[Editor's Note: This is part 3 of a multi-part series of articles on the work session on Sept. 24, 2019 and regular meeting on Sept. 26, 2019.]
By Mary Alice Murphy
After two presentations at the beginning of the Grant County Commission work session on Sept. 24, 2019, a review of the regular meeting agenda began.
The presentations may be read at http://www.grantcountybeat.com/news/news-articles/53553-grant-county-commission-holds-brief-special-meeting-prior-to-work-session-092419 and http://www.grantcountybeat.com/news/news-articles/53609-date-correctedgrant-county-commission-work-session-092419-part-2
The first item on the regular meeting agenda was a proclamation declaring Oct. 1-5, 2019 as New Mexico Grown Week and October 6-12, 2019 as National 4-H Week, requested by Commissioner Alicia Edwards and Commissioner Billy Billings.
The second proclamation names the month of October 2019 as Domestic Violence Awareness Month, which was requested by Rachel Sierra of El Refugio, Inc. domestic violence shelter.
The two proclamations were approved at the regular meeting.
At the work session, the financial reports were not even discussed because of the length of the meeting, but they were approved at the regular session. Expenditures for the month totaled $4,578,712.33, including four pay periods with a total of $611,954.39
Expenses over $10,000 are shown in the chart below:
At the work session, County Manager Charlene Webb noted the county attorneys had made changes to the 30-year Special Use Permit from the Gila National Forest for use of the Grant County Shooting Range. "The changes will have to be approved by the Forest Service." It was tabled at the regular meeting pending approval or changes by the Forest Service.
A second item of new business centered on discussion and possible action regarding county investments and investment policy. In the absence of Treasurer Steve Armendariz at the work session, Deputy Treasurer Veronica Rodriguez said the treasurer had been going over the policy and making changes. "He wants a meeting with the county manager and any commissioner prior to the discussion."
Due to the absence of the treasurer, Webb said the item might need to be tabled.
Edwards noted the intention of the business item was to review current policy. "I think it's a good idea to hear about county investments."
Webb said she had been in discussions on the policy. "I've not been a fan of our present investment policy."
A meeting was planned between Webb and Armendariz the following week, so the item at the regular meeting was tabled.
Under agreements, commissioners discussed an agreement between the county and Christine DeBolt to provide full-time services for the Stepping Up Initiative Program at the Detention Center.
Webb said the agreement would not exceed $40,000 annually. "We received only the one response."
Commission Chairman Chris Ponce asked who monitors the position to make sure that what is supposed to get done, gets done.
"Like other professional services, such as building architectural services, it's me," Webb said. "I make sure we can hold the individuals to their specific responsibilities. We've only been touching on what Stepping Up is capable of. She will not be responsible for reporting."
Edwards asked: "How will you know she is doing the work? I want you to be happy with the contractor."
"We meet weekly and talk several times a week," Webb said.
Billings made the observation that his experience with this contractor is that "she usually goes above and beyond."
The contract was approved at the regular meeting.
The one resolution on the agenda considered approving the form of an amended and restated joint powers agreement by and between Grant County, the town of Silver City, the town of Hurley, the village of Santa Clara and the city of Bayard, collectively, relating to the Southwest Solid Waste Authority to join a loan agreement.
Webb said the New Mexico Finance Authority asked for the amendment and it requires all members of the Southwest Solid Waste Authority to approve it. "Entering into this agreement means that the solid waste authority will have its own JPA."
Browne said the new JPA was formed without Lordsburg and Hidalgo County. "What it is for?"
Webb said she thought it was for a bulldozer.
Administrative Assistant Bernadette Coleman presented the August health care claims from Gila Regional Medical Center for a total of $54,112.89. She said the claims were all verified as being for detainees of the Grant County Detention Center. "We recommend approval." The commissioners as the Health Care Claims Board approved the claims at the regular meeting.
Next came commissioner reports at the work session.
Ponce said he had been receiving calls from people with concerns about the rumble strips on the sides of the highway in turning lanes. "For left turns, they cannot leave out the rumble strips. I've been working with (Community Development and Planning Director Michael) Mischa (Larisch) and the Department of Transportation looking at the issue."
Edwards said that coming from Santa Clara and turning onto Kirkland Road is an illegal left turn lane. "I don't disagree that the rumble strips are disconcerting."
"Trent Doolittle [of the DOT] told me those are not legal turning lanes," Larisch said. "We said, but people need access to the roads. He backtracked and said he would come out to look at the issue."
Edwards suggested that sheriffs and police departments should also be at the meeting.
Browne noted that pedestrians shouldn't be left out, because they, too, have to cross the road.
Edwards made an observation. "We were at a meeting with Stantec on the Copper Trail project. We were mentioning a safety study. It probably wouldn't hurt to have one from Domino's to Santa Clara, because there is that wide lane in the middle all the way."
Ponce asked how the two meetings a month were working out. Browne said he wants to give them a full year.
"I agree, that we should give them a chance, but we're tying up staff time," Billings said. He also noted that the election change made by the legislature was ruled unconstitutional, so he is back to being the commissioner of District 4 and Ponce of District 1.
He also pointed out that cottonwoods are growing up in the waterways, threatening bridges, especially Iron Bridge, in case of floods. "I know Rep. (Rebecca) Dow has talking to the New Mexico DOT. It seems like it will be a difficult task to address. They are aware of the problem, but solving it is more difficult."
Commissioner Javier Salas, in his report said he had a good conversation with an attorney from the new firm the county is contracting with. "I'm looking forward to a good relationship. I want input on the employee policy. Do I go through the chairman or just email him to ask about it?"
Browne said it was his opinion that each commission can approach the firm, "and we will consider it if things get out of hand."
Edwards had no report, but she chimed in and said she agreed that each commissioner would have individual access to the attorneys. "But it seems to me that any request should go through the county manager and HR."
Webb said the county also has a small contract with an attorney in Albuquerque. "She is rewriting the employee policy right now. She does only labor law, so the process is moving forward. I would rather not pay two attorneys for the same policy. And, in any case, the union, has the right to review and comment on any personnel policy changes."
Salas continued. "We talked about this months ago. We had a job opening, which was deemed critical. I don't want us to be in the same boat next time we have a job opening. Why can't we change current policy and job descriptions?
Edwards said she wanted to clarify on the attorney issue. "We are not implying that a county commissioner shouldn't be able to go to the attorney. If you, Mr. Salas, had asked the county manager, you would be aware that the process is underway. You can get the issue on the next agenda."
Ponce said he hoped Salas had worked to meet with the manager.
"You want an item on the agenda to amend the personnel policy to give preferential consideration to current employees." Webb said. "Please draft the language, because I'm not sure about the timeframe of the rewriting of the policy. But be aware that any change does not apply to any union employee, because that has to go through negotiations. It is not my place to ask the union to make changes."
Ponce agreed with Webb. "The union can approach us during negotiations, but we cannot approach them."
"I'm not in support of this change," Browne said. "If it's disruptive to the attorney working on the policy, then no."
Webb repeated that she was not sure where the attorney is in the rewriting process.
Browne said to Salas that the manager is recommending "you draft some language."
"The attorney I talked to told me that there are various ways to give preferential treatment to existing employees," Salas said.
Edwards said: "I will weigh in on something different. I'm not in favor of this. I'm not sure how to do that and still hire the most qualified person. I would like to know what other counties do around this. I would like legal ways to do it. To me, preferential language and human resources language don't go together."
Ponce said he would like to explore different options, but "I'm not on board with this."
Billings said he was trying to think of the easiest way for Salas. "But, I'm for hiring the best employee to do the best job for our residents. I don't mind giving current employees prior notice of a vacancy, but we need the best person for the job."
Salas said he felt the job should be given to the best qualified county employee.
"I would prefer to see maximum requirements to get the best person," Billings said.
Browne noted: "We're getting into the weeds again during commissioner comments."
Ponce said he would like to see in-house development of employees.
Billings said the county is already doing a lot of training. "I think a lot of employees are not taking advantage of the training."
"Let's get other options and vote on it," Salas said.
Ponce recommended to Salas: "Get with the county manager or Bernadette to get the language."
The meeting adjourned.