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Mayor discusses rec center naming, city’s ‘brand’

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Roswell Mayor Dennis Kintigh (Daily Record File Photo)

Roswell Mayor Dennis Kintigh visited the Roswell Daily Record office last week for a conversation with RDR staff, part of a series of interviews focused on issues impacting the city and its residents.

RDR editor John Dilmore and reporters Alison Penn and Alex Ross asked Kintigh questions provided by the RDR staff and the public.

RDR: The last city council meeting was an emotionally charged meeting, with the rec center naming discussed, but you’ve mentioned being pleased with the decorum of everyone involved. What are your takeaways from that?

(Editor’s note: A large number of local residents advocated naming the center for labor leader and civil rights activist César Chávez. The city council voted to retain the name Roswell Recreation and Aquatic Center.)

Kintigh: I candidly was concerned because I understand the passion of this issue for many individuals, but the decorum of the councilors and the decorum of the audience was exemplary. I have no criticisms of anybody. It (the meeting) was long. I think everybody got an opportunity to speak their mind, so I’m pleased with the way this was conducted, and truthfully … If there had been a tie, that’s how I would’ve voted.

RDR: The way the board went.

Kintigh: Yeah, and I had told that to the supporters of the naming prior … they had come to see me, a number of them, and we had a candid conversation. So, we had its day and moved on.

RDR: Do you think that issue could come up again?

Kintigh: I think there will be a variation and I think we could have a dialogue on some variation, maybe not a structure. I know there’s been other concepts of naming and I recognize that there are individuals who want to honor Mr. Chávez. Let’s have a discussion.

RDR: What do you think the guidelines should be as far as naming a city building or structure after someone?

Kintigh: First, number one, they need to be dead … I mean, that’s one of the big things, and naming for people has become more dicey as time goes on. I’m originally from Pennsylvania, okay? And, Penn State is near and dear to my family. Joe Paterno. Literally a decade ago, Joe Paterno walked on water. So, I think that’s taught us some lessons, those and some other things.

I think we need to tread very carefully when it comes to naming things for individuals. I mean, Columbus Day … We’ve gotten in the environment now that — when I was a kid, that was a no-brainer. I mean, I grew up near Columbus, Ohio. It was a big deal. It’s Columbus, Ohio … That’s different now.

Santa Fe, up until recently, did an event that marked the conquistadors returning. That became very contentious in the last few years, and you’ve got an event that is celebrated by a segment of the community, those with a Spanish heritage, but despised by those with a Native American. … I think in this environment at least for the foreseeable future, one must tread very cautiously. …

It gets challenging. I think Roswell Recreation and Aquatic Center is neutral and inclusive.

RDR: With the announcement of the new Netflix facility coming to New Mexico, is there an opportunity for Roswell to benefit from that economically over time — and what steps might be taken to position us to benefit?

Kintigh: Well, what I understand is Netflix is buying Albuquerque’s studio, which has been up there in Albuquerque for an extended period of time. Albuquerque studios exist because of the subsidy from the state.

There’s a 25 percent tax credit that is paid to the film companies for production in New Mexico. Twenty-five percent of their operating costs is their cost of their production, so they get a check from the state. That’s not unique to New Mexico, there are a number of states that do it. It is, however, controversial, and when I was in Legislature I was one who was very critical of it. There are a number of very compelling economic studies from different states by different organizations that show the return to the public treasury is pennies on the dollar.

My concerns about it got nowhere in the legislature, and it’s been embraced. I don’t know that we will ever become a film-making hub. Las Cruces, I know, is trying to get into that. I’ve seen reports to that effect. I think it’s centered primarily in Santa Fe and Albuquerque, and those are the beneficiaries.

The problem is, we all, in the state, pay for it.

The total amount of these subsidies, and they go back to Gary Johnson, the Republican governor’s day, is, if I remember right, somewhere close to half a billion dollars.

It’s a chunk of money over 15 years, and what we were told is if you don’t keep paying the subsidy, they’ll go away. Okay, so, what have we gotten?

RDR: Does the city, with the weather on the verge of cooling off, has the city given any thought to … the homeless situation and shelter availability as the winter months get here?

Kintigh: You know, it’s funny that the city manager and I just touched on this a little bit today at lunch, and I’m concerned that the privately run shelters are adequate. I don’t know that they’re not. Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not saying — I just can’t tell you that they are, and the question becomes, what is the appropriate role for the city in all this?

We’ve not truly looked at it. Our attitude has always been that shelters would be operated by private groups. I believe those are the most effective as far as providing care.

Yeah, I understand what you’re saying.

I know there’s been some talk about what leads one individual still being in a riverbed. I will tell you flat out, I am very concerned about that. I have been here when I have seen Berrendo Creek full to the bottom of Main Street. It’s a roaring river. You wouldn’t believe it if you hadn’t seen it. You would not believe it. It’s a dry ditch 90 percent of the time, but you don’t want people there.

We can’t build there. There’s a flood plain. I mean, we’re not allowed to do anything in there. And so, to have somebody build a structure, even a cobbled together one, it’s not safe. …

RDR: So, from what you are hearing, there is someone down there who’s done that.

Kintigh: I’ve heard that, yeah. … Like, cobbled together some pallets and things like that to make themselves a little camp.

RDR: Has law enforcement been down there at all (recently)?

Kintigh: I don’t know that they’ve been there lately. I know there’s been an ongoing issue with this one individual. I could not tell you his name. …

But, it’s an ongoing dispute. There’s some that are saying he should be allowed to do that and, like I said, I don’t see that it’s safe. I don’t think anybody is safe there, especially right now. I mean, who thought it was going to rain this afternoon?

RDR: The city’s marketing firm recently met with people around the city, various departments. And one of the things they were being tasked with doing was unifying the city’s brand. So, what is the city’s brand?

Kintigh: Well, you know, we’ve obviously got the alien thing, for want of a better term, that gives us recognition worldwide, but this town is a whole lot more than that.

When I try to explain Roswell, I always use the term “complex” because we’ve got agriculture, the fair that just ended — truly impressive. This town would not exist except for agriculture, and it exists in an agricultural sense because of water. We sit on top of a recharging aquifer, which makes us arguably the best city in the water sense in New Mexico, and possibly the entire southwest. So, agriculture.

Oil and gas is significant to this community, and has been for decades. We don’t have pump jacks downtown like Hobbs, but we have independent oil companies around this town, all over the place.

You can go out on (Highway) 70 driving to Portales and get across the river — you look to the southeast, there’s pump jacks and gas wells. You go east on (Highway) 380, you could actually go about 25 miles and you’ll see pump jacks. Bitter Lakes — at the entrances to Bitter Lakes as you stop and look to the south, maybe a half mile, there’s a pump jack. The oil and gas industry has just a huge number of independent operators doing all kinds of things, everything from land men to geologists to pumpers … So, we’ve got that.

We’ve got aviation … but then on the flip side, this town has a symphony. This town has a jazz festival … This town has an incredible art community. That’s what I mean, complex.

RDR: How do you bring all that to together.

Kintigh: Yeah, and so that’s why I don’t … I’ll be curious to see what these folks derive from all this, but I don’t know how to put that into a catchy phrase. “More than you imagine?” There you go. I think somebody’s already using that.

RDR: Has there been any progress toward partnerships that would provide better housing for seniors. Is that something that the city is focused on at all?

Kintigh: I know we’ve been looking at … It’s not affordable housing, you know, it’s called workforce housing, but that wouldn’t apply to seniors. Housing is an issue because so much of our housing is aged. When the base closed 50 years ago, the normal process of aging housing being replaced with new was interrupted, and we froze. We lost a third of our population — this is before any of us were here — and that impacts this community to this day.

Housing for seniors … I don’t know of any specific projects. Now, I would be excited to discuss that with anyone who wants to pursue it. I don’t know all the ins and outs of the tax breaks and/or incentives that are out there, but we’re willing to talk about it.

RDR: Since the Airport Commission began, and you began serving on it, what have you learned new, that you didn’t know before about the airport?

(Editor’s note: The Roswell City Council earlier this year voted to create an Airport Advisory Commission to guide the activities and future development of the Roswell Independent Air Center).

Kintigh: The other day, I was just thinking about this. … Armstrong (Consulting) … I had no clue that we were required by the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) to have an engineering firm on contract, that we had to do it every four years — that they help us with planning for all these facilities. So, I truly did not understand the full scope of what Armstrong … does.

RDR: So, how would you describe to people, in a nutshell, what do they do?

Kintigh: They give us serious technical engineering, architectural type, civil engineering, architectural advice. In other words, they help guide us through these processes, primarily in the areas of things like runways, taxiways, ramps. They’re more geared towards that than structures.

But, they are involved in the airport terminal study. They have subcontracted with another outfit — and you’re going to ask me a name and I can’t, off the top of my head — that will do an airport terminal assessment. That’s going to be interesting.

… The airport terminal’s about 40 years old. Things have changed a lot from the 70s. I mean, the obvious big difference is security. Back in those days, you know, you waited … heck, you could’ve walked out onto the ramp … Nobody thought about those issues. …

I mean, what do we need to have space-wise — what do we need to have? Those things need to be explored.

RDR: The city recently seemed to begin moving the animal shelter in a better direction. Describe a little the process of getting to the point, where you knew you needed to do that.

Kintigh: Oh, we’ve been striving to seek a solution on the operations of the animal shelter for years. We have gone out, I think at least twice if not three times with the RFP (Request For Proposals), asking advocacy groups to take over the operation of the shelter. We will pay you. We, the city, will pay you to operate it. No viable offers came up.

So that’s tough. We got an animal issue, and the problem is animal control gets the blame for cultural issues in this community. There are a heck of a lot of animals that people truly don’t care for in the proper way, and so we end up with animals running loose, and I think it’s like 6,000 a year they end up pulling in. Just incredible. We are the animal shelter for the whole county, so the county animal control officers will bring them in. I got lots more involved with this earlier on in my administration.

You have so many cages, but those cages aren’t interchangeable. In other words, some are for dogs, some are for cats, some are for feral cats … Then you’ve got quarantine areas, and you can’t put two dogs into the same cage unless maybe they’re puppies and they’re a litter … and already together, then you can do that — but otherwise you’ve got to keep each one separate.

Boy, we’d love to see more of them adopted out. We really would. We’re trying to get where we take pictures of each one, put them out. I know that’s been discussed. But operating a shelter is demanding. In a lot of ways, it’s a thankless job.