Tuesday's county commission meeting started with Commission Chair Isabella Solis urging citizens to respect commissioners and ended with citizens chanting “Shame!”
At issue: should the County provide $350,000 toward continuing bus service throughout the south county?
The transit folks were to make a presentation. The chamber was full of people wanting to speak. Suddenly none of this was permitted.
The Chair asked for a motion. Commissioner Garrett made one. Some thought Commissioner Gonzales, whose district includes many who use the buses, would second. He didn't. Meanwhile Commissioner Vasquez had disappeared – apparently to avoid facing the issue. (He hasn't yet explained.)
An unseconded motion dies. No vote. No discussion. No public comment. Gonzales stayed silent. Vasquez stayed away. Garrett tried to withdraw the motion, to permit discussion. Commissioner Rawson said the commission should move on.
The room erupted in shouts of “Shame! Shame!” I went to the microphone to urge the commission, if it wanted respect, to extend respect – by letting folks speak.
Solis is right: we should show commissioners respect – or at least civility. “Civility” and “courtesy” differ from “respect.” Respect is something we feel. I respect the commissioners for taking on a tough job and for hoping to do right. I respect Garrett and Rawson for standing up and defending their positions when asked. When newer commissioners duck questions, I can't respect that. I hope they learn better soon. Meanwhile, we should express our disappointment courteously. Courtesy should be mutual.
I'm appalled that the commissioners simply refused to hear their constituents. Garrett called their conduct “disrespectful, whatever your position.” Some came from the south county, at some inconvenience. Bus dispatcher Leticia Lopez said, “I hear the cries of need every day from people who ride the buses.” She described a lady from Mesquite with two children, whose mother was dying of cancer in Juarez. They take the blue line to Anthony, the purple line to El Paso, then the metro to Mexico. “Before us, she had no way to go even to Anthony.”
Commissioner Gonzalez, these are your people. You coached many of them. You taught them history. You requested their votes as an upstanding man who cared about them and their communities.
I haven't heard good reasons not to listen to the bus company. Rawson says he opposes the measure because “the voters rejected it.” Voters rejected $10 million to start something – not $350,000 to keep something going, with the state paying more. (Further discussion on today's blog post.) The buses seemed a good idea, seem to be gaining riders, serve a need, and have drawn funding from other sources. Our poorer citizens need transportation – and our rural areas have plenty of poor people.
That doesn't mean the system is perfect! I hear meaningful criticisms and questions, not just from commissioners. But elected commissioners should face this issue like grownups, listening to the arguments, asking appropriate questions, and making reasonable decisions. (They probably should approve the funding but suggest improvements.)
Whether the bus company and its riders are right or wrong or some of each, sticking our fingers in our ears and running away, as Vasquez and the others did, is not fair or meaningful consideration of an issue. (Vasquez has scheduled three community meetings this week.)
Proponents note that the requested amount is only $1.75 per county resident. I'm delighted to pay $1.75 so that residents of the South County have low-cost transportation to schools, jobs, medical facilities, and family. Friday I sent a check for $17.50. That should cover me -- plus Rawson, Solis, Gonzalez, Vasquez, Enrique Vigil, and four neighbors.
[Further reflections on "respect," and Chairperson Solis's request for it: as I mentioned, I feel we ought all to be civil and courteous to each other as much as we can; but I'd urge the Commission to gather respect by conducting business with more apparent thought, more openness and transparency, and more consideration (and respect) for constituents. As the Sun-News recently editorialized, government is an open, loud, and sometimes messy business. Commissioners should not have run from reporters, immediately after sacking Julia Brown a few weeks ago. They should have faced those reporters, even if fear of a lawsuit would limit what they could say to explain their action. They should have listened to the citizens who'd come to speak on transit, and to the transit folks, either during initial public comment or when the agenda item came up. They should have listened both because they might have learned something (as Commissioner Vasquez has said he did when riding the buses and talking to folks, which was a good thing on his part) and because people who've come all that way to speak on an issue that matters to them deserve that respect. If (as some fellow commissioners believe) Solis had prior knowledge that there'd be no second, she should have permitted such discussion during public comment; if she didn't know, then when the agenda came up and she discovered the fact that these folks would be tricked out of their chance to talk to their commissioners, she could have and should have allowed discussion then. And Commissioner Rawson should not have encouraged her to move on. Yeah, it would have cost an hour's time; but that's part of what commissioners get paid for.]
[The column mentions that District 5 Doña Ana County Commissioner John L. Vasquez has scheduled three community meetings to address issues of constituent concerns. Here's further information:
Meetings are scheduled at 6 p.m. on Monday, May 15, at the Doña Ana Community Resource Center, 5745 Ledesma Drive in Doña Ana; then Tuesday, May 16, at the Radium Springs Community Resource Center, 12060 Lindbeck Road; and finally, Wednesday, May 17, at the Village of Hatch Community Center, 837 Highway 187 (West Hall Street) in Hatch.
Commissioner Vasquez has invited New Mexico State Sen. Jeff Steinborn and State Representatives Rudy Martinez and Nathan Small to each of the meetings.
Here, he's doing something he should do. I hope the three are well-attended.]