Editor's Note: This is the first of a multi-article series on the Prospectors' Legislative Community Forum, held at Western New Mexico University on Friday, Nov. 30, 2012. Community groups presented their needs and concerns to New Mexico Reps. Dianne Hamilton and Rodolpho "Rudy" Martinez, and Sen. Howie Morales.
Mike McMillan, Grant County Prospectors' president, opened the meeting and said the forum allows Grant County organizations to discuss important issues and gives the legislators more idea of the needs for capital outlay.
He said more presenters than ever before—28—had completed the application and would make presentations.
"It's the first time in several years for the Legislature to have capital outlay requests," McMillan said. "After the forum, Prospectors will meet and prioritize the requests."
He announced that Prospectors would hold a reception in Santa Fe during the legislative session on Jan. 30, at La Fonda Hotel.
"I want to recognize the Prospectors and thank you for your work," McMillan said. "I also want to recognize the sponsors—Gila Regional Medical Center for breakfast and Western New Mexico University for lunch and the use of this facility (the Besse-Forward Global Resource Center)."
He introduced the legislators one at a time, beginning with Rep. Dianne Hamilton.
"It's going to be a different session, with a new President Pro Tem in the Senate and a new Speaker of the House. There are a lot of new members of the Legislature this year. New is usually good. Many bills have been entered and are being pre-filed.
"I will again push my PTSD bill in the Interim Military and Veterans' Affairs Committee," she continued. "The two chairmen are not coming back. I have great hopes it will be an excellent session."
Rep. Rudy Martinez said the House would have at least 16 new representatives, and there would be a new Speaker and a new Majority Leader and Whip.
"We lost chairmen and committee members, so we will each select five committees of our preference and will get named to two," Martinez said. "The chairmen will change. Bills are already in the making. I'll pre-file three, one on veterans' issues, one on Fort Bayard and one with the Health and Human Services Committee. I look forward to seeing my new committees. It looks like there will be some capital outlay—not a lot, but some to help local communities."
Sen. Howie Morales said the county is fortunate to have Prospectors.
"The state had a surplus when I went into the Legislature," Morales said. "Within six months we were in a recession.
"The work of the community has been helpful, and we have not gone without," Morales continued. We got a bit of capital outlay last year. I was proud that none of my requests got vetoed. It's because of Prospectors. We have the data to back up our requests. We do see opportunities in both bodies to work together. The goal of all legislators is to improve New Mexico. I look forward to today's discussion, which will help us serve our constituents."
McMillan warned presenters that a strict eight minutes per presentation would be adhered to, with five minutes for questions and answers. He introduced Cynthia Bettison as "our esteemed Prospector timer."
"This year we will have no walk-in presenters. Today, if you come in with an application, we will put it in the notebook, but you may not present," McMillan concluded.
He introduced the first presenter— WNMU President Joseph Shepard.
Shepard welcomed the legislators and the audience members to WNMU.
"I will present our vision," Shepard said. "We need to change the university if we want to remain competitive. Competition is fierce."
He pointed out that many buildings were decaying.
"I have several priorities, but I need to tell you where we're going," Shepard said. "This semester we have 3,800 students, the largest number ever. We also have 500 in the freshman class, also the greatest number ever. Two-thirds of these students are on the Silver City campus. We have a very personal 1-13 faculty-student ratio, so our students are receiving a private education at low public university cost."
He cited the new outdoors program.
"How do we build student life?" he asked. "We hear about online experience. I bet you don't remember your physics class, but you remember the guy or gal you met. We are not a typical comprehensive university, because we have a component of work-force development. Fifty-five to 60 percent of our students need a course or remediation. They are typically working students. There is no community college here, so we have to fill the need. We are also trying to figure out, along with Silver and Cobre school districts, how to provide vocational training from the eighth grade on."
He said the university would use the $4 million it would receive from the recently approved general obligation bond on paving, repairing walls that are falling apart, and sidewalks. "Thank you for supporting it. We have $26 million in needs. We need to improve our classrooms. Light Hall was built in 1927, and we need to upgrade the museum."
Shepard showed a photo of a classroom in Light Hall, with an overhead projector on the desk. "I haven't seen one of those since I taught in Mexico 20 years ago." He also showed the climate control—a window air conditioner.
He cited other needs, such as a Light Hall Auditorium renovation, so it could be used for classes, conferences, theater productions and community activities.
"We received the NAN Ranch Mimbres Collection at the museum, making it an international-level museum, but the museum has steam pipes and fans, and no central heating/ventilation/air-conditioning system," Shepard said. "We need $4 million for Light Hall and $2 million for the museum. What we're trying to do is for the students. We're trying to transform the university for the students."
Morales referred to the GO bond formula and asked what the university's plan was to use the $4 million allocated.
"$1.2 million will go to technology," Shepard said. "Some will go to Light Hall for infrastructure, but not renovation. It will cover landscaping around the building, and will take up the majority of the funding. We've invested a lot of capital outlay here and in Deming, but now we have voice mail for the first time ever. VOIP was $750,000."
Morales asked where WNMU ranks on the priority list at the Higher Education Department.
"Light Hall is No. 6 on the priority list," Shepard said. "The museum is not in the priorities."
Martinez asked about technology improvements.
"The GO Bond will not go far," Shepard said. "Wireless is slow, as students can attest.
Later in the session, the audio-visual in the auditorium momentarily failed with a loud humming noise. To shock and then laughter from the audience, it reinforced Shepard's allegations about the need for technology upgrades. The system was quickly back on and functioning.
Hamilton pointed out that the university and the hospital are the greatest assets in Grant County. "It's exciting to see you doing well."
To clarify an earlier comment, she said she had just found out that there would be 21 new legislators in the House.
"It will be a good year at the session," Hamilton continued. "It will be exciting to let legislators know about our excellent university."
Shepard said, in addition to the general obligation bond funding, the university has $12.8 million in revenue bonds for the under-construction housing unit. "Next, Eckles Hall will be taken down, and we will spend $25 million in revenue bonds to build Mustang Village. The bonds are paid for through student fees. We are also talking to the county about fixing the swimming pool. We thank you three, the Prospectors and local governments for their support of the university."
The next article will cover the WNMU Early Childhood Program and the WNMU Student Association.