AlamogordoTownnews.com – Mayoral Candidates A Question on Pay and Accomplished Legislation

Alamogordo is in the middle of early voting for multiple positions within the municipal government. AlamogordoTownNews.com issued 26 questions to the two mayoral candidates and received their responses. A few questions of the 26 were questions around campaign finances and personal finances related to the salary of commissioners and the office of the mayor.

The Founding Fathers never intended a permanent political class controlled by the wealthy and never intended for there to be career politicians. Our government was set up for citizen statesmen, not for career politicians at every level be it city or county commission, mayor, or congress person.

The idea was “citizen statesmen.” Our founding fathers wanted honorable people of common origins to do their duty and serve their city, county, state, or country for a limited time, then step aside and go back to their farms or businesses and let others serve in their place. The design was not for careers in politics. No matter how good the man or woman, as terms pass and decades tally, they become beholden to the powers that perpetuate them.

So, in that vein of thinking in our 26 questions we asked the two mayoral candidates question number 23.” Given the job is a part time job and one of public service, would you be willing to accept the position if elected for NO pay and dedicate the public check each month to a local community organization rotating the donation monthly?”

The responses were almost comical, if one really reads into them, and one should really read and digest the candidate responses.

A question for the public is this? Non-profit organizations have oversight by an appointed board and operate on a volunteer basis (without pay) to ensure the non-profit is managed in the best interest of the agencies mission. Board members are not employees of the agency, they have the same oversite responsibilities of that agency as the city commission and mayors’ office has of the budget and enforcement actions of city government.

 Why do we not, hold the positions of part time politicians, to the same principle?

Do we get better leadership at the city commission level and the office of mayor by paying for it?

Is the leadership of Alamogordo better than the leadership that works for free of the best local non-profit organization? Think about that for a moment?

The city budget is about a $50 to $60 Million dollars and the pay to the commission is little in comparison to the overall budget. However, pay, any pay does lead to career politicians. The sitting commissioners get $500.00 a month. The mayor gets $800.00 a month in salary.

The requirement is to attend 2 commission meetings per month.

Wonder what the hourly wage of our potential mayor would be? Now let us make some presumptions for thoughts to ponder…

Let’s divide two meetings, an average of 3 hours a meeting and let’s say each candidate puts in 3 hours of preparation and reading before each meeting, soooo… about, 12 hours a month in direct services.

Now of course the commissioners and the mayor answer email on occasion and take constituent phone calls.

We will make another presumption based on our experience in government service in a city many times the size of Alamogordo. We doubt that constituent dialog is a daily occurrence given the size of Alamogordo, so let’s suppose they devote 8 hours a week to constituent services that 24 hours a month.

Total constituents work we will estimate at about 36 hours a month. (Of course, each candidate will more than likely defend their work suggesting they work countless hours for constituents and the city of Alamogordo.} The constituents know the truth!

For the mayor that would be an average of about $22.00 an hour or double the minimum wage or average wage for a Wal-Mart employee, restaurant worker or hotel worker in Alamogordo. Per the US Census and Wikipedia, males in Alamogordo have a median income of $28,163 versus $18,860 for females. The per capita income for the city was $14,662. So, the pay inequity of women becomes more obvious as women per capita in Alamogordo make about $9.00 and hour. So, the mayoral candidate, elected will be making 2 times the average per capita income of their constituents under this presumptive scenario.

There again, what happened to service for one’s community? Most candidates running for an election are using other people’s money or “campaign donations”, then the candidate gets paid for the job. What a deal! What other job in American does one use other people’s money to campaign for and profit from? Only a career politician.

We are not advocating for no pay for political leadership; however, we do wonder if pay were taken out of the equation of politics, what kind of leadership would we then have? If the political system was held to similar oversight as non-profits would the results be what one sees today or better? A thought to ponder….

The responses to the question that we …

AlamogordoTownNews.com – “Given the job is a part time job and one of public service, would you be willing to accept the position if elected for NO pay and dedicate the public check each month to a local community organization rotating the donation monthly?”

Susan Payne Response: “This question is full of presumptions. I assure you I don’t really get a paycheck for this position, but I am grateful for the medical and dental insurance that my paycheck goes toward even if it’s not enough to cover all of it.”

AlamogordoTownNews.com Fact Check – The candidate gets a paycheck per the city budget, so the answer is rather misleading. Rather the candidate spends her money on medical or dental insurance is irrelevant to the question. It is income and she, per her answer “is spending it on insurance.” According to the US Census 6.9% or about 2200 residents of Alamogordo don’t have insurance, thus the “medical and dental insurance that candidate Payne’s paycheck goes to” affords her coverage that about 2200 of her constituents can’t afford to maintain. Thus, yes candidate Payne does receive a payment from the city of Alamogordo and based on her answer she

Nadia Sikes Response: My job as a commissioner has been FULL-TIME. I spend all my time working for the betterment of our community and if anything, would support an ordinance to pay our Mayor and Commissioners more fairly.”

AlamogordoTownNews.com- Fact Check – We cannot substantiate candidate Sikes response that her job as commissioner has been “full time.” AlamogordoTownNews.com believes both candidates spend much of their time for the betterment of their community. Givin their resume of community service we believe that to be a fact, that they each work toward their vision of betterment to the community.

The question however is, are they doing in while in service in their official roles as government leaders, or a private citizen or as a leader of a non-profit? Only they know what is in their heart, and only you the voter can interpret their actions.

Ms. Sikes response that she would support and ordinance to pay the mayor and the commissioners “more fairly” is concerning. What is “more fair” is a question? And since the topic of “fairer” pay was raised, how do the candidates stand on the minimum wage for city staff? Are the entry level minimum wages paid “fairly’ based on their contribution to the city? Who is of more value the lifeguard making minimum wage protecting the drowning child at the city owned pool or the mayor? You decide?

AlamogordoTownNews.com rates both candidates answer to the question of pay for the mayors’ office a failure, the responses don’t represent the Christian values of “selfless service to one’s community” one would expect for a small town of 31,384 constituents.

Along the vein of pay, the question then becomes; are we as citizens getting the government, we pay these candidates to provide us? Both are sitting commissioners, and both have the power to initiate dialog, craft proposed ordinances and lead the city via legislation.

So, are we getting the legislative progress we deserve in the city of Alamogordo to elevate one of these two individuals to the level of mayor and spokesperson for the city of Alamogordo? Along that line we asked the following question

AlamogordoTownNews.com – If you have held office please provide 3 pieces of legislation, ordinances, or initiatives that you personally sponsored that were focused on jobs or education. Please provide the outcomes to the legislation since passed…

Nadia Sikes Response: “Proudest of my work with Code Enforcement, with improvements to our green spaces and the Bark Park, Alamogordo Mainstreet and ZIA, our public transportation, our library. Before I initiated the ordinance to require campaign reporting on the City level, there was NO reporting.

AlamogordoTownNews.com Fact Check – the question was what three pieces of legislation, ordinances or initiatives did you personally sponsor that were focused on jobs or education. Based on the response it would appear the direct answer is zero however Ms. Sikes did initiate a very important piece of legislation that would follow under the sunshine laws to require public reporting of campaign contribution. We too, agree that is an important piece of legislation to have initiated and are happy that was successfully passed by the full commission.

We ask both candidates to please provide the AlamogordoTownNews.com a direct copy of your last campaign filing? We could request one via the open records act and will do so if the candidates don’t provide us such information, but it would be timelier and more considerate if each candidate would email the AlamogordoTownNews.com a copy of their most recent filing prior to election day for publication.

Susan Payne Response: “The city does not specifically have any ordinances that would fall into either of these categories. HOWEVER I was heavily involved in reworking our LEDA ordinance which focuses on job creation. In addition, I sit on the Otero County Economic Development Board and focus allot of time on Job and business creation.”

AlamogordoTownNews.com Fact Check – the question was answered by Ms. Payne and the answer is indeed interesting that the city “does not have any ordinances that fall into the category of job creation or education.”  Ordinances that may be true, but initiatives or legislative actions? It does appear the commission has acted in relation to jobs and education.

The city during the tenure of both commissioners has acted or initiatives on job creation at some point. Incentives or accommodations by the city were given to the Medlin Ramps leadership with a commitment of so many jobs to be created. The commission under Ms. Payne passed a “resolution” recently related to schools as a statement on school polices by the state. Thus, the board and Ms. Payne has acted related to jobs and education, yet both candidates seem to have skimmed over their actions in their responses.

What other actions have the candidates taken and skimmed over?  

An informed citizen is important as the role of the mayor and the commission is to work on behalf of Alamogordo’s citizens. Our role as citizens is to be informed, educated, and ensure our local governmental leadership is responsive to our local community needs. Learn, ask questions act, and get involved.

Both candidates have a very solid resume of service to the community and on the level of service and passion for the community both certainly have passion and a commitment to service.

The question we need to ask ourselves is which candidate has the temperament of collaboration and is the candidate to best represent the city of Alamogordo with the state and national leadership to help secure matching state and federal funds for public works projects, major street, and highway repairs, for business development and revitalization.

Which candidate has the stage presence, to collaborate with the powers of other regional cities, the county, state, and federal leadership and represent the bests interests in Alamogordo?

Vote, the future of Alamogordo is decided by your vote.

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Tackling Urban Blight Only Happens When Government Takes Responsibility at the Local Level – Alamogordo Town News Special Report

Today the city of Alamogordo Fire Department released a press release concerning the property fire at 3002 Del Sur Fire was ruled an arson and suspects have been identified for arrest. Excellent job on the part of the Alamogordo Police Department and the Alamogordo Fire Department in collaboration and solving a crime that could have resulted in damage or death to property owners of adjacent properties. Kudo’s to Alamogordo Fire Department for its quick response and for its arson investigation team and collaboration with the Alamogordo police. This cross department collaboration is an example of how government departments can and should work together for the common good of the citizens.

The press release from the City of Alamogordo Fire Department today reads…

Alamogordo, NM Thursday, July 8th, 2021, on May 3rd, 2021, the Alamogordo Fire
Department was dispatched to a structure fire at 3002 2 Del Sur Avenue. After the fire was quickly extinguished, the Alamogordo Fire Department Fire Investigations Unit conducted an Origin and Cause investigation. The fire was determined to be Incendiary in nature. A collaborative investigation with the Alamogordo Police Department Detectives Division developed two persons of interest. After a thorough investigation it was confirmed, the fire was caused by an act of Arson. Subsequently the collaborative investigation has led to charges being pursued. The investigation is closed.

Contact for this Release
William Skaggs
AFD Fire Investigations Unit Leader
Fire Investigator & Inspector
575-635-7589
WSkaggs@ci.alamogordo.nm.u

The bigger crime than the actual arson involved, is the city commissions lack of leadership in relation to issues of blight within the city of Alamogordo. An editorial was published in the Alamogordo Daily News, May 4, 2021 by Beth Crabbe, outlining her ongoing concerns with the neighboring property and the city’s failure in policy or enforcement. Ms. Crabbe owns an adjacent property to 3002 Del Sur, her engagement with the city of Alamogordo highlights as a prime example, of a bad issue going even worse, and the results of ongoing issues within the city of blight and the failure of city leadership to act upon those safety issues.

Per her editorial…

“At 6:46 p.m. on May 3, 2021, the house next door to me at 3002 Del Sur caught on fire.

This home has been vacant for at least 15 years. This story is one of neglect. It is one that occurs throughout our community. It is something that needs to be addressed through city ordinances and to create ordinances and repercussions for home owners who do not maintain their properties. I am sure the city has spent a large amount on the abatement of this yard for the past 10 to 15 years. Does the owner at some time not run out of their ability to continue to have the yard abated because of their irresponsibility?”

The question for the city commission, do the ordinances exist to help terminate this urban blight problem? If they do, why is code enforcement not more aggressive in pushing property owners toward resolution to resolve blight? Fifteen years? In what universe does it take 15 years to solve a blight issue. Fifteen years is excessive and shows negligence by multiple parties. If enforcement of ordinances related to blight does not exist, then where is the city leadership? If they do exist where is the oversight?

As recently as Tuesday, I personally witnessed the results of urban blight and crime associated with it. As a partner business owner on New York Avenue, great progress is being made by the Alamogordo Main Street organization in building community consensus, surveying the community and working to secure funding for revitalization. But Tuesday mid afternoon, broad daylight, while in our store, we heard glass shatter and discovered one of the abandoned buildings a few stores up the street had the glass door kicked in and was vandalized. The police came, took our statement and reviewed the damage. Was an arrest made of the gentlemen driving a moped on the sidewalk that committed the damage? Not as of yet. But the bigger issue is the blight of these buildings. 

Business owners in the old town and primarily along 10th Street, and homeowners throughout the city, are faced with multiple buildings, both commercial and residential, that are vacant and are not being maintained, or occupied and not maintained. For the adjoining property owners and business owners, this blight creates a greater opportunity for crime and risk for the business owners and homeowners adjacent to these properties. It causes increased expense of the adjacent property owners and business owners in needing high lever security systems and because the zone is a blight zone insurance premiums can cost more if even attainable.

Other cities around this country have tackled urban blight with local city and county tax incentives to encourage upkeep of these properties. For commercial properties several cities in the US have created ordinances which reward property owners that offer low cost rents for these properties, by creating sales tax rebates and property tax rebates to homeowners and commercial building owners that offer low cost rentals in an attempt to revitalize a property. Has that been considered by the city commission? Is there a task force between the city and the county to craft policy around urban blight? What I have witnessed is finger pointing not collaborative dialog and policy debate. 

The city commissioners should appoint a task force consisting of public representatives as home and business property owners,  business owners that rent, commissioners at both the city and county level and commit to solving the issue with a task force that has a defined role in crafting policy and ordinances with a timetable of deliverables for the greater good of the overall community.

In cities that are less willing to go the route of tax rebates and incentives to owners, then those cities have tackled the issue, with very aggressive code enforcement against abandoned or derelict property owners. In speaking with some elected officials and commissioners, it does appear the only way to get enforcement action is by citizen complaints. However that does not always work as well. 

Note the adjacent property owner, Beth Crabbe’s, editorial published in the Alamogordo Daily News, May 4, 2021 where she claimed to have spoken to city officials of concern about the 3002 Del Sur property, to no avail!

“I have called DPS (Department of Public Safety), code enforcement and talked to the Mayor about this house. I have talked to the city attorney about my situation next door. This fire put many lives in danger and it is because of the lack of action to remove dangerous, deserted, neglected and dilapidated properties from our community. I am told we cannot do that because of regulations. It is time to change them.”

Yes, Ms. Crabbe it is time the commission act and take responsibility. They work for the public interest and we must ensure they do take responsibility.

Per the city budget the city of Alamogordo received in 2018, $170,512 for a program funded by HUD

The CDBG grant program’s state and national objectives require that the funded activities address at least one of the
following:
1. Benefit principally low to moderate income families;
2. Aid in the prevention or elimination of slums or blight; or
3. To help meet an urgent need of recent origin that pose a serious and immediate threat to the health and welfare of the community where other financial resources are not available.

In 2019 under the leadership of commissioner Alfonso “Al” Hernandez he asked the City Planning Department  to draft an ordinance regulating the outward appearance of some types of buildings in the City’s commercial districts.

The proposed ordinance was discussed and tabled at the regular Alamogordo City Commission meeting Tuesday, Oct. 22. 2019, for the purpose of getting additional input from the building community.

Per Alamogordo City Planner Stella Rael at the time, “This is very important. Staff recommends approval of this amendment to maintain the beautification and integrity of our City.”

The streets listed as benefiting from the ordinance are Indian Wells Road, Scenic Avenue, First Street, White Sands Boulevard, 10th Street and Florida Avenue.

This is an interesting first step if indeed it was passed and shows leadership by Commissioner Hernandez in stepping up the city response to urban blight. But why such a limited area? Where is the response to blight and beautification for the whole city?

The draft ordinance would have updated the Alamogordo Code of Ordinance about specific requirements on certain streets in section 4 of the City Zoning Ordinance.

The proposed ordinance would require new buildings to have a brick or stone wainscot, at least 35 percent of sidewall height in the front of the building and on the sides of any building that is adjacent or abuts an arterial street or a full stucco façade on the front of the building or on a side that is adjacent or abuts an arterial street.

According to the Alamogordo Daily News. October 23, 2019 story by Nicole MaxwellAlamogordo City Commissioner Josh Rardin opposed the measure saying “We have trouble attracting businesses and people to Alamogordo anyway. Why would we want to put more restrictions on what they can and can’t build?”

No, Mr. Rardin as a new business partner in Alamogordo and our partnership having done business in communities on the west coast with very restrictive zoning rules, I can assure you zone enforcement and community guidelines encourage more upscale businesses to seek a presence in your community. However, the lack of guidelines or a free for all and the lack of code enforcement leading to urban blight, that sir, is what will drive investment to look at alternative communities to Alamogordo for investment and a presence. Upscale business interest prefer a community that takes pride in itself and has local community flavor verses a cookie cutter approach to every town looking the same. 

The recent fire on 3002 Del Sur was quickly put out and an investigation began by the Alamogordo Fire Investigations Unit. 

In an article published in the Alamogordo Daily News by Nicole Maxwell published May 14, 2021 The Fire Investigations Unit Leader of Alamogordo was quoted:

Every fire in Alamogordo is investigated,” Alamogordo Fire Department Fire Investigations Unit Leader William Skaggs said. “We’ve always investigated them, we’re just taking a more proactive rather than a reactive stance with it.”

In 2018, Alamogordo Fire Department started its own investigations team. Prior to 2018, the New Mexico State Fire Marshal’s Office would investigate fires, Skaggs said.

The fire department did their job! The police department did their job! Indictments have been crafted as a result of the actual fire.

Beth Crabbe’s, editorial published in the Alamogordo Daily News, May 4, 2021 said it well. The criminals of the actual fire will be found and prosecuted. But as Ms. Crabbe eloquently points out, the real indictment is the city of Alamogordo leadership and their failure to act on derelict buildings…

Quoting Ms. Crabbe:

This has gone beyond the visual appeal to our community, but has now embraced the lives of our fearless firefighters.

For 10 years I have called about this property. These fire dangers sit in our community with nothing being done. We risk the lives of our firefighters because of the lack of action by the city to remedy this situation.

I hear our hands are tied. Not if you create change. How long are we going to let these abandoned buildings sit, encourage vagrants to occupy them, create unsightliness to our community and most importantly, has potential for great harm to man – whether a vagrant or a firefighter?

The reality is the next act of vandalism, the next fire, the next loss as a result of inaction by the city commission is owned by them! 

Inaction is unnecessary, open the blinders as inaction by the commission is crime against the good citizens who care for their properties and care for this city. 

Those in power who fail to address this issue that not only impacts property values and business recruitment, their failure to act, at the core, makes them complicit in putting public safety at risk. 

Study other communities via a task force and see how they addressed the issue. A good example of a plan comes from Augusta Ga. See their response and ordinances put into action via  the link below..

https://www.augustaga.gov/DocumentCenter/View/14392/Blight-Pressentation

Now is the time for the city commission and those in power to act!

Set up a task force, now is the time to solve this issue for the greater good of the Alamogordo Community. 

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