Pastor Gant marries Bonnie Mamp and Mary Ann Caldwell of Santa Fe
at the Sandoval County Courthouse.
Attorney General opinion halts same-sex marriages in Sandoval County
When David Gant, gay pastor of the Emmanuel Metropolitan Community Church saw the morning news on Channel 13 on February 20, he knew it was going to be a special day. He put on his collar and headed for the Sandoval County Courthouse, ready to perform a few dozen marriages.
Sandoval County clerk Victoria Dunlap had announced to the media that her office would issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. By 9:00 a.m., couples were forming a line up the stairs and down the hall to the clerk’s office.
Dunlap had already left the conflagration and was on her way to Santa Fe to talk to the Attorney General when she told the Signpost via cell phone, “I was confronted by a citizen who wanted to know [where the county stood on same-sex marriage licenses]. I wanted to get ahead of the curve because because it’s a big issue, so I asked [county attorney] David Mathews. He said that the law was very ambiguous, but he couldn’t see anything that prohibits it. If I don’t issue the licenses, there could be grounds for charges of malfeasance.”
Why Dunlap found it necessary to release the news to the media is not clear.
David Mathews declared, “This wasn’t supposed to happen!” as soon as the Signpost called. He seemed almost too upset to talk about it, but did say that what he told Dunlap was his confidential opinion, and that he needed more time to study the issue. Of course, he had all the major media, including CNN, lined up at his door, demanding his opinion. By 10:00 a.m., Sandoval County was on the news nationwide.
Sixty-eight marriage licenses were issued that day to gay and lesbian couples who expressed their exuberation and joy in the circus-like atmosphere that filled the courthouse. They appeared to be treated with courtesy and respect by the office staff.
Many couples took advantage of the services of Pastor Gant who married them on the courthouse lawn. They then took the license back to the clerk’s office to be filed. It seemed like a done deal, but at 4:00 p.m. the assistant clerk, amid shouts of protest, announced that no more same-sex licenses would be issued because Attorney General Madrid had issued an opinion that New Mexico law did not allow the marriages.
Because of religious and political convictions, President Bush is considering a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriages.
Gays and lesbians view civil union approved by the state as a civil right that allows them as citizens to share the same legal privileges and responsibilities enjoyed by heterosexuals.
After the weekend, on Monday, February 23, the Sandoval County Commission held a public meeting to discuss the issue and to make sure Dunlap would stop issuing same-sex licenses. Dunlap told the commission that she had ceased and desisted when the attorney general issued her opinion, but that all licenses issued thus far would be filed, since a court decision would be required to declare them illegal. She also said that her office would refund license fees, but that nobody thus far has claimed a refund.
Dunlap walked out of the meeting when Commissioner Jack Thomas blasted her for actions that he called a “travesty.” “The county clerk overstepped the boundaries of her authority. She flaunts her office and wastes money. She embarrassed the county and state, and trampled peoples’ emotions.”
Dunlap and the commission are frequently at odds over a wide variety of issues.
Mathews said that he tried to make it clear to Dunlap that he needed more time to research the issue, and advised her to seek an opinion from the attorney general, but that she ignored his advice.
Commission chairman Damon Ely apologized to the people who were hurt by the Clerk’s action. “I don’t care which side of the issue you’re on, this is just not right. The clerk trivialized the issue.” Ely then opened the public discussion and encouraged speakers to “go ahead and vent.” He reminded the overflow crowd that since this was a state issue, there was no legal action that could be taken by the commission.
The many three-minute speeches were overwhelmingly in favor of same-sex marriage. Linda Seigle, an attorney with the Coalition for Equality said, “What happened here on Friday was despicable and unconscionable, but it was also beautiful and moving. People didn’t come here to make a political statement. They came to have the state recognize their relationships.”
Neighborhood covenants prevail over Wal-Mart
On January 28 Judge Bill Sanchez of the Thirteenth Judicial Court ruled that the restrictive covenants of River’s Edge One Neighborhood Association were valid and enforceable. He also dismissed the counterclaim by the Mercado Group, developers who wanted to bring a Wal-Mart Super Center to a site with covenants that restricted such a huge building. The Mercado Group has until March 28 to appeal the decision. REONA has submitted a motion to Judge Sanchez seeking payment of their attorney fees by the Mercado group. Karen Boulanger of REONA says donors will be repaid if the judge concurs with this motion. Meanwhile, she says that REONA is still seeking donations to cover outstanding legal fees. For more information, call 896-7804.
Black Eagle, from Jemez Pueblo, sings and drums traditional Native American songs.
Black Eagle from Jemez wins Grammy
Black Eagle is from the Pueblo of Jemez in New Mexico. The group originated in 1989 under the leadership of Malcom Yepa, after a family trip to Lame Deer, Montana.
While in Lame Deer, Malcom was influenced by a family friend, Jimmy Little Coyote, who explained to him the protocol and ways of the powwow world. Malcom brought back to Jemez the knowledge given to him, and together with his brother David Jr., gathered together a group of cousins and formed the group Black Eagle.
The group of teenagers eagerly took on the challenge of learning the songs of some of the more popular groups and started attending and singing at some of the local powwows. As the group matured, they developed a following of local dancers and attendees. The group was influenced and encouraged by some of the larger and more popular drum groups, particularly Black Lodge, from White Swan, Washington.
Black Lodge encouraged Malcom and the boys to start composing their own songs in their own Towa language.
As a result of the encouragement, Black Eagle recorded and released their first album, Black Eagle Vol. I, under the Indian Sounds label in the summer of 1995. It was followed by their second release, titled Black Eagle Vol. II, the following summer.
In December of 2001, the group was informed by Tom Bee, owner of Sound of America Records, that Life Goes On was nominated for a Grammy Award, and that the group would be attending the forty-fourth annual Grammy Awards celebration in Los Angeles. Unfortunately, the album didn't win the Grammy that year.
Black Eagle's sixth album, Flying Free, was recorded in 2002 and released in March of 2003. It is by far the best recording by Black Eagle and has received much praise and many requests. This recording also won the Best Powwow Album of the Year award at the 2003 Native American Music Awards and has won this year's forty-sixth annual Grammy Award for best Native American Music Album.
For more information about the band and its music, you may contact George Toya at 281-8876 or visit www.blackeagle89.com.
Nine candidates vie for two Bernalillo council seats
Nine residents, including a current and a former trustee, have filed for two seats on the Bernalillo Town Council in the March 2 election.
Incumbent trustee Ronnie A. Sisneros is running for reelection, while incumbent Helen Sandoval chose not to seek a second four-year term. Alonzo H. Lucero is running unopposed for municipal judge.
The polling place in Bernalillo Town Hall will be open from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. The candidates in the order their names appear on the ballot are:
- Robert Wm. Satriana, sixty-four, a retired building inspector whose family moved to Bernalillo in the early 1940s. “I was raised here and would like to give back part of what I got,” he said. His fifteen years as a Rio Rancho city inspector taught him a lot about municipal government and being fair to all citizens, he added. Satriana said he will listen to people, work toward cooperation and compromise on the council, and aggressively seek funding for town needs.
- Joe V. Arellano, fifty-nine, retired from sales and a Bernalillo resident since age five. “A lot of people have come up with issues,” he said. “I’ll be working for the people.” Beyond hiring a new police chief, Arellano said he hopes to expand the police force and improve wages for town employees. Arellano is a former member of the Planning and Zoning Commission and the town fire department and is a current director of the Bernalillo Housing Authority.
- John “Ernie” Aragon. Attempts by the Signpost to contact Aragon by phone and in person were unsuccessful.
- Dale R. Prairie, fifty, painting contractor and lifetime resident of Bernalillo. Prairie, a town trustee from 1996-2002, said the town has suffered and gang activity and graffiti have increased because of turmoil within the police department. “The first priority should be the well-being and police protection of the citizens of Bernalillo,” he said. “I will work with current councilmen and the mayor to make sure we get a first-rate police department.” Other problems facing the city will require federal money and extensive lobbying by town officials, he added.
- Fred Sanchez, sixty-eight, assistant head of maintenance at Bernalillo Public Schools and a Bernalillo resident since 1950. “I'm ready to retire and will have more time to get around town to see what we need,” Sanchez said. “You’ve got to talk to the people and hear what they want. Together we can make a difference on the council.” The forty-one-year member of the Sandoval County Sheriff’s Posse said he is reluctant to make commitments on issues before being elected, as past council candidates have made promises and then found excuses for not fulfilling them.
- Ronnie A. Sisneros, forty-seven, a native of Bernalillo, incumbent trustee elected fourteen months ago to finish the term of deceased councilor Jose “Sharkie” Chavez. Sisneros said he worries the public does not realize how big the issues of water and waste water are as challenges ‘facing the town. “Our system is aged,” he said. “We're working on getting additional funding.” Hiring a new police chief who can relate to the public is important, he added. Sisneros said he has been working with the town attorney on a strong ordinance to hold parents accountable for graffiti vandalism by their children. Sisneros served one term as Sandoval County assessor in the 1980s.
- Leroy Joseph Lovato. Lovato told the Signpost he no longer is a candidate for town trustee after deciding he could not devote the time required for the job.
- Marian A. Jaramillo, forty-one, Bernalillo native and owner of a day-care center. Before starting her business, Jaramillo spent seven years in bookkeeping and clerk positions at town hall. “I’m very familiar with planning and zoning, town operations, and the budget,” she said. “I feel I have a lot to contribute.” Jaramillo said she would like to see the council work as a team to better the town. Teamwork will be needed in hiring a new police chief, dealing with gangs and graffiti, and coping with development pressures facing the town, she added.
- Steven James Baca, thirty-four, Bernalillo native and employee of Sandia Pueblo. Baca ran unsuccessfully for the council two years ago and said he now sees a major issue in bringing the police department back up to par, which in turn will help with other problems like graffiti. Baca said he would work to find money to upgrade the wastewater plant and take into consideration the separate needs of businesses and residences with the Main Street Overlay plan. Baca is a member of the fiesta council and Los Matachines de San Lorenzo.
Bernalillo town council election: the issues
The long-troubled Bernalillo wastewater plant finally has its federal permit back, but at a price.
The Environmental Protection Agency issued the new five-year permit effective February 1 replacing the permit that expired in 1993. But Mayor Charles Aguilar said he also received a letter from EPA demanding improvements in the plant under threat of heavy fines.
And that’s just one issue facing the nine candidates pursuing two seats on the Bernalillo Town Council in the March 2 election (see related story, page 1, in this Signpost).
“We have enough capacity to handle what’s coming aboard,” Aguilar said of the twenty-five-year-old wastewater plant. “The problem is the age of the plant and the age of the equipment.”
New demands by the EPA will require $6 million or more to improve water testing within ninety days, remove chlorine from effluent discharged into the Rio Grande within a year, and remove nitrogen, ammonia, and arsenic from the effluent within three years.
“The life expectancy of this plant has come and gone,” added wastewater superintendent Nick Tobey. “It’s going to be tough to meet these compliance standards in a three-year period.”
The plant treats about five hundred thousand gallons a day.
Aguilar said he doesn’t know where the money will come from, as a town with numerous low-income residents is limited in its ability to raise rates and taxes. The town is actively seeking grants but has found only a portion of the $2.5 million planned for a sludge building, he added.
The town hoped to build an enclosed sludge-handling building similar to the odor-free system now operating in Socorro, Aguilar said.
Other issues awaiting the new council include the following:
- A new police chief. At Signpost deadline, six applications had been received to replace Chief Ramon Montijo, who was suspended in August and fired in October after six months on the job. Montijo had replaced William Relyea, fired by the council in January. The department remains short staffed, a criminal investigation involving an officer is unresolved, and citizen complaints about graffiti, police response, and other issues continue.
- Main Street Overlay. Architectural and style guidelines for homes and businesses on Camino del Pueblo between US-550 and Avenida Bernalillo have been discussed for years and remain contentious. The council added a fifteen-month sunset clause to the ordinance, and Aguilar, during a February 9 public hearing, urged passage to protect the town from uncontrolled development. After citizens complained about loss of property rights and questioned the town’s promise of fair enforcement, the council scheduled a special meeting and public hearing for February 26.
- Zoning enforcement. During two weeks in February, zoning enforcement officer Joe Montoya issued about 250 citations to local residents alleging weeds, trash, and junk vehicles on their properties. The notices, part of a new council-requested campaign to clean up Bernalillo, give property owners thirty days to act or be hauled into municipal court. “A lot of people are cooperating,” Montoya told the Signpost. “I was in one area yesterday, and out of about thirty citations, I’d say twenty are cleaned up.”
- The budget. The town will have to wait and see how dropping the sales tax on some food and medicine affects revenue. The town currently gets about $1.7 million annually from those sources. Aguilar said he has asked Sandoval County Commission chairman Daymon Ely for a meeting to discuss helping out with the town ambulance, which also serves the county and the pueblos. This year the town dipped into its cash reserve for $200,000 to subsidize the ambulance, which drew a warning from state finance officials about depleting the reserve.
Tax questions for SC voters on March 2
Voters in rural Sandoval County will see two tax questions on March 2, one to continue support for fire departments and another to establish emergency medical services.
Both taxes would be one-quarter percent on most sales of goods and services. The taxes would affect only unincorporated areas of the county, and only voters in those areas will decide the questions.
The fire-fund tax scheduled to expire on June 30 provides money for facilities, training, and equipment for volunteer fire departments. The county currently has eight volunteer departments: in Algodones, La Cueva, La Madera, Peña Blanca, Placitas, Ponderosa, Regina, and Zia Pueblo.
The new EMS tax authorized by the 2002 Legislature would be used to establish a network of full-time medical responders based in the Rio Grande and Jemez Valley corridors and in Cuba. Unlike the fire-fund tax, the EMS tax can be used for salaries.
Four of the county fire stations would be staffed twenty-four hours a day by medical personnel cross-trained as firefighters, according to county manager Debbie Hays. In addition to providing jobs in rural areas, the paid staff will provide needed backup when volunteers are not available.
Polls will be open from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Voters unsure of their polling locations can call the county bureau of elections at 867-7577.
Corrales voters will fill two seats on the Village Council in the March 2 election.
Incumbents Walter Lucero and Laurie Rivera are campaigning to retain their positions, while Bob Bell, a member of the village planning and zoning commission, is the third candidate for the two positions.
Polling places, open from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., are located in the Corrales recreation center, senior center, fire station, and the Old San Ysidro Church.
Three seats on the Rio Rancho City Council are up for election on March 2, as is a bond issue to build a new library.
In District 1, incumbent councilor Michael Williams is opposed by Reinaldo Garcia, a former member of the Rio Rancho school board. In District 4, councilor Howard Balmer, a former mayoral candidate, was the only person to file for the position. However, Billy K. Galarneau, a Vista Hills resident, has launched a write-in campaign for the post.
In District 6, appointed councilor Lonnie Clayton is campaigning to retain the seat given up by councilor David Bency when he was elected to the Sandoval County Commission. Challenging Clayton are Marilyn Salzman of the River's Edge Homeowners Association and Todd Hathorne of the Enchanted Hills Neighborhood Association.
Voters also will consider a $5.5 million bond issue to build a thirty-thousand-square-foot library on Loma Colorado in northern Rio Rancho. The existing, smaller library on Pinetree will remain open.
Government does matter
Sandoval County Commission
The fortieth anniversary last November of President Kennedy’s death was reminiscent of times past. Repeated broadcasts of TV images of that time showed crew-cut young men and bouffant-haired women. Despite their outdated appearances, the faces from that time seemed to reflect a belief that government mattered, that government could do things private industry could not. It was a time when government could, in short, be a force for good.
Unfortunately, that optimistic, idealistic notion led to the thinking that government could solve all social problems; hence the Great Society.
Fast-forward thirty years to 1994: the Contract with America and Newt Gingrich. The pendulum swung dramatically and the perception was reversed. Government could not do anything right. The mantra was that everything, including essential government services, needed to be privatized.
Fast-forward again to 2004. We’ve had time to reflect on both the “government-can-solve-all-social-problems” model and the “government-is-incompetent” model. Is either model right, or should we be developing a new model of government’s role?
My view is that government is relevant and does matter. As a county commissioner, I have learned time and again that government can lead the way to innovative, long-range solutions for seemingly intractable social problems. Government, however, cannot solve all problems. It must be fiscally responsible. Yet, smart, well-thought-out policies and programs can work to make a tremendous difference.
One example is Sandoval County’s composting project that will turn green waste and sludge (the end product of processed sewage) into useable compost. With the innovative, hard work of landfill director Mike Foster and public works director Lisa Vorholtz, we expect that eventually most of what goes into the landfill will become valuable, useful products.
While private industry has created the technology that makes this possible, only government is willing to take the risk to see it through. Private industry must be concerned with short-term profit while government can—and must—take a long-term view of problem solving. Once government demonstrates solutions that work, private industry can pick up the ball and run with it.
Sandoval County’s approach to health care is another example of government’s effectiveness—particularly for indigent and working poor in remote areas. People in rural areas face tremendous obstacles to securing health care and related social services. Services are limited only to urban areas. Difficulty accessing health care is greatly compounded, as providers are in different locations and require advance appointments. For residents in remote areas who have to travel significant distances to reach health-care providers, the problems go beyond frustration and create true obstacles to health care.
The County’s Health Commons program will alleviate many of these problems. With partnerships between government and private providers and the hard work of community services director Phil Rios and family health coordinator Niki Baptiste, the county’s Health Commons being built near NM-528 and US-550 will provide a “one-stop shop.” When it becomes operational later this year, the Commons will provide wide-ranging health-care services from multiple providers at one location. And other services, such as job placement, will eventually be available at the same location. It was Sandoval County that started this pilot project and will have the full operation up and running within two years. With private industry trying to keep health-care costs down, the Health Commons model is a good place to start.
Government can still make constructive contributions. We learned from the Gingrich revolution that government must live within its means and do more with less. But many have overlearned that lesson. Operating frugally does not mean government needs to be ineffective or irrelevant.
It is my hope that forty years from now, when people look at our faces on historic films and videotapes, they will see the same hope and optimism we saw in the early 1960s. Hopefully, too, they also will see more wisdom and a lot more vision.
Questions or comments for Commissioner Ely may be mailed to him in care of Sandoval County Administrative Offices, P.O. Box 40, Bernalillo 87004.