[Editor's Note: This is part 3 of a multipart series of articles on the Grant County Commission work session on January 22, 2019 and regular meeting on Jan. 24, 2019.]
By Mary Alice Murphy
At the beginning of the Jan. 24, 2019 Grant County Commission regular meeting, Chairman Billy Billings asked that agenda items IV and V, elections of chairman and vice chairman, be moved to the end of the regular meeting agenda to right before county elected official reports.
Commissioner Harry Browne asked: "Why?"
Billings replied that he planned to nominate Chris Ponce for chairman and Ponce, if he were elected, wasn't prepared to lead the meeting immediately after the election at the beginning of the meeting.
When he asked for comments, Commissioner Alicia Edwards, who has served for the past year as vice chairman, said she had some comments. "Isn't politics interesting?"
"So, we, even at the local level, we can't overcome the idea of us and them and the fear of others in order to do our job, which is to serve everyone in the community," Edwards said. "We had a significant discussion on this issue last year about a process to have the chairman serve for a year and then the vice chairman to follow as chairman. Obviously, I believed the intention was for me to be the next chairman. This is demonstrative of the worst of intentions. I am disappointed in how we are demonstrating leadership in this community. The government is designed to be representational. I am extremely disappointed in how we have started the new year in the commission with essentially a backroom deal."
Commissioner Javier Salas said because he is new on the commission, he was not part of the vice chair and chairman discussion last year. "When I was elected, it was to represent everyone, including the people in my district. They elected me because of my views. I will please some people some of the time. I will use my best judgement and what I feel is the more proper thing to do for the county."
Billings said he did not remember that conversation from last year.
"It was one year ago and brief," Commissioner Harry Browne said.
Billings said on the issue of the choice of Gabriel Ramos to fill now-Lt. Gov. Howie Morales' vacant senate seat, "a lot of the community thought our decision was divisive. I didn't think it was. And I don't understand why nominating Ponce is divisive."
"I wasn't there last year," Ponce said. "I share Salas's comments that we have to be open to Grant County and our district. We're not always going to agree. That's why the voters put us in, for our diversity. If others are interested in the chairmanship, it's OK with me."
Edwards said what she heard from Ponce and Salas was that "I do not represent this county."
Browne said he thought all the commissioners share the same concern to represent the entire county. "I thought the intent was to rotate so that no faction would be sidelined. I think it helps us work better for the county. I think if all of us have the opportunity to serve as chairman, it's like cross-training. Rotating is consistent with representing the whole county. I have some criteria for the person who sits in the chairman's seat. They must be respectful, well organized, experienced, work well with the manager and staff and can communicate effectively. Under (former Commission Chairman Brett) Kasten and Chairman Billings, we listened and worked together. What is the right thing to do? I think Edwards, just objectively, has earned the position. She has served as vice chair and should be chairman for one year. She works extremely hard here and has shown a deep commitment outside in the community. I think she should serve, maybe just for one year, as chairman."
"If the chairman is fair, we will all get to speak," Billings said. "I was thinking for the sake of consistency, I supposed I might be chairman for another year. There are no special privileges afforded to the chair. We represent our districts and the entire county. I was thinking I might be chair again, but that's not going to happen. I think Commissioner Ponce would made a good chair. He will be fair and objective."
Ponce was elected 3-2, with Edwards and Browne voting nay. Ponce asked to take over the gavel at the end.
Edwards wondered who she was talking to as chairman. She nominated Browne.
Browne asked: "Are you not interested in serving again?"
"No, I am not," Edwards replied.
The vote was 2-3 for Browne, with Billings, Salas and Ponce voting nay. Salas nominated Billings for vice chairman, and he was elected 3-2.
The next article will continue with the regular meeting agenda as addressed at the work and regular sessions.