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Committee votes on rec center naming

Alison Penn Photo Elizabeth Gilbert and Councilor Juan Oropesa listen as Savino Sanchez, chairman and city councilor, shares his thoughts surrounding the proposed resolution name the Rowell Recreation and Aquatic Center after Cesar Chavez at the General Services committee meeting on Wednesday.

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The city of Roswell’s General Services Committee voted to recommend approval of the resolution naming the Roswell Recreation and Aquatic Center after Cesar Chavez, a Mexican-American civil rights activist and founder of the National Farmer Workers Association.

City Councilor Juan Oropesa made the motion and Councilor Angela Moore seconded his motion. The final vote was 3 to 1 with Councilor Jacob Roebuck casting the dissenting vote. Chairman Savino Sanchez said he was approached to put the item on agenda, which he would do for similar matters, and his intention was to allow the committee to hear and allow the council to vote, if it passed in committee.

Back in 2015, Oropesa said this item originated from former councilor Elena Velasquez and others working to rename a city street after Caesar Chavez and Martin Luther King Jr. for around a year. He called Chavez an “iconic, non-divisive” person.

Velasquez was present at the meeting and said the idea was not completely feasible since the future of the Yucca Recreation Center was unknown during the time of the original discussion.

Councilor Jacob Roebuck prefaced his written statement by saying people his age or younger would be more concerned about the quality of activities on the inside, rather than the name of the building.

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After sharing his early life experiences with farm work on both sides of the California-Mexico border, Roebuck said Chavez was a civil rights activist chosen to inspire Roswell youth — predominantly poor and Hispanic neighborhoods. The objections he did hear from constituents is they would prefer someone local and/or Chavez’s debatable association with organized labor and leftist politics could be divisive in the current political climate.

“Roswell wins together and Roswell loses divided,” Roebuck said. “I have a high value on creating unity in our community, which is why I had hoped naming the rec center after Mr. Chavez might help with. However, it is now clear that naming the center after Mr. Chavez will divide the community more than unite it.”

Referencing the school grades released last week, Sanchez noted the importance of education and the local schools’ poor grades need to be addressed because it “affects everything in the city.” He said the division in Roswell is “obvious” and building Robert H. Goddard High School in the 1960s caused division in the city, beginning with “the whites against Hispanics, rich to poor, and now it is pride against pride.”

Sanchez asked if naming the rec center was going to impact the economy, crime, schools, shopping, hospitals or doctors to give the building a name; he answered it rhetorically and said no. He said people are quick to jump on bandwagons and asked how many of those people help Roswell in its deficiencies.

“Is this for Roswell? Or is this for us individuals? For me, it’s for Roswell to better this community,” Savino Sanchez said.

“We get so divided — allow little things to divide us — when we should be pulling for the city of Roswell,” Savino Sanchez continued. “That’s why I’m on this council. I want Roswell to be better than what it was yesterday. That’s what I want. I would hope that that is what everybody else would want for Roswell.”

O.L. Adcock said Chavez’s ideology was divisive and he suggested the rec center being named after a “Roswell hero” like Johnny Gonzales or Master Sgt. Roy P. Benavidez. Another resident Frank Sanchez called Chavez a “moral leader” and “man of faith” that transcends local, state and national boundaries and has been honored on many of those levels. He said he appreciated names offered at the meeting, but said the quest for a local Hispanic leader was difficult to find in Roswell’s history.

Audrey Knudsen and her father Steve Johnson asked the council to consider naming the rec center after Lori Johnson, a RISD teacher, mother and wife, who was hit by a drunk driver in 2015. Knudsen and Steve Johnson said Lori loved students of all kinds and economic statuses and that community members would be in support of naming the center in her honor.

As a voice for the surrounding area, State Rep. Candy Spence-Ezzell asked where the funding for the rec center is coming from and Gilbert explained the $23 million bond increased gross receipts tax (GRT) to fund the project. Ezzel said the center is then paid for by Chaves County residents predominantly and said she would appreciate the city taking time to see what other citizens may want.

Calling him a positive role model for youth, Ezzell nominated the center to be named after Mike Smith, the Triple Crown jockey. Regardless of the naming, Ezzell said she wanted the rec center to be completed for youth and the betterment of Roswell and Chaves County.

Roebuck thanked all the citizens for sharing their thoughts and said he admired their courage to do so.

Councilor Angela Moore asked if there was a process to allow city residents a chance to vote on the matter. City Attorney Aaron Holloman said he was unsure of a general election on the selection of the name of a facility. Roebuck said such an election could be done but would take a lot of work and money.

Mayor Dennis Kintigh said he liked the name “Roswell Recreation and Aquatic Center” because it would be named after the community who paid for it and will use it. He added that he hopes the full council meeting goes as well as the Wednesday committee meeting did.

City/RISD reporter Alison Penn can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or at reporter04@rdrnews.com.


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