Station Manager Kyle Johnson mans the controls for the broadcast at KURU 89.1FM.
Photo and article by Charlie McKee
On the evening of Feb. 5, Jamie Newton, as host of the "Civil Discourse" public affairs program, airing on the fledgling local radio station, KURU 89.1FM, acted as moderator of a forum of candidates in the upcoming March 4, 2014, Silver City Municipal Election. The forum panelists included John Crow of www.gilacommunity.net and author and journalist Richard Mahler posing questions to the following candidates for Silver City public office:
• Mayor – Michael Shawn Morones
• District 2 Councilor – Lynda D. Aiman-Smith and Rebecca A. Spann
• District 4 Councilor – Guadalupe Cano
• Municipal Judge – Sonya Ruiz and Benny G. Montes
Throughout the forum, the point was raised numerous times that two of the candidates are running unopposed. At the end of the evening's discussion, Mahler asked the candidates what could be done to achieve more participation in local government, thereby giving the voters greater choice and a potentially healthier election process. Councilor Mike Morones, who is running unopposed for the position of Mayor of the Town of Silver City, shed light on a significant issue of which many residents may be unaware: Silver City is one of only three municipalities in the State of New Mexico that does not compensate its Town Council in any way, including expenses incurred in office. Morones noted that not many people are willing and/or have the financial wherewithal to give as much time, energy, and dedication without remuneration as public office demands in order to do a competent job. He stated that a decision to pay the Town Council can only be accomplished by public referendum; and when such a referendum was held in the past, it was voted down by the residents of Silver City.
In moderating the forum, Newton kept the panelists on track and on time throughout the evening's broadcast. In their opening statements, the candidates weighed in as follows:
• Mike Morones – Since he is running unopposed for the office of Mayor, Morones stated that his main focus will be to run an "honest, open, transparent administration" and wants to "ensure good economic movement and efficient commerce" in the Town of Silver City.
• Rebecca Spann – She saw three unopposed candidates running for office and believes that the voters should have a choice and therefore decided to run. Spann stated that she represents small businesses that have a difficult time surviving in Silver City's economic climate.
• Lynda Aiman-Smith – She stated that, while she has never held public office, she "wants to speak up for entrepreneurship." Aiman-Smith noted that she believes in: "Think Local, Buy Local, Invest Local."
• Guadalupe Cano – She has lived in Silver City her entire 35 years and believes that the Town runs efficiently. However, Cano stated that the general public is not aware of this, and she will make communication with her constituency a priority. She also noted that the Police (SCPD) and Fire Departments (SCFD) must be protected for the health and safety of the residents.
• Sonya Ruiz – She is a local native with 13 years of experience as a Municipal Judge. Ruiz noted that, in her years of service as judge, she has implemented numerous improvements in the workings of the court, including automation allowing communication of cases directly to the judge's bench, as well as video links to the Internet.
• Benny Montes – He was born in Silver City and has twice been a Probate Judge in the County. Montes also stated that he had knowledge of the Municipal Court.
Newton then opened the forum to questions from Crow and Mahler to the respective candidates on various issues, specifically directing certain questions to the Council candidates and subsequently to the candidates for Judge. A summary of the questions and answers follows.
Question to Council: What action should the Council take regarding decreasing income to the Town as a result of the State's "Hold Harmless" cuts to funding?
• Cano – The new Mayor is a CPA and the Town is fiscally responsible. They will find ways to cut the budget.
• Aiman-Smith – As sources of funding decrease, other sources of income must be found to provide fundamental services such as clean water and good roads to fulfill the Council's contract with its citizens.
• Spann – Citizens need to step up and support the Town and its businesses, not Walmart.
• Morones – This Council and future Councils will be greatly affected by the State's action. The Town has grown accustomed to a certain level of income, which will now be decreased by $1.8 million per year – the equivalent of the SCPD budget. Morones stated it would be "counterintuitive to do away with the police," as it is the Town's primary responsibility to protect its citizens. The State will allow the Town to raise taxes, but that will cause great dispute.
Question to Council: What can the Council do about the economic future of the Town, faced with decline in population and mine and other business closures?
• Morones – While the mines hired 3,000 workers per site 30 years ago, they now hire 500 to 1,000 per site. However, Silver City has now become a professional center, with the growth of GRMC, WNMU, tourism, and the influx of retirees. Thus the daytime population is now approximately 18,000, while the resident population is 10,000. The Town "needs to continue to draw commerce from the surrounding three counties."
• Spann – Kids are leaving the area to find jobs. Why are the mines sending jobs to Mexico?
• Aiman-Smith – Tourism is a big income source, and Silver City has received national press attention for its food. We need to keep money in the Town and encourage entrepreneurship through the School of Business.
• Cano – Attracting people to the Town for retirement is a new way to bring more money to the Town.
Question to Council: Should the Town's minimum wage be raised?
• Spann – No.
• Aiman-Smith – The Town Council as a whole may choose to study the issue, particularly in the local food businesses.
• Morones – This should be left as a national or state issue. If the Town raises the wage in isolation, it will automatically eliminate itself from competition in the local four-county area to attract new businesses. It is a very complicated issue.
• Cano – Let the State decide. It would take a lot of study on the local level.
Question to Judges: Where do you stand on Alternative Sentencing vs. Mandatory Sentencing, particularly for youth?
• Ruiz – "Jail is not the answer for everything." Community service, counseling, and drivers' education are all options. However, Silver City does not have a lot of options for treatment centers or other alternative services.
• Montes – We must consider the Town's liability if citizens are sentenced to cleaning streets or other alternative sentences. Ankle bracelets should be used instead.
Question to Judges: When fines are levied and not paid, citizens are arrested and jailed. Should there be a "debtors' prison?"
• Montes – It is not the Judge's job to make money for the Town.
• Ruiz – It is a difficult issue because it does not help to jail indigents, but there needs to be consequences for behavior. Public safety is the priority.
Question to Council: Should the Town take a stand on diversion of the Gila River?
• Aiman-Smith – The Gila is a huge resource to the economy and tourism. Diverting it is not sound.
• Cano – The Town Council should take a stand and let the State know how it stands.
• Spann – It is not a Town issue.
• Morones – While the Town does not use water from the Gila to serve the citizens of Silver City, it derives indirect benefit because of the Gila's attraction to hunters, campers, and other tourists. We do not want another Rio Grande situation. The Town Council's role should be to educate its citizenry and act as an information source on the issue.
Question to Council: Should the Town pass a joint resolution with other municipalities regarding the Gila?
• Morones – Yes, it would have an impact; but how could we ensure consensus?
• Spann – We do not have the budget to spend on it.
• Aiman-Smith – We should enlist students to do citizen survey work at no cost in order to arrive at consensus.
• Cano – No.
Question to Council: How can the Town Council manage the deteriorating infrastructure of the city, specifically its antiquated roads and sewer system, with dwindling income sources?
• Aiman-Smith – There is very little funding available after the Stimulus monies have gone. It is critical to start now to find new sources of funding.
• Spann – It is why she joined the race for office.
• Morones – It is a tricky issue and must be dealt with slowly. However, there are state granting opportunities that will allow us to improve the infrastructure within our means.
Newton ended the Candidates' Forum by asking for closing statements from each candidate, who answered as follows:
• Montes – He stated that he has experience in the Courts and as a Deputy.
• Ruiz – She stated that her role as a Municipal Judge is her career and that she is not a politician. She sees her goals as "making the community safe and providing equal access to justice."
• Cano – She looks forward to serving her constituency and urges everyone to vote to approve the Public Safety Tax, which is "incredibly important" to ensure the viability of the SCPD and SFPD to protect the Town and its citizens.
• Aiman-Smith – She promises to hold regular discussion groups with her constituency and to encourage "inclusive community economic development."
• Spann – She noted that there are two great candidates for her District.
• Morones – He stated that governance is an education in critical thinking, and he will strive to make good decisions. He also urged the Town's citizens to come out to vote on the Public Safety Tax question on the ballot.
Newton then concluded the "Civil Discourse" broadcast by informing the audience that Gila/Mimbres Community Radio's KURU 89.1FM will continue to air the candidates' statements until the March 4 election, as well as re-broadcasting the Forum.
Additional information regarding the broadcasts is available at www.gmcr.org.