Editor's Note: This is part 2 of a two-hour municipal candidate forum.
By Mary Alice Murphy
Candidates for municipal judge are current Judge Sonya Ruiz, running for re-election and Benny Montes, a municipal judge in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Michael Shawn Morones is unopposed in his run for Mayor.
District 2 councilor candidates are Lynda Aiman-Smith and Rebecca A. Spann.
For District 4, the council seat Morones is vacating, Guadalupe "Lupe" Cano is running unopposed.
Nick Seibel, general manager of the Silver City Daily Press served as moderator.
To all the candidates: "Several years ago, the town passed a noise ordinance. Is it effective?"
Montes said that noise can be a nuisance and there are a lot of dogs, but "I'm not going to call the cops if a dog is barking. It has to be brought before the court to make a judgment."
Ruiz said the Code of Judicial Conduct does not allow her to make an opinion on the issue.
"The intent of the ordinance is excellent," Cano said. "However, the police have a lot of things to do. They cannot always enforce the ordinance. Some people feel they are targeted, while others are left alone. I understand it's loud downtown, but you chose to live there."
"I sponsored the ordinance," Morones said. "I'm still a fan of it. It added to the old ordinance, which was subjective, and added more objective parts by setting standards. It can be a public safety issue and is a quality of life issue. I hope people respect the ordinance. Yes, loud pipes are downtown, but code enforcement is easier said than done. The public has to be willing to stand up in court. There will always be bad behavior. The police enforce it to the best of their ability, by being in court and metering the noise levels."
"We keep our dogs inside," Spann said. "I understand that those who work all day have to keep their dogs outside. I believe it is a neighborhood problem, not a 911 problem. My husband tells the driver of a car with a loud boom box that he will not be able to hear his grandchildren speak."
"Noise studies show that health problems come with constant noise," Aiman-Smith said. "It is a community problem, with vehicle and dog noise. Lupe talked about the relationship between the police and residents. A lot of communities have addressed it from neighborhood and community policing. It's a matter of education, engineering and engagement. Some went to the bars with educational signs. From an engineering viewpoint, people spotted modified mufflers and put courtesy letters on the cars. Engagement must also be part of the solution."
A follow-up question said the dog section is vague about when a dog is not enclosed behind a fence it "shall be on a leash and have adequate space."
"We called animal control about a dog that was always roaming the neighborhood," Spann said, "but the code enforcement officer said it wasn't doing anything wrong. I control my dogs."
"I think it's pretty specific," Aiman-Smith said. "I'm not sure we need more ordinance, but there needs to be more certainly on the issue of loose dogs."
Morones pointed out that state law addresses the issue more thoroughly than the town's ordinance. "Maybe we need education on the state statute."
"Education is really important," Cano agreed. 'Every animal needs to be spayed or neutered. Sometimes people don't know the statute. I'm afraid I'm going to run over a dog that always runs toward my car."
Roger Lanse, Silver City Daily Press reporter, posed questions developed by Daily Press staff.
To the judge candidates: "Are you in favor of or oppose a system to put sentences, decisions and reports in the local newspaper?"
Ruiz said she had no problem with it because it is public record. Montes agreed that it is public record.
"Combatting crime requires effective cooperation between residents and the police. What is the responsibility of a neighborhood?"
"The responsibility is to report promptly and to support the outcomes," Aiman-Smith said. "Our responsibility as citizens is to report, testify and follow up."
"As a former nurse, reporting was required," Spann said. "I asked a neighbor, who said she knew who owned a drug house, why it hasn't been reported. It is our responsibility to report crime. It was reported and a week later the renters were evicted."
"We all have to take ownership of our neighborhoods, friends and family," Morones said. "If I see bad behavior, I will call dispatch. Mom taught us to take ownership in ourselves. Let Dispatch and law enforcement know and hopefully we will see crime decrease."
"Report first and then testify," Cano said. "I believe it will be better once a relationship between police and residents is accomplished."
To District 2 candidates: "Can a speed trap be set up by the Virginia Street Park."
"I think we already have two speed bumps in the area," Spann said.
"The speed bumps are too far apart on Virginia Street," Aiman-Smith said. "The complaint I have heard is speeding. Of course, we can set up speed traps. I like speed tables better than bumps."
To judge candidates: "What jurisdiction to you have on minors?"
"If it comes before me, I will deal with it," Montes said.
"Municipal Court has jurisdiction over juvenile offenses," Ruiz said. "I make sure the parents come, too. If the juvenile does not pay or do community service, he or she can be jailed. We require Children's Court approval to incarcerate after hours."
To the council and mayoral candidates: "Do you have any plans to implement positive youth activities?"
"When I was a youth, I served on the Mayor's Youth Council," Cano said. The mayor met with 10 of us once a week for breakfast. We need to be getting youth involved to help decide the activities they want."
Morones said it was one of the big hurdles across the nation. "In many cases we have activities. We try to establish sports for youths. With general activities, we do keep them involved and active, but they are not for everyone. What about the number of kids who are missed and how do we engage them through a council? We need to engage the schools and get creative."
"I would like to see the private sector get involved, such as the Woman's Club, and the Democratic and Republican Women's groups," Spann said. "It's not a government problem, although we can partner with any group to get involved."
"I thought it was community engagement, not government," Aiman-Smith said. "How do we engage and shape youths to be productive citizens? I see a lot of programs for youths, such as fixing trails, Aldo Leopold School students are mapping the watershed, and what about the contra dance. We need to work with clubs, the government, and faith groups to know what each is doing."
To the council and mayoral candidates: "Do you support the tax on public safety?"
Lanse asked judge candidates how they are organized.
"Prioritizing," Ruiz said, "and more important is your staff. They can make or break a judge. They are the eyes and ears of the judge and take care of proper procedure. Procedures are in place for a reason."
"You have to rely on your staff," Montes said. "They have to keep up with the docket. We have to work together."
Lanse also asked: "How will you encourage and strengthen ordinances to keep property clean?"
"That is one of the major complaints we hear: 'Why did I get a tag on my door?'" Morones said. "Maybe we're doing a good job. It's also a public safety issue, and we could possibly do a better job. I think law enforcement is watching the more dangerous situations. I think we have active code enforcement officers, who put notices up and follow through."
"I was wondering if it were beyond keeping your yard clean," Aiman-Smith said. "I think prudent and regular code enforcement is key."
"It think it's up to the community and neighbors," Spann said. "We can help neighbors keep their property up. I don't think it should be a regulatory issue. We can do better, all of us together."
"It's back to education," Cano said. "Use the press and radio to let people know how high weeds can be and what you can leave in your yard."
To council candidates: "What is your position on the right to organize and have bargaining rights?"
"I've done research on what unions are about and the balance of power with managers," Aiman-Smith said. " I think there should be rights for bargaining."
"I think private employees should have the right to unionize," Spann said. "I was a card-carrying member of the Communications Workers. But I do not think public employees should have the right to strike."
"It's in my blood," Cano said. "My grandfather was in 'Salt of the Earth.' I absolutely believe in unions and collective bargaining."
To council and mayoral candidates: "In the budget process, since the Legislature last year gave corporate tax breaks, how do you plan to increase your revenues?"
"I would research possibilities to see what would fit the community best," Cano said.
"It's still possible to have incentives for business," Morones said, "so local businesses may benefit. If the breaks strengthen businesses, it would bring us more revenue. We will be working on hold harmless, too. We are allowed to increase the sales tax up to 3/8 of 1 percent. If we do it, it will be staggered over time."
"I hope you will look for me not to increase taxes at all," Spann said.
"The income tax on corporations is oriented toward big corporations," Aiman-Smith said. "I don't know that it would trickle our way."
To District 2 candidates: "What can be done for the doggie park and the trash at Virginia Street Park?"
"I think it's a community enforcement problem," Aiman-Smith said. "At the doggie park, most people bring their own bags."
"We'll show up when you see the problems," Spann said.
To council and mayoral candidates: "What about our decaying, near-empty downtown?"
"I hear people say they don't go downtown, because of the decaying morality," Spann said. "I saw my first cross-dresser. People don't want to take their kids downtown."
"I love downtown," Aiman-Smith said. "I know there are plans for the community to do something. With businesses opening, things can be done. I will work to keep downtown as the historic heart of the city."
"I remember doing school shopping at Penney's and going to the Silco Theater," Morones said. "It was worse in the 1980s when half of downtown was closed. When I hear people say that it is decaying, I wonder if they have been downtown lately. I've been in business 13 years on Bullard Street. The Hub across the street, which was a vacant car dealership, now has half a dozen businesses that weren't there 13 years ago.
"Yes, there are a few vacancies, but often when there is a vacancy, another business is opening up," he continued. "It's difficult to park downtown. If it were half vacant, parking wouldn't be a problem. I let my girls run around downtown. I think it's healthy and safe."
"I'm a fan of downtown," Cano said. "Two things need to happen. We need an incentive to get owners of vacant building downtown to fill them. Get local merchants more involved. They have ideas."
Lanse asked the last question before closing remarks: "On a typical day, judges spend time listening to cases and time preparing for cases. What percentage do you spend preparing?"
Montes said he spent about 60 percent of the time studying the law and statutes and the rest in the courtroom.
"Judges are public servants," Ruiz said. "We make ourselves available to the public. People sometimes want face time with the judge and to be heard. I have to take time to research case law, but I often do it at home. I am a public servant. I seek out opportunities to learn. I'm glad I can use technology to do research."
In closing comments, all thanked the sponsors of the forum
"I am seeking municipal judge, because I have been a judge before and it's like riding a bike," Montes said. "It won't take me long to get into the routine again."
"I will work tirelessly to protect the integrity of the court and treat everyone with respect," Ruiz said. "I understand the relationship with law enforcement and I understand the separation. I know what my staff is doing. With 13 years of handling municipal court cases I know what's going on and I know how the law changes. It has been a honor serving you for my first term, and I ask for the honor of your vote."
"I encourage everyone to vote and research the tax," Cano said. "Let your voice be heard."
"I want to remind voters that elections matter," Aiman-Smith said. "I abide strongly with the platform of the Democrats. I believe government is an enabler. I will listen and you will talk."
"I thank all voters I have met," Spann said. "If you want to see change, vote for me. I encourage you to vote early."
"After the forums, I reflect on what I said," Morones said. "With my love, admiration and feeling for this town, I find myself selling the town, but I'm always looking for improvement. I will work toward the unattainable perfection."
Moderator Nick Seibel said the election results would be available on the Silver City Daily Press website the evening of March 4.