Candidates in Roswell city elections square off in forum
ROSWELL, N.M. – Candidates in upcoming municipal elections took to the stage Tuesday night.
The three-and-a-half hour forum, hosted by the Leadership Roswell Alumni Association, afforded three of the candidates for mayor and more than a dozen contenders for city council, the chance to address the community in person.
Each candidate was allotted time to speak and field questions on issues ranging from crime and economic development, and homelessness.
The event began with candidates in all five city council races, but soon shifted to the contest for mayor.
Eva Tellez was the only mayoral hopeful who did not participate in the forum.
Mayor Dennis Kintigh, first elected in 2014, is vying for a third four-year term. In his remarks, he portrayed himself as a reformer, and claimed that during his tenure, he led the city to actively address longstanding challenges.
He also touted the construction of several new city facilities during his time in office, including a convention center and an aquatic and recreation center.
“We need to continue to improve. We need to keep doing the things that make this place a better community, but in so doing, we’re going to challenge some long held beliefs,” Kintigh said.
Kintigh’s most high-profile opponent — former state Sen. Timothy Jennings, D-Roswell, —stressed the need to raise the pay of Roswell’s Police officers and bring more jobs to Roswell. And he criticized the recent fees imposed on the public to use city recreational facilities.
Having represented Senate District 32 in the New Mexico Senate from 1979 to 2013, eventually rising to the position of Senate Pro tem, Jennings cited that experience to show he can help bring consensus to government.
“I can work with people. I’ve proven that I can. And I can get people together and get them to work together. And we did. I did it in the Senate and I can, I can do it in the council,” Jennings said.
The editor of a digital currency magazine, Guy Malone voiced support for southeast New Mexico seceding from the rest of the state, so the most conservative part of the state can become part of Texas.
“I think Roswell, we are at that crossroads for our identity right now. We are either going to become more like California or we are going to become more like Texas or Florida,” Malone said.
Among other items on his platform Malone calls for the city to do more in boosting its vibrant performing arts community.
“I believe that can bring in recurring tourism, people who might come to Roswell two, three or four times a year, rather than once a year,” Malone said.
Statewide issues also made their way into the discussion.
A former FBI agent and police officer, Kintigh faulted the legislature and governor for the city’s high crime rate.
“There is a crime problem and in the state and its due to the failures of the Legislature and the governors in Santa Fe. We have incredibly weak laws and it makes it harder for the men and women that serve in our law enforcement here,” Kintigh said.
All three candidates voiced opposition to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s public health orders that require the wearing of face coverings in public.
“I don’t think we need mask mandates or anything like that,” Jennings said.
He added that although he wants to focus on making sure hospitals during the pandemic still have the capacity to treat individuals who need treatment for conditions other than COVID-19, he believes the virus is something that is here for the long term.
Kintigh noted that he has repeatedly declared no city employee will lose their job for opting not to wear a mask or getting fully vaccinated. And that no resident would be denied service by the city if they made the sane decision.
“I will fight to protect this town from the overreach of this governor. I’ve stood up that is what I have done. I am not making a promise I am offering evidence,” Kintigh said.
Malone said although he applauded the mayor’s actions related to city employees he thinks more action needs to be taken.
“I would say that nobody: teachers, students, an employee nor city employee should be required to wear a mask to have a job, get a job or keep it,” he said.
At one point during the forum, moderator Rick Kraft asked each of the mayoral hopefuls what they would and would not cut if they had to cut the city’s budget by 10%.
Jennings said he would rule out any cuts to police, fire and transportation services.
“We have to have those functions in government to ensure that you can continue to function,” Jennings said.
He continued: “If you had to cut something I think you would probably have to look at some of the extra programs you have out there, and some of the areas such as parks.”
Kintigh said during his administration he has had to make such decisions, such as in 2016 and during the shutdowns of businesses caused by the state’s response to COVID-19.
How the state responded then, Kintigh said, was to offer city employees buyouts and early retirement packages. That required money upfront, but yielded savings in the long run.
“Budget cuts are unpleasant. We’ve done them and we’ve done them professionally,” he said.
Malone though said he believes the hypothetical 10% was not enough. The city he said should look at trimming its budget by as much as 25 or 30%.
He said he believes that the salaries of some city employees are too high. He said he believes the maximum salary for a city employee should be $80,000 a year.
“I don’t think we need the hundred thousand, one hundred thousand and twenty-five thousand, one seventy-five thousand (dollar) salaries at the city level,” Malone said.
Kintigh warned that capping salaries at that level could hamper the city’s ability to recruit and retain employees.
“You are not gonna get a certified civil engineer as the city engineer for $80,000 a year. It isn’t going to happen,” he said.
Malone also sought to clear up remarks he has made about the annual UFO Festival in Roswell. He has said in past interviews that the city should step away from the UFO Fest, which each July attracts tourists to the city.
On Tuesday night, Malone clarified that he supports the festival and the revenue it brings in. However, he believes that the city should not be taking a role in organizing it, running it or selling merchandise for it.
Instead, Malone says, volunteers, the Roswell International UFO Museum & Research Center and local businesses should be in charge of the festival.
“I don’t think it’s the job of the city employee to be part-time events management personnel or do t-shirt sales,” Malone said.
Absentee voting has already begun ahead of the March 1 election. For more information, visit, roswell-nm.gov.