Commissioners heard public comment and addressed agenda items, plus hearing county reports and giving their own reports.
By Mary Alice Murphy
In the May regular Grant County Commission meeting held on May 21, 2020, the first part of the meeting was not presented on YouTube at the beginning due to a mandatory Windows update on the computer presenting the meeting. The meeting was recorded and viewable on the Grant County website later.
[Editor's note: Due to the author not being in attendance at the meeting, some of the names mentioned were not clear, so only some names will be used accurately. If spelling is incorrect, please notify the Beat and the names will be corrected.]
Several people gave public input, all relating to the upcoming renewal of the Wildlife Services contract. Retired professor Janet Wallet-Ortiz, wildlife photographer John Buckholz, Glenn Griffin, Randy Kulick and retired librarian Margaret Hadderman all requested that the contract, if renewed, require that non-lethal methods be used to control predators and more detail was requested in the quarterly reports. Commenters noted that the M44s, which release cyanide, are especially detrimental as the animals killed are often fed upon by other animals and birds, which then die from the poison. The same talking points popped up in different written comments, including using guard dogs, llamas and donkeys; foxlights; solar lights; and flagging to deter predators. One mentioned that New Mexico has banned coyote killing contests, but unwittingly still supports the killing of coyotes with the Wildlife Services contracts. She also asked if studies had been done and suggested relocating problem animals rather than killing them.
The financial report, given in more detail at https://www.grantcountybeat.com/news/news-articles/58003-grant-county-commission-met-in-work-session-051920, was approved by commissioners.
After discussion on the Community Wildfire Protection Plan at the above linked work session, commissioners approved the plan at the regular meeting.
Asset deletions and transfers were also approved.
An agreement between Santa Fe County and Grant County was approved to house adult inmates if one or the other detention facility runs out of space.
A construction agreement with Classic Industries Inc. to provide improvements at the Gila Senior Center was approved, with District 5 Commissioner Harry Browne abstaining for an undisclosed reason.
Another construction agreement with Classic Industries Inc. was approved to pour a concrete pad for placement of a fire truck bay at the Tyrone Volunteer Fire Department Hachita substation. The metal building has been purchased.
Two resolutions garnered commissioner approval. The first, the 2019 audit, which had only one minor finding, received kudos from Browne. "Congratulations to the staff. Excellent audit."
The second resolution authorized the execution and delivery of a grant agreement of $10,000 for an educational project on the 2020-21 Wildfire Risk Reduction. The $1,000 match will be met with county in-kind services.
As the Grant County Health Care Claims Board, commissioners approved the April indigent claims in the amount of $4,578.50 and the corrected February/March indigent claims for an additional $487.65.
After reconvening as the board of commissioners, Commission members heard elected officials' reports.
Sheriff Frank Gomez said he had no training report, because all training was suspended in March. "For the mandated training, we will provide it in August and October, mostly with in-house resources." He said the D.A.R.E. program would offer flexible options next school year.
"We are moving toward more normal operations," Gomez reported. "Grant operations were also suspended but are ramping up. We will restart enforcement in the Gila National Forest on Memorial Day. We have seen increased number of domestic violence cases, fights and DWIs, as well as a rise in property crime."
He noted that a number of law enforcement individuals have been killed nationally when answering domestic violence calls. "Covid-19 has been stressful for all of us. HIDTA (High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas) has been busy with seizures of drugs, including marijuana, heroin and methamphetamine, and several have been arrested."
Browne asked what happened to vehicles and cash that are confiscated. Gomez said they are turned over to federal officials.
District 1 Commissioner and Commission Chairman Chris Ponce noted that the County Treasurer Steve Armendariz had emailed his report, and it was in commissioners' packets.
During commissioner reports, District 3 Commissioner Alicia Edwards thanked her fellow commissioners for productive meetings on dealing with Gila Regional Medical Center, and that meetings had included the County Manager Charlene Webb, County Attorney Brad Springer, GRMC Interim Chief Executive Officer Scott Manis, and GRMC Chief Financial Officer Richard Stokes, as well as the remaining three members of the GRMC Board of Trustees, James Marshall, Cindy Moreno and Ed Wilmot.
"Every person I've talked to has said that we cannot survive as a community without our hospital," Edwards said. "What also gives me hope that that every person has also said: 'Whatever I can do to help, I will.'"
She noted that the virus has raised fear, defiance and altruism in the community. "We're all under stress."
Browne commended Edwards for her comments. "I think you are calling for civility. I've heard people being accosted for wearing masks. I wear my mask to protect others. As for the recent protests, I'm usually very supportive of protests. In fact, I've organized a few, but when it endangers others and breaks the law, I don't support them."
District 2 Commissioner Javier "Harvey" Salas said it's a hard time and there is uncertainty about everything. "We want everyone to reopen their businesses, but what is especially scary to me is if the virus comes back this winter. We have to respect others' views and take them into consideration. Dealing with the hospital is hard and scary. We want to let the public know that we're trying our best to make the right choices. I give thanks to the three remaining board members. We know other rural hospitals around the county have closed. We don't want that to happen to our, because it is an integral part of the community."
District 4 Commissioner Billy Billings apologized for his tardiness. "I want to thank Commissioner Salas for his persistence in working on getting a management company, as well as Manager Webb for getting HealthTechS3 to come in to do a SWOT (strength, weakness, opportunity and threat) analysis even before a contract is signed. I met with Interim CEO Manis and said it was the worst time for us to be in this predicament, but we did our best to preserve our hospital. I welcome Scott and HealthTechS3, because the hospital is facing some hard decisions. We will have to show restraint and let them manage the hospital."
"I, too, would call for civility," Billings continued. "I, too, have had the experience of seeing people being shamed, but it was for not wearing masks."
He noted that if anyone can open up for business, it should be health care. "The hospital is starting to do some elective surgeries. My concern is that we've made the cases of virus so flat, but when can we open up GRMC more fully. Maybe we need a resolution to that effect? Restaurants are getting agitated. Would commissioners support their opening up with carefully spaced dining? I believe it has to be county-by-county monitoring. We prepared for an emergency too soon and it didn't happen. We need to get more information from the city and county task force working on the reopening plan."
Browne said he would like to respond to some of Billings' excellent ideas. "I, too, had some issues that we started closing too early. I think that needs discussion. On opening more hospital services, I think is super clear. We are a large state. I think there is room to improve. I would approve county-to-county resolutions. Resolutions on dining at this point may be moot."
Edwards said she agreed with commissioners Billings and Browne. "I would add that I'm in favor of the county-by-county approach. One of the most important tools is contact tracing and testing for cases. I see no evidence of that increasing here. We need the county-by-county approach, especially on the isolation piece. The county did participate in the re-opening plan. We need to be able to have the county look at itself."
Salas said: "I think we are in closer contact in grocery stores and hardware stores, than we would be in restaurants. It doesn't seem right to follow what Las Cruces, Albuquerque and Santa Fe should do."
Ponce said he, too, would be open to taking the county-by-county approach. "It's scary with businesses closing for good. I would agree with most of your comments. My first grandson was born April 29 and I've never seen him or held him. We keep hearing we will have another test of the virus in the fall."
"I want to thank all the commissioners," Ponce continued. "We have to look out for the welfare and safety of the county. That's why we have taken on Gila Regional. I appreciate all of your time on that. Our five commissioners have it in their best interest to make the hospital work. We know we are having late nights, and also extra meetings. I don't know if the SWOT will give us all the answers, but it will help. The hospital affects all of us."
The commissioners convened into executive session as the hospital governing board.