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Grant County commissioners name interim county manager

Several Cobre High School band members and their director receive recognition from Grant County commissioners. From left are Commissioner Gabriel Ramos, band member Elysha Montoya, director Chuck Gerheart (partially obscured), band members Hannah Riley, Jaedyn Arellano and Alexis Rico, Commission Chairman Brett Kasten, band members Mary Sanchez and Tyler Call and Commissioner Ron Hall.

Commissioners also recognize Cobre High School Band for state championship

By Mary Alice Murphy

After changing the order on the agenda, for the first order of business at the Grant County Commission regular meeting held May 8, commissioners recognized the Cobre High School band for being once again state champions. The band received the award in Class AAA at the competition held April 26 and 26. This makes the 15th championship the band has received.

Chuck Gerheart, band director, thanked the commission and the community for their support of the program.

"Because of lots of testing lately, I could not bring the entire band, but I brought six members, who have excelled," Gerheart said. "We continue to push for excellence. We received a 95.33 score, missing our goal of 96. I am trying to keep the youth work ethic up and make them proud to be a member of the band."

Commission Chairman Brett Kasten said: "You probably know my father was one of the first Cobre band directors. Today would have been his 80th birthday, had he lived, and I think he's smiling down on you today."

Commissioner Gabriel Ramos said the championship every year is a great habit to continue.

The next item on the agenda was a public hearing for an ordinance "establishing firefighting and emergency response authority, fire equipment procurement standards, and rules regarding fire hazards applicable to the general public, and imposition of burn restrictions during severe drought and other fire emergencies." Commissioners, after hearing a change and discussion, approved the ordinance.

County Attorney Abigail Robinson said she took the recommendation from Kasten and others to add to the chainsaw ban any motorized device without a spark arrestor.

Fire Management Officer Randy Villa said the rules for bans have been in place since 1983. "They will go in force as soon as the ordinance is signed."

Roger Dombrowski, member of the Tyrone Volunteer Fire Department and a resident of Wind Canyon, said red flag warnings are good, but not enough fire information is available to the public.

"The fire danger in the area has been very high to extreme since the beginning of the year," Dombrowski said. "We need another way to let the public know about the fire danger. Maybe instead of a ban each year, there should be a ban all the time, unless burning is allowed. We've already had many human-caused fires this year."

Villa noted that the volunteer fire departments have a webpage with information on fires at grancountyfire.com.

"It has all the information the public needs," Villa said. "I think we're doing the best job we can. I don't want to halt the public from doing anything. We're trying to protect the lives of the firefighters, the residents and property. Each volunteer fire department has a public notice outside the station of the daily fire danger. Not daily, but a lot of organizations are putting out the word. As soon as we have the ordinance, we will get the information out to the public by posting on county buildings, at every volunteer fire department and out to the public."

During public input, Lori Ford, Community Access Television of Silver City (CATS) and KOOT FM radio, said May is membership month for the two organizations, with discounted memberships at CATS for $40 a year, KOOT at $60 and the combined at $100. "With membership, you can be an instant radio and TV content producer. Small businesses can work out a beneficial membership arrangement."

To the out-going county manager, Jon Paul Saari, she said it had been a great pleasure for the organizations to work with him. "Especially in helping get the audio more professional." She also plugged radio sponsorships at $300 for 900 spots over three months. "We are THE community radio station since 2008."

She continued by saying KOOT is on the air from midnight to noon and shares the airspace with Radio Bilingüe the other 12 hours. "I have pulled in students at these meetings for them to learn how meetings operate. As a result, they have become interested in civics."

Commissioners chose to skip the next agenda item—an executive session—because they had had enough discussion on the county manager position.

Saari gave the expenditure report, which was $750,969, for two payrolls and "starting to close out grants before the end of the fiscal year,"

Kasten made a motion to name the interim county manager—Abby Robinson—until a fulltime manager can be named. She was unanimously chosen. After the meeting, Robinson told the Beat that other counties, such as McKinley County, had named the county attorney as interim manager. "I appreciate the commission having confidence in me for the interim position. I have no intention of applying for the permanent position." Saari's tenure ends at 5 p.m. Friday, May 9.

Commissioners approved the purchase of a new tanker truck for the Tyrone VFD for $162,738. Roger Groves, Tyrone VFD chief, said the truck would replace the existing water tender, a 1978 truck, "which has outlived its usefulness. The new tanker truck will improve our firefighting capabilities at Flying A Station. We have approval from the state fire marshals and the funding to pay for it. It will be a real asset."

Saari said the funding comes out of the station's fire funds, which can be carried over from year to year for purchases, such as this. "There is no cost to the General Fund."

Commissioners also approved the transfer of a 1988 Chevy diesel 4X4 manual-transmission brush truck from Columbus Fire Department.

"It's free," Groves noted. "I think it is a viable asset for our department, especially if needed if our initial attack vehicle is in the shop for repairs. It will be minimal cost to us to equip it with existing equipment."

Under resolutions, commissioners approved a resolution of intent to adopt an ordinance dedicating, in quarterly installments, an amount equal to a gross receipts tax of one-twelfth of 1 percent applied to the taxable gross receipts reported during the prior fiscal year by persons engaged in business in the county to the newly created safety net care pool fund; and providing an effective date transferring funds.

"This is mandated by law, which we fought for through the legislative session," Kasten said.

"It will cost about $485,000 quarterly," Saari estimated. "The match used to be three to one. It could now be as high as 10 to 1. It would have been good to send the full 8th of a percent, but we will continue to work with the hospital to help with any shortfall."

During county reports, Sheriff Raul Villanueva thanked Saari for what he has done for the county. "It has been an honor to work with him. I am looking forward to working with Abby in the interim."

Treasurer Steve Armendariz said from April through May 5, the county collected $584,000 in taxes allocated to the county. "We collected almost the same amount county-wide in the past two days. I think we are close to an 85 percent collection rate. I, too, would like to thank Jon for his service to the county."

Assessor Mary Guthrie thanked Saari and said she and her staff would miss him.

Clerk Robert Zamarripa said 121 ballots were issued as of Tuesday. "The office is open for early voting in person from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. You can request an absentee ballot for mailing by calling us at 575-574-0042 or print one from the Grant County website."

"I echo the sentiments about Jon," Zamarripa said. "Even though we didn't always agree, we could always find common ground because we knew we were working for Grant County residents."

Ramos said Senior League for Copper Little League registration would be open Monday evening from 7-9 p.m. at Snell Middle School. "I wish luck to Cobre, Silver and Cliff high school students in track, softball and baseball as they head to playoffs." To Saari, he said: "You've made our job easier."

Commissioner Ron Hall said he wanted to reiterate what the firefighters say. "It is the responsibility of each citizen for prevention. Be careful and don't let your guard down. I'm appalled at how many cigarettes I see thrown out of car windows. Be careful on your own property if you are grinding or sawing. We are a tinderbox. The winds scare me. I ask each and every person to be careful."

He also noted the Colts are top-seeded. "I expect good things from the girls and boys on the teams from Silver and Cobre. I hope they bring back lots of championships." Hall, too, thanked Saari for his guidance in "bringing me up to snuff pretty fast. I tell people Jon was an asset for the county. I look forward to working with Abby."

Kasten said he wanted to tell the public how the commissioners were approaching finding a new manager.

"We are revising the job description, as well as going through the qualifications," Kasten said. "It will take us a couple of weeks or so to refine both. We're going to do this right. We will post the position for two or three weeks. There will be a selection committee, then the Commission will be in charge of the interviews, either one-on-one or all three of us. We hope to have someone in place by August, or September at the latest.

"When I came on board, I quickly figured out Jon was a hard worker and smart," Kasten said. He brought his A game every day. If you were going to argue with him, you better know your facts. Soon after I was named chairman the first time, I spent 30 days in Santa Fe and Jon was there, too. We ham-and-egged people pretty good. You became a friend," he said directly to Saari. "You will be missed by me, the other commissioners, the residents, the region and the state."

"Thank you to everybody," Saari said. "It has been a great experience and I learned a lot. What has made me successful is everyone else. The press is fair to us and the staff is great. I'm leaving some of my best friends, but I'll still be here. I'm looking forward to spending more time with my family. I'll be around, just a phone call away. I will be going through training—self-study—and then will do some travel after I get my licenses and certifications. Leaving everyone here was the hardest decision for me. I hope the new manager realizes what a great team we have."

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