By Kevin Wilson

Year in review: Mayorship changes hands in 2020


Last updated 12/29/2020 at 4:04pm

Courtesy photo

Clovis Mayor Mike Morris is handed the gavel by outgoing Mayor David Lansford in his April swearing-in ceremony. Morris defeated a field of five candidates to become mayor in a year marked by the COVID-19 pandemic.

CLOVIS - Face masks and social distancing weren't the only changes Clovis residents saw in 2020. They also experienced city government without longtime Mayor David Lansford who stepped down after eight years and a total of 20 years between two stints in the position.

In his first time seeking elected office, insurance agency owner Mike Morris claimed the five-way mayoral race on March 3, full of optimism with no way to anticipate what his first year in office could hold.

By the time he and two other new city commissioners joined the fold in April, the city, state and country were just beginning the first blows of the COVID-19 pandemic that will continue into 2021.

The pandemic, and its restrictions on public gatherings, wiped out or seriously altered almost every normal Clovis event from March 11 on. Most city meetings have been either web conferences or at the Clovis-Carver Public Library with seating limited to a few dozen people.

Canceled was the Clovis Music Festival, and the accompanying Draggin' Main festivities were limited to mostly unofficial gatherings of car enthusiasts on Main Street.

Most recently, Clovis MainStreet turned its Christmas Lights parade into a static display on Main Street, with the audience instead driving through the procession that parked itself on the center of Main Street.

While the action was not without its critics, the city went ahead and fronted the bill for a July 4 fireworks show. The normal Smoke on the Water event was canceled, as the Clovis/Curry County Chamber of Commerce felt fundraising during business shutdowns was tone-deaf and annual sponsor Rooney Moon Broadcasting wasn't in position to bankroll a $20,000 fireworks on its own. The bill was covered through a combination of city and county funds - $10,000 from city lodgers tax dollars and $10,000 from the unused travel budgets of County Manager Lance Pyle and county commissioners.

The city received $4.26 million from the state in CARES Act money for small business continuity grants. The money was distributed in two rounds, benefiting nearly 200 local businesses in amounts from $87 to $100,000. The latter was a capped amount, applied by Morris after first-round applications came in with 13 businesses applying for six-figure reimbursements of pandemic-related expenses.

"It's been a truly eye-opening process to see the effect the pandemic has had," Chamber Executive Director Ernie Kos said, "but it's been a fulfilling process for all of us involved."

Notable events over 2020 included:

• The municipal election. In what might feel like nine years ago instead of nine months, Morris secured 1,510 votes - 33.6% of ballots cast - in a race marked by solid showings from first-time candidates. Morris finished ahead of Steve North, who had 1,132 votes, and former Clovis Police Chief Ray Mondragon (943).

"I want to bring the community together," Morris said on election night. "I won with about 34% of the vote. Most of the citizens didn't vote for me. I want to demonstrate to all citizens I am everyone's mayor."

Also running for mayor were a pair of city commissioners - Sandra Taylor-Sawyer from District 2 and R.L. "Rube" Render from District 4. Taylor-Sawyer opted to vacate her commission seat to run for mayor, and Lauren Rowley won the vacant seat over Jamaal Williams 562-235. Rowley, who turned 24 in August, is the youngest commissioner in recent memory. City records do not track candidate ages, and city employees surveyed couldn't recall any prior candidate younger than 30.

The largest candidate field was for the District 1 seat, with seven people seeking to succeed David Robinson. The Plateau CEO was appointed to the seat by Lansford in August 2019 to serve out the remainder of Ladona Clayton's term, and was adamant throughout the eight months he had no plans to run for the seat. Bank president Leo Lovett, who had prior experience on the Portales City Council, took 28.4% of the vote to win the race.

Two commissioners were re-elected without opposition - Helen Casaus in District 3 and Chris Bryant in District 4.

Vicki Kelley stayed on as municipal judge, defeating City IT Director Paul Nelson in an election for the final two years of Jan Garrett's term. Kelley had served as the alternate municipal judge before Garrett retired in 2019.

• A few longtime city employees retired, including Building Safety Administrator Louis Gordon, Parks and Recreation Director Mark Dayhoff and Adult Services Program Coordinator Brenda Hankins.

• The city had a pair of notable protests on city grounds, with July protests and vigils for George Floyd's death at the hands of the Minneapolis Police Department and a Cowboys for Trump rally in August that began with a vehicle parade down Prince Street and ended at Ned Houk Park. Some businesses throughout the city boarded up windows and doors during the Floyd protests out of fears riots that struck larger cities would strike Clovis, but those scenarios never materialized.

• The city struck a three-year, $130,000 contract with Alabama-based Retail Strategies, LLC, to help plug retail holes and try to keep local dollars from going to out-of-town retailers.

The city took notable losses at North Plains Mall, with closures including its Dillard's, Stage and Hot Topic locations. Chamber of commerce officials floated a letter-writing campaign to save Dillard's, but those efforts were scrapped after organizers made contact with Dillard's higher-ups and learned the closure was years in the making.

Additionally, Morris has pushed area legislators to take up a bill that would allow municipalities of 35,000 or more to use local economic development tax dollars to recruit and retain retailers. The measure, if passed by the state, would still require a citizen vote to change tax code.

• Denver Air Connections became the city's new Essential Air Services provider at Clovis Municipal Airport with round-trip service to Denver International Airport. The move also closed a six-year partnership with Boutique Air, which had offered service out of Dallas Fort Worth International Airport.

• The city held a virtual groundbreaking ceremony in November for the Clovis Winged Shooting Complex at Ned Houk Park. The $3.4 million project is largely funded through excise taxes on guns and ammunition.


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