Sunday, May 8, 2016

Why We Need Wayne Hancock and Dr. David Garcia

Wayne Hancock is a dedicated and conscientious public servant, and voters should retain him as county commissioner.

We met recently at a small locally-owned coffeehouse. As Wayne went in to get his coffee, he spotted a couple of stray napkins blowing around on the patio. He bent over to pick them up, put them in the trash, then went in. 

He's that kind of guy. The opposite of pompous; and naturally inclined toward doing the right thing.
Hancock has tried to do right by Doña Ana County. He's proud the County's gone five straight years without a negative audit finding. He's proud they got a glass-recycling facility. 

The commission has also started a public transportation system for the south county. Rural folks, some old and/or poor, were missing medical appointments. (La Clinica Familia reports 60% no-shows outside the city.) Students were missing classes at DACC. 

Critics confuse this system, perhaps intentionally, with the larger one ($10 million annually in bonds) that voters rejected. This more modest program? El Paso Metropolitan Planning Organization recently chipped in $109,000, and the NM Department of Transportation $419,000. A $264,000 investment has met an obvious need – and brought in $528K. Ridership has increased steadily.

Anti-Hancock sound-offs, some basing their points on columns I've written criticizing the county administration, misunderstand (intentionally in some cases) the facts and the law. Mad at Hancock because you think Chris Barela broke the law? A few years ago, when I reported some of what I'd learned to enforcement authorities, Commissioner Hancock also reported what he knew. So he ain't in cover-up mode. He was concerned, as citizen and as commissioner. Mad that the county settled a lawsuit or took it to trial? Quite possibly the insurer (NM Association of Counties) made that decision. Not the commission.

I do question the conduct of some county officials. Some county employees say Julia Brown should fire Debra Weir, then resign. I'm not sure they're wrong; but commissioners may know things we don't. It may be that the commission, in moving more deliberately and carefully, is make a better decision, based on the whole picture. Their care and deliberation could help avoid a lawsuit if they ultimately fire Ms. Brown. Running this county is complex. Employees are a major consideration, but not the only one. 

In four years Hancock has learned a lot about the complex mechanism that is our county government, and he's sincerely trying to improve it. We'd lose that learning if he left the commission. Same with Dr. David Garcia. Dr. Garcia is almost painfully sincere in his concern that things be done right. They're intelligent, thoughtful men with gumption and good instincts. That's more important than whether we agree on every issue.

A new commissioner trying to deal with the administration would be at a disadvantage. Meanwhile, Sheriff Kiki Vigil (who has warred with Brown and opined that Dennis Montoya would be a better manager) is actively backing three candidates. If elected, those three (if beholden to Sheriff Vigil) could fire Brown and hire Dennis Montoya. While Dennis is a smart guy, that's not the right solution. (I've tried to reach Vigil for comment.)

The key decisions that face us are more significant and complex than the bickering between sheriff and county officials. Mr. Hancock has a better grasp of those than his challengers, and has the maturity and strength of character to stand up against interests who would seek to abuse our precious and limited resources. That's why retaining Hancock and Garcia matters.

When we finished talking, Wayne bussed our table before I could even lend a hand.
 [ The above column appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, 8 May, and on the newspaper's website.  It will also appear presently on the KRWG-TV website.  I welcome comments, questions, and criticisms here or on either of those websites.]

[One note on the transportation system: There was a proposal for a transportation system that would have required something like $10 million in annually.  Voters rejected that, and made clear they thought it was way too expensive for this county.  The commissioners listened.  They put in place a system that should help meet the need but cost a fraction of the initial amount the voters rejected.  However, I should clarify my discussion of this in the column.  Apparently the $264,000 is what's been spent to-date.  (As of the end of April.)  Which in turn has netted $528,000 in grants.  The overall cost for the year should be another $56-$64,000 per month, depending on fuel costs and other variables.  Eight months at $60K each would be $480,000 -- a hell of a lot less than $10 million, but more than $264K.  On the other hand, there's a reasonable likelihood of further grants, too.  Thus I didn't want someone to attack this column by noting that $264,000 isn't the cost for the whole year; but it seems likely the ultimate cost, after subtracting out what grants cover, will be minimal.  That sounds like good business to me.]
[On Vigil and Montoya: I want neither to be an alarmist nor to ignore this point.  I can't say how likely it is that a revamped commission would fire Brown and replace her with Montoya.  What we know (from Sheriff Vigil himself) is that he is walking the streets for candidates in three districts, and has threatened current commissioners that they'll be gone.   If his candidates win, his level of control over them is another unknown.  Further, his reported remark that Mr. Montoya would be a better county manager than Ms. Brown may have been offhand.  Still, it's troublesomeUnfortunately, he didn't call me back.  I'd have liked to include his side on this.] 

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