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Public hearing on water rate increase

moved from March 28 to April 11

The Artesia Fire Department finally has its new chief.

Former AFD division chief Kevin Hope was confirmed by unanimous vote at Tuesday’s meeting of the Artesia City Council and will replace recently-retired J.D. Hummingbird as the department’s first new chief in more than a decade.

Hope worked for the AFD for 12 years, eventually attaining the title of division chief of operations and EMS. He left the department in June 2016 and has since served as fire marshal and director of Fire Services for Eddy County.

Hope was first presented to the council for consideration at its Feb. 14 meeting but failed to receive the five votes necessary for confirmation, with three councilors dissenting and one absent.

In accordance with government procedure, one of the three dissenting councilors had to nominate Hope for reconsideration Tuesday. Councilor Raul Rodriguez made the necessary motion, with Mayor Pro-Tem Terry Hill seconding.

“This position is a position that is highly ranking up there to lead our fire department, and I just wanted the chance to visit with (Hope) and for him to show me and enlighten me on the direction that we’re going in that department,” Rodriguez said following Hope’s hiring. “I apologize to him that he was caught up in some of our dissension up here, but sometimes it’s not the person you’re voting on it’s the procedures and principles that we stand behind.”

The dissenting councilors had expressed concern Feb. 14 over not having had the opportunity to personally interview the candidate chosen by the hiring committee. As is standard, a committee was formed – which consisted of Budget and Finance Committee chair Bill Rogers, Police and Fire Committee chair Kent Bratcher, Personnel Committee member Nora Sanchez, Mayor Phil Burch, and Human Resources Director Sandi Farley – to interview the five finalists for the position of chief.

According to City Hall, of the city’s six current department heads, only one was interviewed by the full city council: Farley, who was able to travel from California to Artesia for two days during her candidacy. The hiring committees are utilized to eliminate the scheduling and logistics difficulties involved with arranging for the full council to meet with all candidates.

“My position all along was that we needed more information, and I still feel strongly,” said Councilor Luis Florez. “If (councilors) don’t feel comfortable with information or they don’t have enough information, they should not vote.

“No offense to Mr. Hope … it just happened that way, and I think everybody exercised their democratic rights to do that, and so it worked out fine and it’s a positive thing.”

“I would like to say thank you to the councilors for selecting Chief Hope,” said AFD Division Chief of Training and Safety Rick Burks, who represented the AFD at the meeting. “I’m looking forward to working with him again, and I know that Chief Hope will have great insight and take the department even further along.”

In other business Tuesday, City Clerk Aubrey Hobson introduced Joanne Jones as Artesia’s new records supervisor. Jones replaces Lisa Johnston, who retired at the end of January after 26 years.

The council approved an ordinance for Case No. 17-01, final plat of Stonegate Subdivision No. 1, as well as a Subdivision Improvement Agreement for Southgate Subdivision No. 1.
Community Development Director Jim McGuire requested approval on behalf of the Changing Lives Coalition for the use of kitchen facilities at the Artesia Center for the program’s after-school and summer meals programs.

7024U Youth Outreach Center returned a summer lunch program to Artesia in June 2016 after the community went several years without one but has found the kitchen facilities at 7024U to be inadequate to meet demand.

Brissa Padilla, executive director of the Changing Lives Coalition, said the organization would assume all responsibility for paperwork, employee training, and liability insurance, and the program would not require the services of city employees at the Artesia Center. The request was approved by the council.

The council also passed a resolution opposing House Bill 174 regarding local elections. The bill is currently pending in the Senate Rules Committee after passing the House 38-29.

Burch informed the council the bill aims to requires that all elections below the county level – including not only municipal elections but those of school boards, hospital boards, water or soil conservation boards, etc. – be held on a single day, “selected by,” Burch said, “who else but Santa Fe.”

Each county would be in charge of supervising those elections.

“They will be paid for, oddly enough, by guess who – the cities,” Burch said. “I think they’ll have a difficult time running elections for the governing bodies in Artesia, Carlsbad, Malaga, Loving, Hope, Loco Hills, as well as all the school boards, hospital boards, and any issues those boards want the voter to vote on, whether it’s a bonding issue or a tax issue… they all have to be on that ballot.”

Burch also pointed out the bill includes a directive that any bond or tax questions be conducted by mail ballot. Ballots would be sent to every individual currently named on municipalities’ voting lists.

“We know that there are people that haven’t voted in five years and haven’t lived here for five years that remain on that list,” Burch said, “and anyone on that list will be sent a ballot. You have no idea who filled it out and sent it back in. So this is the scary part.”

The council unanimously approved opposing HB 174.

The mayor also informed the council the city’s most recent monthly Gross Receipts Tax payment from the state, expected to total between $1.7 and $1.8 million, was only $713,000.

“We were dinged right around $1 million by Tax and Rev… no Valentine with it or anything, just short a million dollars,” said the mayor.

Burch said the city called the state requesting an explanation and was told one would be given.

“To this date, we’ve not heard from them,” said the mayor. “So we’ll keep trying.”

In addition to the hiring of a new fire chief Tuesday, the council also approved the hiring of Charles Wolf as a police corporal at a pay rate of $4,641 per month and Bill Bailey as a water technician, $2,127 per month, as well as the promotion of former teen services librarian Erin Loveland to library supervisor at a rate of $4,169 per month.

The council granted permission to advertise and fill the positions of solid waste equipment operator, two water technicians, cemetery equipment operator, and Librarian II, teen services.

Pulled from Tuesday’s consent agenda was an item regarding the setting of a public hearing for consideration of the city’s proposed water rate increase. Due to scheduling conflicts within the committee, the date of that hearing was changed from March 28 to April 11.

As part of the remainder of its consent agenda, the council approved permission for:

• the resignation of Dora Sotelo Ornelas, solid waste equipment operator, effective Feb. 14.
• the resignation of Simon Navarette, water technician, effective Feb. 20.
• the resignation of William Drew Anderson, water technician, effective Feb. 23.
• the resignation of Justin Coburn, cemetery equipment operator, effective Feb. 24.
• one police employee to attend the Taser Axon Conference in Scottsdale, Ariz.
• one wastewater employee to attend the NMRWA Annual Conference in Albuquerque.
• one wastewater employee to attend the NMWWA Northwest Section Workshop in Farmington.
• one fire employee to attend the New Mexico EMS Educators Conference in Ruidoso.
• one police employee to attend Conducting Pre-Employment Background Investigations training in Artesia.
• one police employee to attend the New Mexico Gang Task Force Conference in Albuquerque.
• one fire employee to attend Rope Rescue Technician Level I training in Cloudcroft.
• one fire employee to attend Fire Officer II training in Albuquerque.