Home News Local News Recreation and Aquatic Center retains its name

Recreation and Aquatic Center retains its name

This photo of the in-progress Roswell Recreation and Aquatic Center was taken on Friday morning. Behind the truck with the American flag is the entrance of the building. The Roswell City Council considered the request of community members who wanted to name the center after César Chávez, but the council voted against the measure on Thursday night. (Alison Penn Photo)

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Councilor Sanchez says naming of rec center brought ‘the good, the bad and the ugly of Roswell’ forward

The Roswell City Council voted against the resolution for the naming of the Roswell Recreation and Aquatic Center (RRAC) after César Chávez.

After raising a photo of her father and César Chávez, Elena Velasquez asked the council to consider naming the rec center after Chávez and has been working on this issue for years. City Engineer Louis Najar and City Manager Joe Neeb sit at the table. Virginia Garcia, Larry Connolly, Bobby Villegas, Michael Trujillo, Francisco Patoni, and Parker Patterson (deputy city attorney) are pictured left to right. (Alison Penn Photo)

Twenty-six people publicly announced their opinions. Of those, 15 spoke in favor and 11 spoke in opposition. Many of them shared what Chávez meant to them and personal anecdotes. For arguments against, some said Chávez was an important figure, but the rec center needed to be named for the community.

In the first 20 minutes of the meeting, the city council took care of usual business such as approving the agenda and minutes. The topic of naming the rec center was voted on after three hours of public presentations and city councilors’ comments.

Councilor Jacob Roebuck made the motion to consider the approval of the resolution and Councilor Juan Oropesa seconded the motion. Elizabeth Gilbert, director of administrative services said it was heard at General Services on Aug. 22 with a vote of 3 to 1.

Before he called for the vote, Mayor Dennis Kintigh said the original name for the center was established by staff and City Attorney Aaron Holloman confirmed the verity of the comment.

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The council’s final vote was 7 to 3 on Thursday night. Councilors Caleb Grant, Roebuck, Angela Moore, Savino Sanchez, Judy Stubbs, Jeanine Corn Best and Steve Henderson voted in opposition of the resolution. Councilors George Peterson, Oropesa and Barry Foster cast votes in approval of it. After the vote, the room cleared and the rest of the meeting lasted nearing on midnight.

Mayor Kintigh thanked the councilors and the audience and said he was proud of the community for how the situation was handled and how gracious the strong opinions were delivered.

Public participation

Around one hour of the meeting was dedicated to public speeches. A wide range of speakers representing various ethnic groups from retired teachers to others who work with youth to veterans shared their opinions.

Randy Robertson, Patsy Felber, Bobby Villegas, Hilda Sanchez, Frank Sanchez, Dr. Juan Garcia, Virginia Garcia, Richard Garcia, Leon Shorey, Helen Porte, Leticia Gomez, Albertina Silva, Helen Ponce, Melinda Gonzales, Orlando Padilla, Juliana Halvorson, Andrea Moore, Kerry Moore, E. Ray Velasquez, Elena Velasquez, Larry Connolly, Franciso Patoni, Jim Ridgway, Charlene Hernadez, Judith White and Molly Boyles were those who participated in the public presentations.

For those speaking against, many of them said they were educated on Chávez and that the naming could be divisive by highlighting one group. A few of them expressed naming the building should be neutral and fair while representing Roswell. Johnny Gonzales was the name offered by Robertson and Ridgway.

Some argued that naming the center after anyone would be difficult and potentially divisive. Many of those in opposition talked about Chavez’s contribution to society but said he was not relevant to Roswell or recreation.

Speakers also referenced the perceived division in Roswell and shared their various views on how to unite and what may divide the city.

For those speaking in favor, they called Chávez an inspirational icon for the community. Chávez’s various accomplishments were listed again by speakers. Dr. Juan Garcia, League of United Latin American Citizens’ deputy state director for the state, and Elena Velasquez, former city councilor, referenced that Hispanic heritage month taking place from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15.

The growing demographic of the Hispanic/Latino population was brought up in some of the speeches. Some of the speakers referenced the agricultural economy of Roswell and shared personal stories of why Chávez was relevant to them and to Roswell.

City Council

Some of the councilors offered other streets, statues or a bust and also expressed that Roswell has other issues that it needs to focus on. Some of the councilors said they were saddened over the situation and lack of education.

Councilor Roebuck reiterated a similar statement he used in the General Services Committee on Aug. 22 that his main point was the younger generations are not going to care about the name of the center. Roebuck seconded Larry Connolly and said he was concerned that the youth and Hispanic were not speaking out on the issue. He encouraged finding other ways to celebrate the diversity of Roswell and rediscover Roswell’s Hispanic heritage.

Councilor Juan Oropesa listed the timeline on naming something in Roswell after Chávez and listed Chávez’s accomplishments. Oropesa also shared his perspective on why the item did not pass through city council since it reached a dead-end after Feb. 29, 2016, and how he questioned the actions of Mayor Kintigh and other councilors through the process of placing the item on the city’s agenda at that time. He also questioned why a park could be named, but not the rec center. For those who have been pushing for the naming, Oropesa said the group will accept it and move on — but will not accept a token park and work until something is named after Chávez. He also said he hopes those offering additional names will have to go through the same process in recommending a name. Oropesa yielded the floor after a 36-minute speech.

Foster said he did not see Chávez as a divisive figure — but it seems from the community that anyone brought forward as a suggestion would be contentious. Foster also agreed with Roebuck that the issue was not about whether Chávez was worthy or not. He also said it was not Chávez causing separation, but rather individual egos.

Councilor Jeanine Corn Best used a shovel used in the groundbreaking of the rec center and said it was paid for by the gross receipts tax (GRT) and said it was branded on the handle as the Roswell Recreation and Aquatic Center. From data from the visitor center alone, Best said 528 locals; 1,189 New Mexicans; 788 foreign visitors; 12,348 from the nation; and 240 people that provided no information helped provide these GRT funds from January to September of this year. Best said these figures don’t include the collected GRT from the city and the surrounding areas.

Best said she did not see any groups willing to pay in full for the rec center, which she shared the final estimated cost as $21,147,932.93. Comparing the city to business, Best said the groups could rebrand the rec center if they paid this cost with an additional 20 percent for the city to profit. She shared the idea of a memorial wall to fill with brass plaques purchased to honor people and said the profits could go to scholarships or memberships to the rec center.

Councilor Sanchez attended the meeting telephonically. He said he heard complaints rather than solutions and saw no one up in arms on issues of schools, crime rate, drugs and alcohol, labor force, healthcare, shopping and the division of the north and south of town.

“What are we teaching our children?” Sanchez said. “That we can’t unite? That we can’t work things out? The naming of a building — a building — has caused the good, the bad and the ugly of Roswell to come out.”

Councilor George Peterson addressed the room and said there needs to be an understanding that the “Hispanic people have been held down for 150 years in this area” and referenced that his family has been here since 1867. He also said the Hispanics/Latinos and their history has been repressed.

Councilor Stubbs agreed with one speaker, Juliana Halvorson, who said the rec center needs a functional descriptor and to be easily accessible on a Google search. Stubbs added that the rec center needs to be immediately recognized as a part of Roswell and something for Roswell to be proud of.

Councilor Grant shared that this meeting was more productive and positive, overwhelmed with feedback to keep the name as the Roswell Recreation and Aquatic Center. He said Chávez is currently being used as a political icon and said any other political icon would be divisive for the community. Referencing the many parks and streets named in Chávez’s honor in other places, Grant said the situation is different because this is the “only recreational facility in our whole county for our youth” and said he thought it needed to include all of the youth.

Councilor Moore said the naming “got more hype than it should have, though it was an honest request” and said the center will be used “no matter what its name is.”

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