Published: 2:33 pm, Sun. Jan. 1st, 2017Updated: 2:30 pm
For Royce Pearson, serving as a member of the Board of Commissioners for Eddy County was less about politics and more about people.
As he reflects on his four-year term following a losing reelection bid in the June primary, Pearson acknowledges the difficult decisions that fall to any governing body but focuses more on the interactions with constituents and fellow county employees alike.
These, he feels, are the measure of truly dedicated politicians.
Pearson was frequently touted by those constituents for his accessibility and willingness to listen and, when possible, render aid. He could frequently be found on Facebook providing updates and information during times of crisis, both real and perceived, and would seek out solutions for those asking for county assistance.
“Being able to respond to the needs of the people in the county,” was Pearson’s quick answer to his favorite aspect of the job.
“I prided myself in answering people promptly,” he said. “I might not always have been able to give people the answer they wanted to hear, but it was important for me to get back to people and not leave them hanging.”
When it came to the business aspect of county government, there were plenty of things to dislike, as well. Pearson pointed to instances when the commission was caught between a rock and the state, forced into situations where what they wanted was vastly different, but unfortunately irrelevant, to what had to be done.
Topping that list, of course, is finances.
Money management is the primary source of contention between most government entities and citizens, and Eddy County was not exempt, frequently accused of wasting funds.
“I was a commissioner that got criticized for spending too much money,” Pearson said, “but here is how that money was spent. We saw a new Eddy County Sheriff’s Office complex built, a new kitchen in the Eddy County Detention Center was done, we erected a new warehouse close by the Administration Building in Carlsbad, and we purchased the Permian Basin Fire Training Academy for $1.6 million, which was a heck of a deal.
“We have a new building here in Artesia on First Street that houses our DMV, treasurer, assessor and clerk which we’re very proud of, the North and South Road Departments had brand-new buildings constructed, there was new paving on North 13th Street, North 26th Street and Fairgrounds Road, we expanded our Fairgrounds Convenience Station, built a new convenience station to serve Happy Valley and the citizens living near the truck bypass in Carlsbad, and we became self-sufficient with our waste pickup and transfer.
“We purchased equipment, vehicles and trucks for both the North and South road yards, and I emphasize here that whenever there was a piece of equipment purchased for the south, there was an identical piece of equipment purchased for the south. Ray Romero (Public Works director) and his staff are very good about balancing new purchases for both ends of the county, contrary to what some would believe.”
The commission was particularly called on the carpet last year when they sought to enact the state’s full allowable three-eighths of 1 percent increase in “hold harmless” gross receipts taxes in order, the commission said, to repair damaged county roads. Pearson, along with Commissioners Glenn Collier of Artesia and James Walterscheid of Carlsbad, voted against the full enactment, raising the GRT instead by one-eighth of 1 percent.
“I’ll admit I sometimes had second thoughts on that, thinking about having the money to pave 13 major county roads,” said Pearson. “But then my wife reminded me, ‘What about those 350-some-odd people that voted for you in the election that know you stand against just forcing a tax on the people without referendum?’
“We all, I guess, need a woman in our lives to keep us straight and remind us that, ‘Hey, this is not who you are.’ To have done that would’ve been a vendetta, and I’m not about vendettas.”
Pearson also pointed to other difficulties during his term, including controversy between the county’s volunteer fire departments and Emergency Services Manager, undocumented immigrants housed at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) in Artesia, and the debate over the county’s hiring of an outside auditing firm to perform an audit of oil and gas companies operating in Eddy County.
“That reared its ugly head again during the election,” Pearson said.
The county was ordered in the spring by the State Supreme Court to allow the tax assessor to hire the Arkansas firm to perform the audit, which came with a price tag of $750,000, or face penalties and fines.
Pearson said at the time, “I have never, never been in favor of the outside audit, but when you get pushed against a wall and the Supreme Court is saying, ‘You will allow her to do that or you’ll be fined for interfering with the Office of the County Tax Assessor,’ we acted accordingly.”
“There was also the state’s sweeping of our DWI and E911 funding,” Pearson said. “And forcing that health safety net pool on us. We had probably in excess of $3.5 million going out the back door to the State of New Mexico, and that wasn’t very pleasant. Even though our local legislators didn’t support that and felt that it was unconstitutional, still it carried.”
Sometimes, Pearson said, things just didn’t work the way the county would have preferred, but that didn’t stop them from trying.
He made three “fly-in” trips to Washington, D.C., along with other area officials, to visit the Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service, Border Patrol, Homeland Security, Department of Agriculture and other agencies, along with New Mexico’s congressional delegation.
“The idea behind that is to go out there at least once a year and get in front of them with the things that are important to us where we live,” Pearson said.
Then came the situations beyond anyone’s control.
“I never knew I’d get involved with two major flood events and one Goliath snowstorm during my term, but that’s what happened,” Pearson said. “And kudos to our Public Works Department, to our county management, emergency management, fire services, volunteers, Emergency Operations Center, and the companies we hired to help us with snow removal, like Crockett Trucking and Sweatt Construction.
“We rescued several in the floods and snowstorm. We evacuated SKP and moved RVs to the Fairgrounds during the floods, and I want to thank the Eddy County Fair Board for allowing that to happen and not charging those people one dime for staying there. We had a lot of people out in the snow, too, probably 30 or 40, who needed to take medicine, and we had workers and volunteers who went out and helped them.”
As he prepares to walk away from county government, Pearson says he is perhaps proudest of the fellow public servants he leaves behind.
“We hired Roberta Smith as our finance director, and she’s done a wonderful job,” Pearson said. “I’m proud to say that Eddy County received a clean audit for last year and will receive another clean audit this year. We have Brian Stephens in building maintenance, Wesley Hooper, our community services manager, Billy Massingill who’s doing a wonderful job as warden, Ray Romero with the road department, Fabian Gomez who runs the landfill. We have good people in position.
“I’d also like to extend a big thank-you to Rick Rudometkin (county manager), Kenney Rayroux (assistant county manager), and our administrative secretary, Gay West, who’s one of those unsung heroes who just does and supports without any kudos or pats on the back.”
Pearson says he’s also grateful for the support he received from his constituents and is looking forward to the new opportunities that will accompany the changes in his life.
“It’s very difficult for me to leave this job,” Pearson said. “I thoroughly enjoyed it. We – not me, but we – have done much to move Eddy County forward, and I consider the folks who work for Eddy County part of my extended family. I’m very proud of what we’ve accomplished together as a county commission.
“To those of you who supported me wholeheartedly and voted for me in two different elections, I’ll always have a special place in my heart for you. I thank you for your support. Life goes on, and I truly believe that when God closes one door, new doors will open. I find myself retired not only from the county commission but from Holly Energy Partners. The retirement from Holly Energy was not voluntary, but there’s a blessing in disguise in all of it, and I look forward to the next chapter in my life. It’s been a please to serve as your county commissioner, and be blessed.”