Editor's Note: This is part 1 of a two-hour municipal candidate forum.
By Mary Alice Murphy
A municipal candidate forum, hosted and sponsored by the Silver City Daily Press, KOOT-FM 88.1 radio, and CATS TV channels 17, 18, and 19, was held Tuesday evening.
Nick Seibel, Daily Press general manager, moderated the event and asked questions written by attendees. Daily Press reporter Roger Lanse asked questions developed by Daily Press staff.
Each candidate gave a two-minute opening statement. All candidates thanked the hosts and sponsors.
Uncontested mayoral candidate Michael Shawn Morones spoke first. "I look forward to serving you as mayor in an inclusive, open manner."
Rebecca A. Spann is one of the candidates running for the District 2 Town Council seat.
She explained that she and her husband met in Silver City 31 years ago and when they retired, they returned to re-establish their roots. "I got involved, because I saw uncontested races. I also don't see where the value of our tax dollars is being spent."
Lynda Aiman-Smith said she is a multi-generational New Mexican, who moved to the area because she loves it, with its natural beauty, arts and culture, music and history.
"I was a serial entrepreneur, a manager and finally a teacher," Aiman-Smith said. "I'm good at fact-finding. Silver City is facing dangers, as well as opportunities. I want to grab the opportunities to make a more lively Silver City."
Guadalupe "Lupe" Cano is running uncontested for the District 4 Town Council Seat that Morones is vacating.
"I am a lifelong resident of District 4," Cano said. "Since I was permanently disabled in an accident, I have been volunteering and became interested in politics. I look forward to representing District 4 to the best of my ability."
Municipal Court Judge Sonya Ruiz, who is just finishing her first term in the post, is running for re-election.
A lifelong resident of the area, she began at the Municipal Court as a receptionist and served as assistant judge for nine years, before running for the judicial position.
"I am one of the few municipal court judges who can take a case from the beginning to the end," Ruiz said.
She has completed 14 judicial training courses and is classified as a judicial facilitator and can teach courses. She also serves on the New Mexico Judicial Committee.
"I consider myself a public servant," Ruiz said.
Benny Montes is also running for Municipal Court judge. He said he has lived in Silver City for 46 years and the rest of his life in Hurley. Montes has served as Municipal Judge before, having been appointed to the post in the late 1980s by then-Mayor Lucy Stermer.
"I ran and won and then ran and lost several times," Montes said. "I also served a couple of terms as Probate Judge for Grant County."
The first question was for the mayor and councilor candidates: "What are your views on raising the minimum wage?"
"The minimum wage in New Mexico is $7.50, and exactly half of those earning minimum wage are teenagers," Aiman-Smith said. "Forty-three percent of those earning minimum wage have some college education. Working 40 hours a week for 52 weeks a year, with no vacation time, a person on minimum wage would make $15,600 a year. The poverty level is $19,000. You have to look at the economics of the community and what people can live on. In the United States, there are 250 billion Americans on welfare. Some companies give courses to their employees on how to get food stamps. We are subsidizing corporate profits. Even at $10 an hour, a person would make only $20,800. Studies have shown that raising the minimum wage has hardly any effect on unemployment."
Spann said she does not believe that raising the minimum wage will create even one new job in Grant County, "so I don't think it's a good idea."
Morones said, as a small business owner, he would have no problem with the state or federal government raising the minimum wage, because "everyone would be on the same playing field as everyone else. I fear if we raised it locally, we would be at a disadvantage to other cities, such as Deming. I see larger companies paying higher wages than the minimum. It's usually the small companies doing minimum wage, and often the owners of those businesses are not even making minimum wage."
Cano said she is in support of the bill in the legislature to raise the minimum wage. "At the same time, municipalities can raise the minimum wage, but I would like to see the employers involved in the decision and phased in, not $2 an hour at one time."
The next question asked what should be cut in the town budget if hold harmless is lost.
Cano said she would try to determine what cuts could be made without affecting employees, but would not favor cutting public safety.
"This is facing the community," Morones said. " I will be relying on our town manager, who has faced hard times successfully. We may have to furlough or cut employees. We would likely slow down capital expenses and would not be able to exercise opportunities that arrive, such as granting opportunities that need matching funds, which are usually capital projects."
Spann said the town should fund the most important things and then stop. "Governments spend too much money, so they should cut. Police and fire protection are the most important. I think the renewal should sunset again. They knew it would sunset in 10 years. Why didn't they get that money into the budget to offset it, if it weren't renewed?"
Aiman-Smith gave a brief history on the hold harmless issue, saying that in 2004, the Legislature took gross receipts taxes off food and medical services, and agreed to hold municipalities and counties harmless by replacing the funding that would be lost. "Then state finances went south," she said. "The burden is being pushed down to us. As an operations manager, if I knew revenues were dropping, I would try to find other sources of revenue and ways to improve process efficiency. I think the Office of Sustainability should be called the Office of Efficiency, because Ben Altamirano Sports Field was the largest sink of water in Silver City. A grant and improvement to water distribution has decreased the amount used by 61 percent. It's not what can we cut; it's what can we do."
Lanse asked several questions, the first for the judge candidates.
Do you ever wake up in the middle of the night and wish you had done something differently?
Ruiz said she does wake up at night, but "not because I did something wrong. We rule by law, not with our hearts. A good judge wants to do the best they can, but sometimes we wish the law wasn't what it was."
Montes echoed that judges must rule by law and evidence. "We have to take those into consideration. Sometimes you have friends or neighbors before you, but you still have to judge by rules and evidence."
To the councilor candidates, Lanse asked: "What issue compelled you to run for office?"
Spann said that after being gone from the area for 31 years, "I didn't see a big change here and some sad circumstances. Where we lived before, I helped raise $3 million to expand our church. Looking at Silver City MainStreet, I said to myself: 'We can do better.'"
Cano said the issue that stands out to her is the relationship between the police department and the residents. "I want to bridge that gap and open communications between them."
Aiman-Smith said, as a long-time teacher of entrepreneurship, she threw her hat into the ring because "we need to get away from big box stores or chain restaurants. We need to develop our own entrepreneurial spirit. The first thing in the Downtown Plan is to develop the entrepreneurial spirit and to think about opportunities for business to encourage economic development from the inside out."
To the mayoral candidate: "What are your ideas to attract industry?"
Morones said: "If I were advising an industrial company, I would be looking at infrastructure that would let them to their job. We have infrastructure pitfalls. We are not on I-10. Arguably, we need a four-lane highway coming into town, as well as rail and better air service. A regional water system would tie together with redundancy. We have a lot of pieces to get ideas flowing, but it is not within our financial means to do a four-lane highway. We do have contacts with the Legislature."
"I want to plant seeds so we can attract industry that we have to make sure is palatable with residents," he continued. "I think infrastructure is the reason we don't see larger or even some smaller businesses. The quality of life initiatives have brought people here in spite of the pitfalls."
To the council and mayoral candidates: "Do you support the regionalization of water?"
"Absolutely," Morones said. "We will not be taking water from Bayard, Hurley or Santa Clara. Silver City supports about two-thirds of the county residents. This project to tie the water systems together can ensure water to about 80 percent of the county's residents."
Aiman-Smith said she, too, supports it, because it would get funding as a non-diversion and would make water more accessible to the region.
"I support keeping water within Southwest New Mexico," Spann said. "I support a regional water system."
Cano too said she supports it to use the water for economic development. "Keep the water here, and don't send it out of the region."
To the judge candidates: "What is your measure of leniency when someone comes before you?"
Montes said he didn't believe in sending people to jail or giving them a big fine. "There are several options, including community service and suspending fines. There are ways around sending them to jail."
Ruiz said: "I am a firm believer that if someone commits a crime, they must make amends. I believe strongly in community service. My measure of leniency is that I believe in being firm and impartial. Make sure they pay for their actions, but it will be different for each case. I look past the dollars and cents to see that justice is served."
To judge candidates: "Do you like to wear the judicial robe?"
"The attire commands respect," Ruiz said. It's a matter of courtroom decorum to make sure everyone is respectful."
Montes said he believes those in court have to show respect to the citizen, and "yes, we should wear a robe because it shows respect to the court and to the people."
To councilors and mayoral candidates: "How accessible will you make yourself to residents, the press and at events?"
"I want to encourage dialogue with residents and with the county," Aiman-Smith said. "I will hold quarterly constituent meetings."
Spann said she has already been misquoted in the press, with a small p, but would answer questions. "I have knocked on doors and I will be accessible to talk about any issue."
"I will be accessible," Cano said. "It is a good use of social media, so friend me on Facebook."
"I will try my best to be accessible," Morones said. "As councilor, I see constituents come into my office. Now is my busy time, but even now I have time and I love to hear your concerns and even criticisms, because it makes me move to solve them. I encourage you to give me a call or come by my office."
Part 2 and the final part of the candidate forum will cover the rest of the questions and answers.