The Eastern New Mexico News - Serving Clovis, Portales and the Surrounding Communities

Final forum includes four races


February 23, 2020

Kevin Wilson

Clovis mayoral candidates listen to a question from moderator Doc Elder.

CLOVIS - The only thing left to do now is vote.

There was a palpable sense of relief once candidates in each Clovis city race left the dais of the Clovis-Carver Public Library's North Annex on Wednesday night. They left knowing the Big 101.5 forum was the last scheduled for the election season, with early voting continuing Monday through Saturday and Election Day March 3.

Sixteen candidates attended the forum covering four different races - mayor, city commission districts 1 and 3 and municipal judge.

Officials with Rooney Moon Broadcasting had initially projected a three-hour forum, but things wrapped up after about two hours and 15 minutes with no District 3 forum and a pair of two-candidate races going quickly.

Forum moderator Donald "Doc" Elder made a joke that while he isn't a Clovis resident, he did "stay at a Holiday Inn Express" when Portales had an extended water outage. The point, Elder said, was that the winning candidates would make decisions that would affect more than Clovis.

A few highlights from Wednesday's event:

Mayor: The race to replace David Lansford includes Steve North of the Ninth Judicial District Attorney's Office, retired project manager and District 4 City Commissioner Rube Render, Small Business Development Center Director and District 2 City Commissioner Sandra Taylor-Sawyer, Eastern Plains Council of Governments government affairs director Ray Mondragon and insurance agency owner Mike Morris.

What is the major challenge for the city?

Water was mentioned first by four of the candidates, with Morris noting economic growth first. Render said roads are also a concern, while Mondragon brought up public safety and quality-of-life initiatives and Taylor-Sawyer spoke on adding "economic-based businesses."

Mayor David Lansford spoke in opposition to allowing a racino in Clovis. How would you handle an issue where your personal views differ from a majority of citizens?

Render said he would advocate for citizens and North noted a mayor's personal opinion doesn't belong on a public stage, saying, "You are the mayor, you speak as the mayor."

Taylor-Sawyer said the racino was a "no-brainer," and detailed her efforts to support it. Mondragon agreed with Taylor-Sawyer, and noted, "Whenever I decide with an open mind, I make the right decision. Morris said he would keep an open mind on any business while wanting to know the specific details.

What is your opinion on implementing property taxes without a citizen vote?

North said he's not a fan of taxes, but said a city has needs. "We loop it back to economic development; we have to broaden the tax base and put in outside dollars."

Render said nobody has ever called him to ask for a tax increase, and that the city commission made the best decision it could on a recently passed property tax because it requires similar financial commitments from the state and federal governments prior to implementation. He added that gross receipts tax increases fall on everybody but dissuades local spending.

Taylor-Sawyer said there had not been a property tax increase in about 20 years, and said, "I'm not a believer that a property tax is only paid by property owners; it will be paid by many citizens."

Mondragon said he's been on both sides of the issue, but that citizens are stakeholders and should have some say-so.

Morris said he is a bigger fan of consumption taxes than property taxes, but noted in good governance property owners are the first ones to benefit from the essentials property tax provides like first-responder services.

How would you build good relationships with state government?

North said he frequently works with legislators at the district attorney's office, and anticipates a similar process as mayor. Render said it's imperative to keep good relationships, because the state has ultimate control no matter which party wins elections. Taylor-Sawyer said she's had a great relationship with state legislators, while Mondgraon said he's been appointed to many positions by both parties and works with legislators regularly at Eastern Plains Council of Governments.

Morris said he was a relationship builder, and looked forward to advocating on Clovis' behalf.

City Commission District 1: The field includes Clovis Community College director of counseling Marcus Smith, Curry County sheriff deputy Matt Whittington, marketing company owner Rhonda Bargman, print and design company owner Eric Collings, Cannon Air Force Base director of complaints and investigations George Jones, chiropractic physician Ken Lindsey and bank president Leo Lovett. There is no incumbent in the race, with David Robinson not seeking re-election.

What is Clovis' biggest weakness?

Whittington, Jones and Lindsey said crime, with Jones noting you see reports of crime on Facebook constantly and Lindsey adding drugs as an issue. Smith didn't believe all voices were being heard, while Collings said there was a culture issue and said what's great about Clovis needs to be publicized instead of frequent comments about "Dirty Curry" or the Shifty Fifty." Bargman and Jones mentioned quality of life, with Bargman noting, "So many young people leave on the weekend," but hoping new Main Street breweries could slow the trend. Lovett said Clovis is always in a tough spot being a conservative city in a liberal state.

What is the biggest issue for District 1?

Whittington said Clovis is small enough that most problems are shared by some or all districts. Smith noted water was an issue with the golf course being in District 1 and that it's the farthest district from the police station and the hospital. Bargman said educating the youth and the adults on water conservation was key, and "the artificial turf my husband doesn't want in would make a huge difference." Lindsey said the district was "advantaged in many ways," but said drainage could use improvements. Jones said roads, crime and water were the top issues. Lovett agreed with everybody's answers, but noted the district isn't eligible for many federal programs like the Community Development Block Grant and that any improvements are straight from the city budget.

City Commission District 2: Candidates are CCC admissions coordinator Lauren Rowley and electronics technician Jamaal Williams. There is no incumbent in the race, with Taylor-Sawyer running for mayor.

What is the next step for Clovis?

Rowley said the city needs to keep momentum and welcome new businesses. Williams said an educated workforce is needed, and that the city needs to continue its work with the Clovis Industrial Development Corporation.

How would you fix infrastructure issues?

Rowley said the issues were obvious to anybody as, "you drive down the roads and you are beaten to death," and said economic development was key. Williams said the work on Seventh Street is a good sign of progress, but taking care of rundown houses needs to happen.

What is Clovis biggest weakness?

Williams noted District 1 gets better services than other districts, while Rowley said it's difficult to convince people who grew up in Clovis to stay or move back.

What is District 2's biggest issue?

Rowley said crime was an issue, and economic development was needed to fund the police department. Williams said there were plenty of issues, but he would focus on blight and homelessness.

Municipal judge: Vicki Kelley, appointed to the position last year after serving as alternate judge for Jan Garrett since 2002, is running against city information technology director Paul Nelson. The race is for the final two years of the term Garrett won in 2018.

Opening statements: Kelley said she felt fortunate to find her passion early in life, going from court employee to alternate judge to municipal judge. Each provides a different perspective, but what doesn't change is the need to treat citizens with compassion and respect and let them know they're heard. Nelson said he's been with the city for 21 years, starting as a dispatcher. He believes he's fair and unbiased and can do the job.

What is the role of a municipal judge?

Nelson said a judge evaluates a case and makes fair and just decisions. Kelley said there are state standards for judges, but simply put it's to interpret city code and statutes and make proper decisions.

How do you balance being an impartial judge with being an elected official who must campaign for the position?

Nelson said you always do what's right and you'll be just fine. Kelley said everybody who walks through the court doors wants to be heard, and their time is just as important as yours.

Clovis is a small enough town you'll know somebody who comes in with a case. How do you handle that?

Kelley said everybody who comes in is either a Mr. or a Mrs. If it's a family member, you should recuse yourself. Nelson said you evaluate if you can be fair, and you recuse yourself if you can't.

How do you ensure equality in the courtroom?

Nelson said you simply treat everybody fairly and evaluate the entire situation. Kelley said the court has many repeat offenders, and sometimes your job as judge is to help them navigate the system so they can break the cycle.


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