Sandoval Signpost

An Independent Monthly Newspaper Serving the Community since 1988

Up Front

Bernalillo Candidates

From left to right: Moderator Katie Williams, Councilwoman Marian Jaramillo, Councilman Eddie Torres, Mayor Patricia Chavez, Jack Torres, and Brian Muniz

Mayoral candidates present views at public forum

—Ty Belknap

The March 2 Bernalillo municipal election will determine the office of mayor and two town council seats. The five candidates for mayor of Bernalillo introduced themselves to about two hundred citizens on February 12 at Our Lady of Sorrows community center. The candidates are lifetime Bernalillo residents, include current Mayor Patricia Chavez, Marian Jaramillo, Brian Muniz, Eddie Torres III, and Jack Torres (no relation to Eddie.) They also answered specific questions submitted by the citizens. Signpost publisher Katie Williams served as moderator, read the questions, and reminded the candidates to stick to time limits. The candidate forum was presented in cooperation with several Bernalillo churches.

 Mayor Chavez has presided over four eventful years in Bernalillo. The quiet little town became a major transportation hub as residents struggled with the new identity. The town has dealt with many challenges and has run into a few problems.

The candidates presented their views, but there were no heated arguments or confrontations. They did, however, talk about water, growth, traffic, and infrastructure issues. All candidates agreed on the need to install and upgrade water and sewer service to all areas of the town, to install speed humps on roads where needed, and promised open and honest government. The audience clapped politely and were quiet and orderly throughout the forum.

  • Patricia Chavez was elected in 2006—the first woman mayor of Bernalillo. She recently retired from a 31-year career at PNM. Chavez cited the major accomplishments of her administration as compliance with state audit requirements, stabilizing the town’s financial portfolio, moving forward with water and sewage projects, and starting a full-time, paid fire department.

    She said that the town has complied with federal mandates to lower arsenic content of drinking water and that despite “one minor violation” of arsenic level and the appearance of aluminum hydroxide sludge in filters, the water is safe. She said that some people are using “scare tactics” that put the community’s reputation at risk” over the water issue. Chaves spoke in favor of the Transit Oriented Development (TOD) plan, increased residential density near the Rail Runner stations, and the annexation of acreage east of I-25. 

  • Marian Jaramillo currently serves as town councilor and mayor pro tem. If elected, she said that she would retire from the day care business that she has operated for nineteen years. She has also worked at town hall and Bernalillo Public Schools. She promised to work full time, address town business “head on,” and be available to residents. Jaramillo said that the town has come a long way over the last several years to comply with federal sewage standards and to lower arsenic to acceptable levels. She said that she would hold the contractors financially responsible in assuring that recent water treatment problems are resolved. Hiring a Town Administrator and a Public Works Director would be her first priority. Jaramillo urged caution and compliance with ordinances in regard to new development and the annexation of adjoining land.

  • Brian Muniz owns a local real estate company and is a relative newcomer to politics. He emphasizes preservation of the rich local culture from outside development while at the same time finding ways to increase town revenues. He said that he would not allow developers to “bully the town or the zoning department” and would try to “control growth for the benefit of all citizens.” He is opposed to high-density development, but favors stretching town infrastructure to annex adjacent land if it promises to increase future resources. Muniz promised to hold off on hiring Public Works Director until all departments have been evaluated to make sure they are doing their jobs. He said that the town has a right to expect more from its water treatment contractors and that he would hire new people for the job.

  • Eddie Torres III has served as Town Counselor since 2002. The career Albuquerque firefighter cites his experience in public safety as important in increasing the town’s police and fire protection. He said that his agenda as mayor would be based on cooperation with the town council and staff, as well as listening to the public. Torres III cited his community roots and twenty-five years as a third generation Matachine. He says that the town’s water is safe to drink despite recent problems, and favors monthly testing. He favors the denser development of the TOD plan, but says “nothing is written in stone” and that the sixteen to twenty units per acre would “probably be lowered.” Torres said that annexation of adjacent lands could “lessen the impact of development on the historic part of town.” He said that regional traffic issues were still a major vulnerability.

  • Jack Torres recently retired from T&T Supermart which his operated with his brother Joe for twenty-six years. He has served on the Bernalillo School Board for nineteen years and is on the board of directors of the Eastern Sandoval County Flood Control Authority. Torres was critical of the TOD plan and high density development, the town’s handling of water treatment, and the lack of community involvement in decisions that involve quality of life. He described the decision to spend another $9 million on “an unproven water treatment” facility as “throwing good money after bad,” and questions the safety of the current water supply. Torres promised an audit analysis of all town departments to ensure that citizens were “getting what they deserve” from tax dollars spent. He urged caution in annexing new lands and dealing with aggressive developers.

Voter precinct boundary, early voting, and absentee ballot information is available at Bernalillo Town Hall from the Town Clerk’s office, or by calling 771-7128. Voters in (consolidated) Precincts 1 and 3; and portions of Precincts 2 and 4 vote at Town Hall, 829 Camino del Pueblo. Voters in Precinct(s) 50 and 74 vote at the Alegria Community Center at 901 Cottonwood Circle on the west side of Bernalillo in the Santiago subdivision off Highway 528.

Tap water

Quality of Bernalillo tap water in question

—Ty Belknap

When Bernalillo resident Ben Forgey removed his water filter in May of 2009 he found that it was clogged with a gooey white substance with the consistency of vaseline. When he asked the town water department about it, he was given a phone number someone in the state Environment Department. He called but never got an answer. When his filter clogged up again in the summer of 2009, he took it to Acting Town Administrator Santiago Chavez who referred him to project engineer Ramesh Narasimhan whose Phoenix-based company NCS represents local water treatment firm ARS-USA. Narasimhan told Forgey that the white stuff was a harmless substance called aluminum hydroxide that had escaped the town filtering system, and that if was being taken care of.

On April 4, 2008, ARS-USA had celebrated a grand opening of the newly completed ARS-based arsenic mitigation system at Well Site 4 in Bernalillo. The ceremony was attended by the Town Council as well as other Town employees and State and Federal officials. The ARS “electro-flocculation” system runs water over electrically-charged aluminum plates, which shed charged aluminum atoms into the water to bind to arsenic, forming a white sludge called “floc” that can then be filtered away. Officials thought that they had found a relatively inexpensive way to deal with a federal mandate to reduce potentially carcinogenic arsenic from the town’s drinking water.

Forgey’s water filter clogged again in September of 2009. It clogged again last month. He said that Narasimhan gave him enough cash to buy three new filters.

Also last month, the New Mexico Environment Department issued a notice to the Town of Bernalillo that it arsenic levels in the town’s drinking water that were in excess of accepted standards. 

At the February 12 mayoral forum Joanie Griffin from the public relations firm Griffin and Associates passed out fliers that included a joint statement from New Mexico

Environment Department, the Town of Bernalillo, NCS, and ARS. The flier assured the public that these agencies had met and would “move towards resolving and correcting the drinking water violation.” The statement went on to say that it was “the goal of the team” to eliminate the aluminum hydroxide and encouraged residents to continue to drink the tap water.

During the mayoral forum, Mayor Patricia Chavez and both town councilors running for mayor (Eddie Torres III and Marian Jaramillo) defended the water treatment system. Chavez said that some people were using “scare tactics” that “put the town’s reputation at risk over one minor violation.” Candidates Jack Torres and Brian Muniz both criticized the town’s handling of the problem.

On February 17, a story appeared on that reported a water study commissioned by “an anonymous Bernalillo resident” who questioned the official line that the sludge is harmless. "Anything over 100 is hazardous to your health, ours is 176, so it's a problem,” said the resident. The report continued, “The study also found that the gel that is clogging resident's water filters is contaminated, containing too much aluminum and arsenic.”

The New Mexico Independent ( began running a series of investigative reports by Bryant Furlow in January of 2010. Furlow found that in 2006 former Town Administrator Stephen Jerge ignored the advice of its engineering firm of record and “because ARS is the only manufacturer of its patented system, Narasimhan helped the Town secure Environment Department permission to use an obscure sole source provision in state procurement law.”

Jerge resigned in April 2009 in the wake of a scandal involving his alleged misuse of town funds. Turlow reported that Jerge was treated to tickets to a Phoenix Cardinals football game, and, upon his resignation, Jerge went to work for the wife and business partner of Narasimhan. The Jerge case is still under investigation by the state auditor.

Even though the Town’s initial expenditure of $4.9 million for the inadequately-tested ARS system has obvious problems, the town council approved a $9.2 million construction contract to install the ARS system on its remaining wells, as apparently obligated in the initial contract negotiated by Jerge. The system is paid for in part by federal stimulus funding which the town might lose if it takes the time to find a more viable alternative.

On February 17, the New Mexico Independent reported that the state Environment Department will issue a second arsenic violation notice to Bernalillo and that arsenic levels appear to be rising. On February 23, the Town of Bernalillo terminated engineering and filtration system contracts with Narasimhan. In a press release, the town assured residents that the water does not pose any “acute” (as opposed to long-term) health risks.

Despite assurances from the town, Ben Forgey worries that the effects of aluminum sludge have not been adequately studied. He is especially concerned about how it might affect his two-year-old son. He feels that the town government has not been responsive to his concerns and has not taken these complex issues seriously.

Felix Jr. and Denise

Felix Jr. and his daughter Denise give an emotional smile to the camera. “Changes will occur but we hope that whoever comes in and buys it, will look at all of the memorabilia that is in here and will see how important it is.”


They would say...

Silva's Saloon

Currently on the market, Silva’s Saloon is a proverbial encyclopedia of the Town’s culture and events. Prospective buyers will get more than a bar, they’ll get over 77 years of memories.

Silva's SaloonSilva's Saloon

If walls could talk

—Margaret M. Nava

A sign recently went up in front of Silva’s Saloon in Bernalillo. It says the property is for sale and lists a telephone number and contact name. What the sign doesn’t say, however, is if the memories made inside the bar are included in the sale.

Felix Silva was orphaned at the age of 17. Having four brothers and one sister to support, he struggled to make ends meet and keep his family together. They lived in a small house near downtown Bernalillo and learned that the important things in life were respect, honesty, hard work and family. When Felix became an adult, he met his wife who was working in a local café, married her, and began his own family. The Great Depression, coupled with Prohibition, led him to bootlegging as a way to make a living. During the late 20s and early 30s, he used a false-bottomed truck to transport illegal liquor from New Mexico to Smith’s Hotel in Oklahoma City. Rumor is he even ran liquor up to the Seven Springs area although he didn’t realize it was for Al Capone. When Prohibition was repealed in 1933, he obtained what is believed to have been the first liquor license in the state of New Mexico and opened a bar.

Silva’s Saloon became a home away from home for local residents. Felix Silva, Jr. remembers. “I was a baby when my dad opened this bar but I remember him talking about people coming in from Placitas and Santa Ana in horse-drawn wagons to go to the Mercantile across the street for supplies. They would leave the horses in the corral, water and feed them, then go into the Merc and get their merchandise. When they finished loading up their goods, they came over here for a drink. The fathers and grandfathers sat at the bar while the kids gathered around the jukebox and had chili chips and orange soda. Even back then, this was a family place.”

When times were tough, Felix helped his customers. Granddaughter Denise said, “If someone needed any help, my grandfather was always there. Down to loaning them money or giving them food, if they needed something, my grandfather gave it to them. Some of those old-timers still come in today and they are still customers. One man actually remembers my grandfather and grandmother’s anniversary every year and gives my father a silver dollar in honor of my grandparents. He remembers my grandfather and how he never refused him help.”

When Felix, Jr. became old enough, he went to work in the saloon. “Back then, beer was only 15 cents and a shot of whisky was 10 cents. There were no bathrooms, just outhouses, and it was my job to keep them and all the spittoons clean. That’s where I got my education. That’s where I learned respect, and how to say ‘Yes, sir and No, sir.’ Growing up, my dad used to tell me ‘if you ever have this place, you live in it and run it properly or close it down. The same thing, if you start having problems and can’t control it, you close it down. If you have to call a policeman, that’s the worst thing you can do.”

Throughout his high school years and well after returning from the Service, Felix, Jr. worked at the bar. “I had always worked for my dad but when people started telling me, ‘If it wasn’t for your dad, you wouldn’t survive,’ I had to get out and prove something to myself. Up until then I had never applied for a job but one morning I got in my truck and drove up to the gypsum plant that had just opened in Santo Domingo. I went in and told the supervisor I knew how to use a shovel, a broom or anything he would give me. Right then and there, he hired me and put me to work cleaning the burners. I left the house at five o’clock that morning and didn’t get home until ten at night. No one knew where I had been. When I walked into the house, I was covered with ash but I had a smile from ear to ear. My wife looked at me and said, ‘But I didn’t pack you a lunch. What did you eat?’ I said, ‘Nothing.’ I didn’t care. Within six months, I got the white cap and before I knew it, I became a dispatcher. I went up and up. When my dad got sick, I came back to the bar but I never regretted it. Everything I know, I learned from my mother and my dad. And I had a wonderful wife that backed me up. We were married 52 years. But now I have to let the business go. I wish I was younger.”

When Felix, Jr.’s health began failing, his daughter Denise retired from teaching and pitched in. “Back in the day, the Silva women did not come in here when the bar was open. It wasn’t proper. The kids could come in but not the women. I’m the only Silva woman who ever worked the bar. When I first started, some of the older customers told me, ‘If your grandfather was here, you would never have set foot behind that bar.’ Now, everyone accepts me. And just like they did with Dad and my grandfather, they respect me. Even the toughest guy, if I tell him he’s had too much to drink or needs to slow down, he listens. Sometimes when I walk in here alone or at night when I’m locking up, I talk to my grandfather and ask him if he’s happy with what I’m doing. What do you think Grandpa? Are you rolling in your grave or are you okay with this?”

Over the years, the walls and ceiling of Silva’s Saloon have become covered with bits and pieces of the lives of the people who came here. “There are a lot of memories here,” says Felix. “When I came in from the service in 1956, my dad had collected all these hats and things and I started putting everything together. My wife asked me why I was putting all those dirty things on the walls and I said it was because they came from the men who came here day in and day out. The dollar bills started by themselves. Someone just left a dollar bill, we put it up, and before you know it there were all these. Some people say they can feel the presence of someone else here, but I’ve never felt it. One time, a lady was sitting at the bar when all of a sudden she turned pale. I asked her what was wrong and she said she could feel someone standing behind her. I told her there was no one behind her but she insisted there had been.”

Although Denise considered taking over the saloon, she thought twice. “I’m 52. To run this place the way it should be run would be to run it the way my grandfather ran it. He opened at 7am and didn’t close until 2 am. If I were a risk taker, which I am not, I would open up the back rooms and make it into a sports bar with the television screens in there. I would build a kitchen separate from the building and just have finger foods. Leave these two rooms completely the same – authentic. Maybe take a few of the items and put them in the back rooms to keep that ambiance flowing. We’ve had several prospective buyers but we’d like to try and keep it as historical as possible. Changes will occur but we hope that whoever comes in and buys it, will look at all of the memorabilia that is in here and will see how important it is.”

Hopefully, it will be a long while before Silva's Saloon is sold. If they could, what might the walls inside of historic landmark say when it finally happens? “A job well done?” “Thanks for the memories?” “Vaya con dios, dear friends?”

Town of Bernalillo terminates water treatment engineering firm

—Town of Bernalillo

After thorough review and consideration, the Town of Bernalillo terminated engineering and filtration system contracts with Narasimhan Consulting Services (NCS) for the Town’s water wells. The Town will seek remedy for non-performance to recover liquidated damages and other losses through built-in NCS contract provisions including pursuing any other legal recourse available.

Town officials along with the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) assure Bernalillo residents that water from these wells does not pose any acute health risks. Town administrators are working closely with the NMED and Wilson & Company, the Town’s ‘on-call’ engineering contractor, to implement an immediate corrective action plan for the water filtration system for wells #3 and 4.  

A new lead engineering firm, yet to be selected, will look at the solutions proposed for wells #1 and 2, which are under a construction contract. The Town does not foresee any delay in meeting schedules for the re-commissioning of wells #1 and 2.

Coronado State Monument hosts walking stick workshop

With spring just around the corner and outdoor hiking adventures sure to be on everyone’s ‘to do’ list, Ranger Annie Campagna at Coronado State Monument and her assistant Carol Price will demonstrate how to make a walking stick. Using native vegetation, yucca spears from the yucca plants found at the monument, and locust branches from the Corrales area, you will design and decorate a handsome walking stick to take home.

You will be working with a wide variety of embellishments: beads, leather, paint, shellac, and feathers. You may want to bring some of your own materials. The focus will be to create unique patterns and designs that personalize each stick. So, dust off your hiking boots, break out those walking shorts, and join Ranger Annie and Carol for a morning of fun as you get ready to ‘hit the trails’ with a new walking stick in hand.

The workshop will be held on March 20 from 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. at Coronado State Monument, located on Highway 550 west of Bernalillo. The cost is $15 per person (cash or check) and includes stick and all supplies. Adults and children ages twelve years and older are welcome to participate but all children must be accompanied by a responsible adult. Refreshments will be served. Reservations are required by calling Ranger Annie Campagna at (505) 867-5351.

Commissioner of Public Lands candidate forum

A forum sponsored by Las Placitas Association featuring the Republican and Democratic candidates for the office of Commissioner of Public Lands will be held March 10, 2010 at 6:30 p.m. at the Bernalillo Town Hall, 829 Camino del Pueblo in Bernalillo.

Three Republican candidates will attend the forum, including Spiro Vassilopoulos, Jim Jackson, and Matt Rush. Democratic candidates attending the forum are Harry Montoya, Ray Powell, and Mike Anaya.

The candidates will be given the opportunity to speak followed by questions from the audience. This forum is an excellent opportunity to learn about this very important office and to hear the candidates’ views on the issues involved in the Land Commissioner‘s office. The event is free and open to the public. For more information, please call Janice Saxton at 867-1139 or email






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