo Health Clinic and first-hand witness to Clinton’s clinic visit, remarked on the whole process, “It was pretty nice. He came in the office and shook hands with us. We were so amazed. He went around to the examining rooms and talked to our patients. We conducted business that whole day! He asked us questions. We told him what our clinic was about, how it worked, and what our clientele was like. The President was real personable and seemed very compassionate. He’s got it together.”

Across the street at the antique store, Bygone Days, owners Nell Ash and Carol Gustafson were watching with their five grandchildren. Prior to the President’s arrival, secret service agents used the store as a hide-out, installing four new telephone lines. They temporarily confiscated all sharp-edged store items and bats during the visit.

With hands in his pockets, and sporting his bulkiest Guatemalan coat, Ty Belknap, co-publisher of the Signpost, approached the President for a handshake. He was immediately strong-armed and pocket-searched by an incredibly nasty secret service agent, an experience to hand down to the grandchildren.

Jake Lovato, owner of the Running Buffalo Gallery in Bernalillo, designed and sculpted a beautiful metal image of cactus and quail as a gift from the Town of Bernalillo to the President. Upon Mayor Ernie Aguilar’s presentation of it, Clinton asked to meet the person who had made this wonderful sculpture. Jake, waiting in the wings, was quickly sent for and introduced. The President ordered his aides to make sure this artwork got to his Washington residence and gratefully thanked Jake saying, “Hillary’s really going to love it.”

Tom Fenton and Matt DiGregory, owners of the Range Café, were privy to the inside-tent happening. In fact, the President’s aide David Neslin was an old friend of Tom’s from Cape Cod, which was actually why the visit was set in Bernalillo. Tom said, “David called me to scope things out. ‘We’re coming to Albuquerque,’ he said, ‘and we want to visit a small town with rural health care that’s not too far from downtown.’ I thought what better person to represent Bernalillo than Alan Firestone. So, when David came, I introduced him to Alan. David thought it was perfect. The idea blew Alan’s mind and he agreed.”

Prior to the visit, Fenton had polled a number of people for a question to ask the President. The question was “What would the small businesses’ health care financial obligation for its employees be per month?” Clinton didn’t blink an eye, having been asked that question hundreds of times. “It’s not going to be much,” he said. “About eight dollars per employee.” Tom thought that would be great and gave the President a Range t-shirt. Clinton promised he would wear it jogging.

This is a shortened reprint of an article that appeared in the January 1993 Signpost.

I-25/ US 550 project delayed by winter

—Ty Belknap

New Mexico Department of Transportation (NMDOT) Public Information Officer Phil Gallegos told the Signpost on December 19 that the November 6 projected completion date for the I-25/US 550 interchange rebuilding project has been extended until springtime. According to the contract, the contractor can be fined up to $8,300 dollars per day after November 6 until the project is completed. Gallegos did not give the specific problems that caused the delay, but said that after the project is completed, mediators will determine the amount of the fines.

The project was complicated by all the utilities involved and the lack of adequate alternative routes that would allow the highway to be shut down. Gallegos said, “We knew it would be tough to build the project in such a congested area without impacting the flow of traffic. There were unexpected problems and different glitches in real-time conditions. As the winter season approaches, temperature-related issues might delay final paving until Spring, but by February the project could be completed and used as designed.”

Driving through the construction is challenging and sometimes dangerous. There have been a number of automobile accidents, including one fatality. Prohibited left turns for westbound traffic at the intersection of US 550 and NM 313 (Camino del Pueblo) caused a back-up during November and December. Gallegos said that the completion of additional lanes in late December would allow left turns and relieve some of the congestion.

Construction continues on the on- and off-ramps. In order to turn south on South Hill Road, westbound traffic must exit US 550 to the right onto North Hill Road and take the loop back under US 550. Eastbound US 550 traffic can turn right onto South Hill Road. Gallegos said, “They’re pushing to get everything open as soon as possible.”

Gallegos said that the NMDOT has awarded the contract to an engineering firm that is scoping the next phase of US 550 construction from NM 313 west to NM 528 in Rio Rancho. There will continue to be a bottleneck at NM 313 until NMDOT figures out a way to improve the flow of traffic to the west.

Sandoval County Clerk ready to issue same-sex marriage licenses

Signpost Staff

On December 20, the day after a New Mexico Supreme Court decision on marriage equality, Sandoval County Clerk Eileen Garbagni said she was ready to issue same-sex marriage licenses.

“We hold that the State of New Mexico is constitutionally required to allow same-gender couples to marry and must extend to them the rights, protections, and responsibilities that derive from civil marriage under New Mexico law,” wrote Justice Edward Chávez in a unanimous five-to-zero decision. The Court found that prohibiting individuals from marrying solely because of sexual orientation is a violation of the Equal Protection Clause in the New Mexico Constitution.

Garbagni had previously refused to follow the lead of other New Mexico counties until a court order cleared the way. She told the Albuquerque Journal, “I never really had an issue with it. I was just not going to do it until the courts ruled on it.” She said that she has printed licenses that read “spouse” and “spouse” instead of “bride” and “groom.”

Things have sure changed in the nearly ten years that have passed since Former Sandoval County Clerk Victoria Dunlap drew national attention and a critical comment from President George W. Bush for issuing licenses to sixty-six same-sex couples in 2004. Dunlap, a Republican censured by her own party, chose not to seek reelection as county clerk and lost her primary-election bid to run for the Sandoval County Commission. Now it appears she was politically correct ahead of her time.

Dunlap singled out Governor Bill Richardson, who she said could have found a way to look into the issue, and Attorney General Patricia Madrid, who rapidly sought a court order when Dunlap threatened to issue more same-sex licenses. “These people live to win their elections,” she told a meeting of the Albuquerque Press Women. “No one wants to say anything. It’s an election year.”

Once again it is an election year, but on December 19, U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, and U.S. Reps. Ben Ray Luján and Michelle Lujan Grisham all applauded the court’s decision.

“Today’s court ruling is a resounding victory for New Mexicans in all four corners who love one another and deserve to be treated equally under the law—just as our Constitution intended,” said Udall. “Our country has come a long way in advancing marriage equality for all, and I am proud New Mexico is joining in that forward progress. I’m also glad the court has finally provided the legal clarity for the countless New Mexicans who have been in limbo for too long, and I congratulate all our families in New Mexico who will finally be treated with the respect and dignity they deserve.”

“Today is a proud day for New Mexico and a significant step forward to creating a fairer, more just society. I am thrilled that the New Mexico Supreme Court found that our constitution requires marriage equality for all our citizens,” said Heinrich. “This ruling stands to strengthen New Mexico families and affirms that loving same-sex couples, who accept the responsibility of marriage, are respected and recognized in our state. We must continue our march toward full equality for all Americans.”

 “Today’s decision by the New Mexico Supreme Court ensures that every couple can make the personal choice of marriage,” said Luján. “Marriage equality is a matter of civil rights and treating all people who are in loving and committed relationships fairly. Gay and lesbian couples make the same contributions and sacrifices that we all do, including paying taxes, owning business, and caring for their families. Now everyone will be treated equally under the law.”

“This is an incredible victory for New Mexico, where we believe that all families matter and that everyone deserves the same basic rights and responsibilities that only marriage provides,” said Lujan Grisham. “This ruling confirms what we already know and believe—that in New Mexico, freedom means freedom for everyone. I’m thrilled that all New Mexicans now have the opportunity to marry the person they love, and I’m proud that our state is on the right side of history.”

Valles Caldera

Valles Caldera backs off plan to open access

Signpost Staff

On December 4, Kent Salazar, chairman of the Valles Caldera Trust Board, announced that the plan to increase open access to the Valles Caldera National Preserve has been put on hold due to concerns that Indian tribes and pueblos were not previously consulted. The board had voted on September 26 to adopt a new policy allowing “open, unrestricted access to all areas of the preserve for wandering and exploration.” The hikes were to be available to people who pay an access fee of no more than ten dollars per day.

Salazar told the Albuquerque Journal, “It is clear from staff input that there are serious issues that must be addressed, prior to the implementation of the program.” He added that tribal consent, review of endangered species, cultural resources, and habitat protection all needed to be considered. Salazar said the open-access hiking program remains a goal for the board.

Jemez Pueblo Governor Vincent Toya, Sr. told the Red Rocks Reporter, “Access will allow the general public access to areas that had been restricted as sacred cultural sites. These most sacred areas will be subject to public trespass. This drastic step was taken without any consultation with the tribe. This is a radical departure from the more cooperative relationship we used to maintain.”

On September 24, Federal District Court Judge Robert C. Brack dismissed the Pueblo’s title lawsuit seeking the return of the Valles Caldera. An appeal of that decision is underway and will be heard in the tenth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Toya told the Reporter, “This land is the heart of our religion and who we are as a community. The vast majority of that area has religious sites, with Wavema, Redondo Peak, at the heart of it. Everything about that particular peak has an activity that our survival is based on, for carrying on the life and livelihood of our people. Wavema is just as precious to us as Blue Lake is to Taos Pueblo... the people of Taos Pueblo fought for 64 years to recover Blue Lake. We are just as committed.”

The Santa Fe New Mexican reported that Caldera Action, a nonprofit Santa Fe group, is asking the Valles Caldera National Preserve board to reinstate the open hiking policy. “Tom Ribe, the group’s executive director, said in a statement that pueblo ceremonial activities and sites already are protected under the federal legislation that created the Valles Caldera preserve in 2000 and by the Federal Antiquities Act. He said Santa Fe National Forest and Bandelier National Monument—both lands adjacent to the preserve—also have ceremonial and archaeological sites, but still allow open, unstructured hiking. He also noted that hunters, ranchers, and researchers already have more open access to the preserve, outside of areas that are restricted due to pueblo activities.”

Bernalillo Town Council notes—December 9

—Karen Lermuseaux

It was a short meeting and attended sparsely, most people choosing to stay home and keep warm—I am sure. But the entire Town Council, Mayor, department heads, Ida Fierro, and myself were there.

Mayor Torres updated info regarding the NM DOT and efforts to resolve some of the issues with pedestrian crossings at the railroad tracks. Torres reports that the Council of Governments (COG) has suggested that some federal funds may be available towards a resolution. The DOT has decided that fencing does work and will look at how that may be used as well. “No trespassing” signs will also be placed along the tracks, and UNM has a contract to provide educational training at the public schools. All together, hopefully something will work to reduce, or better yet, eliminate, the fatalities that have been occurring along the railroad tracks in the Town.

Torres said that three-way stop signs would be placed along Sheriff’s Posse road, as well as other places within the Town in an effort to reduce the high speeds that have been occurring.

Mayor Torres thanked everyone who turned out for the Christmas Tree lighting and parade. Both seemed to draw a very respectable crowd, and the kids seemed to enjoy Santa.

District 44 State Representative Jane Powdrell-Culbert attended the meeting and gave an update on what she thinks may occur with funding for the next fiscal year. She talked about the funding that several Albuquerque district politicians are trying to take from the top of the severance fund directly to their district for the Colonias, similar to what Las Cruces does for their district. These funds would be in addition to their usual capital outlay funds. Several comments were made regarding the status of residents in Bernalillo who do not have access to water, sewers, sidewalks, or curbs. Also, Powdrell-Culbert indicated that the Governor was expected to make it a “water year,” possibly funding water development issues more strongly than in the past. Questions for Powdrell-Culbert were directed at education funding and flood prevention issues.

Horse task force updated

Signpost Staff

On November 19, Sandoval County Commissioner Orlando Lucero chaired the first meeting of a task force that he assembled to address the issue of free-roaming horses in the Placitas area. Members chosen by Lucero included representatives from the Placitas community, community boards, key government entities, homeowners associations, and animal advocacy organizations. Sandoval County provided funding to engage New Mexico First, an Albuquerque-based, nonpartisan public policy organization, to facilitate and manage the project.

In December, Lucero and Heather Balas, president of NM First, announced the next steps for the project to task force members. They said that NM First’s contract with Sandoval County has been revised to adjust the method for gathering project information, and that all remaining input would be collected via interviews and small group meetings, rather than through additional task force meetings of the entire group. The update stated, “The final product—a clear report with concrete solutions—remains the same. We are making this change so that NM First’s time can be devoted to gathering and reporting information to help solve the challenges of Placitas’s free-roaming horses. We found that the staff’s time was instead being consumed by a voluminous number of emails and calls, most of which focused on the operations or rules of the task force and its committees rather than the actual policy challenges ahead.” The confrontational approach that characterized the first meeting was considered to be counterproductive.

The January 14, 2014, and February 18, 2014, meetings were cancelled. Subcommittees that are working constructively were encouraged to keep going, otherwise, NM First will conduct interviews of individuals and small groups. NM First said they were building the report around the central solutions identified at the first general meeting, collecting pros, cons, and challenges of each. They especially want existing reports, articles, or other information, which can be emailed to

Balas wrote, “The final document will be drawn from existing reports, laws, and legal opinions, as well as input from the interviews and any committees that choose to submit recommendations. The sources for all of New Mexico First’s reports are always clearly documented, so readers will be able to see where we collected the information. Task force members will have the opportunity to review and offer suggestions on the draft.”

The tentative timeline is as follows:

  • December 2013 and January 2014: conduct interviews and small group meetings
  • February 2014: draft report and circulate to task force for review and improvements
  • March 2014: release draft report for community review
  • March or April 2014: conduct public hearing on report recommendations
  • May 2014: revise report with summary of public hearing; submit final version to the county
Top of Page

Ad Rates  Back Issues  Contact Us  Front Page  Up Front  Animal News   Around Town  Sandoval Arts   Business Classifieds  Calendar   Community Bits  Community Center  Eco-Beat  Featured Artist  Gauntlet Health  Community Links  Night Sky  My Wife and Times  Public Safety  Real  People  Stereogram  Time Off  Youth