The Silver City-Grant County T.E.A. Party Patriots held a candidate forum Tuesday, Sept. 25, to hear from County Commissioner District 3 candidates, Republican Trent Petty and Democrat Ron Hall.
Larry Flippo of the T.E.A. Party Patriots served as moderator. He invited the candidates to present their opening remarks.
Ron Hall spoke first. "I have served Grant County for 40 plus years, 25 as a police officer and 16 as magistrate judge. I care about the people and I worry about the economy."
He recommended that people review the economic development master plan recently completed for the county.
"Right now, the economy is stagnant," Hall said. "Unemployment was about 6 percent in May, went up in June and was at 7.4 percent in August. We can fix this ourselves. We don't need the state or federal government to tell us what to do."
He read the tenets of his platform, which include clarifying and formalizing rules to determine who does what and that whoever does it has to be unified; make sure projects are shovel-ready; train the work force; educate small businesses; strengthen target industry by being business-friendly; capitalize on Western New Mexico University resources, which is why New Mexico Sen. Howie Morales is promoting a Senate Memorial for a vo-tech school in the county; develop stronger international ties; and pick up trash and cut weeds.
"There is nothing we can't do if we work together," Hall concluded.
Petty first thanked Liz Blancett for her organization of Constitution Day at Gough Park, where Petty was one of the readers of a section of the document upon which our government is based.
"I've been in Grant County nearly 28 years," Petty said. "When we arrived, there were a lot of places to shop and twice as many restaurants. We won't be Las Cruces, but we could be what we were 20 years ago."
He said when he ran for Silver School Board, of which he is now president, he had two items on his platform. They were to address bullying, which he accomplished within a few months of being in office; and a vocational school, for which WNMU, Morales, and New Mexico Reps. Rudy Martinez and Dianne Hamilton are on board.
"We have several industrial parks in the county, but nothing is happening," Petty alleged. "Retainability of workers at the mines is a problem. They want diesel mechanics, but a worker moves his family to the county, and soon goes elsewhere to work because there is nothing for his family here. If they could hire from here, the workers will stay. We need to bring in more businesses."
He said the School Board has extended an offer to a man from Wyoming to be superintendent of schools.
"You had your voice when you elected me," Petty said. "But this community has many committees with no accountability to anyone. I expect elected officials to be accountable."
Businesses come in that choose to relocate to the area, but "we must prepare the ground for them."
He said his son recently moved to Midland, Texas, because of a job. His daughter lives in Las Cruces, and when she says she is from Silver City, they reply: "Oh, the meth capital of the Southwest."
The vast amount of domestic violence is due to drug and alcohol abuse, he alleged. And those in jail tell the jailers that the first thing they will do when they get out of jail is find some meth.
"Bring in businesses, so we have more jobs and more businesses," Petty said.
Bill Carliss asked the first question and said he had been in the county for 40 years.
"As far as jobs go, we need a secondary copper industry here," Carliss said he had been promoting the idea for years. "We need to be producing copper tubing, wire, and copper sheet here. It all leaves here. How do you feel about the idea?"
Hall said it refers to exactly what he was saying. "We have the Gila Economic Development Alliance and a person on staff to bring in businesses. We have had people come in and when they saw the trashy streets, they said: 'No way.' Workers can't pass drug tests and there's no work either."
Petty said the vocational school that he has been pushing is being patterned after those in Canada. "You need to catch the students in Junior High before they are on drugs and in gangs. We have full computer labs, and an outstanding home economics—or whatever it is called now—class, where the students have to present a business plan to open a restaurant. Diesel mechanics are on the wish list. We have the top car body repairman in Silver City. He won a statewide championship. We are shooting for 2014 for the vocational school. We have the largest population of seniors in the state. Get them to volunteer."
He said kids see parents and grandparents on drugs, so they emulate them. "If they work with other older folks, they see what can be accomplished."
Carliss suggested a task force to study the issue of creating copper products in the county.
Hall said he should attend the Gila EDA Roundtable, where people around the table are working together and "the discussion has started."
Carliss said an industrial park at the airport went nowhere. "I want more focus on getting things done."
Petty said he was willing to talk to businesses about tax breaks to bring copper product creation to the county. "It makes perfect sense. We want opportunities for young people."
Skip Thacker, county resident, asked about the Grant County finances and when the last audit was completed.
Hall reported that the county's 2010 audit is being reviewed in Santa Fe, but the 2011 is due Nov. 15, and the 2012 in December. "We're way behind. We expect the public to take care; the government should, too."
Petty said he supported an outside audit every year.
Guadalupe Cano, area resident, asked the candidates' opinions on moving from the three-person Commission to a five-person one.
"Representation is important," Hall said. "I would like to see both rivers have representation, as well as the rest of the county. If it would work financially, I would like to see five commissioners."
Petty said he supports five commissioners, because the Commission has broad authority, including being able to appoint someone to fill vacant positions. The commissioners must also certify elections.
Lynda Aiman-Smith, who said she writes a column Think Local for the Grant County Beat, asked if the candidates were willing to avail themselves of a program at New Mexico State University to certify public officials.
"Training is important," Hall said. "If I can learn more about the job, I will take the training. It is good to have more knowledge from your public officials, so they can better represent you."
Petty said he looked forward to the training. "I've always stuck my hand up for more training."
Dwayne Coleman, a resident, said he is a retired government employee for 45 years from the U.S. Air Force and as a civilian working for the Air Force. "Since I've been here, taxes went up. The county has $600,000 in the kitty, but we have to pay for a bond for regional dispatch? Somewhere a line's got to be drawn. My retirement isn't bumping up."
Hall said if the public does not pay for emergency services, it will be paid for through the county and town, and other services will suffer. "I, too, am retired, and I think long and hard about these experiences I hear. But I think that 1/8 of 1 percent tax is important for 911."
Petty echoed the importance of 911, "but if the county is $600,000 in the black, they should pay for Dispatch. I want 911, but I voted against the tax because it should come out of the General Fund."
He said the state sets the property tax rates, and it is required every other year to vote whether to give a rebate on the tax. Only Santa Fe and Los Alamos take advantage of the statute. Several ways are possible to rebate to give relief to retirees, including being over 65 years of age, being a veteran and being a disabled veteran.
"The County Commission is required to address the health, safety and welfare of the residents," Petty said. "Every month they pay $500,000 at least in indigent claims."
The rest of the forum will be covered in a subsequent article.