The Chaves County Board of Commissioners will say goodbye to one of its members in a few days.
James Duffey has served two four-year terms in the District 1 seat, which will soon be filled by Republican Dara Dana, a former state representative elected in November.
A swearing-in ceremony for new and re-elected commissioners and some other county officials will occur 10 a.m. Monday at the Chaves County Administrative Center. By proclamation of the county, Monday has been declared “James Duffey Day.”
A farmer and sheep rancher in the area and a former New Mexico State University extension agent, Duffey said that he does not see himself as a politician, so what he thinks he will miss most is talking with county staff.
“I will miss going down there to the Administration Building and seeing all the people there,” he said. “I won’t say that I won’t be going down there at all, but I won’t be going down there as much and I will miss the people there.”
Duffey said he is not planning another run for elected office at this time.
“I kind of got drafted in the first place,” he said, explaining that leaders with the Chaves County Republican Party encouraged him to run in 2010 to fill a seat that became open as Democrat Michael Trujillo completed two terms in the position. Duffey’s first run for office involved a court challenge and three-day recount before he was declared the winner with 1,005 votes to his challenger’s 1,003 votes.
His plans now, he said, will be to focus on his farming and ranching and to continue to volunteer with the Chaves County 4-H and Future Farmers of America Fair and to serve on the board of directors for the Eastern New Mexico State Fair and Farm Credit of New Mexico.
While he might have been a reluctant elected official, his service on the commission and an organization related to county government has earned him recognition.
He was chosen as chair of the Board of Commissioners for part of his term and received a Glass Flame Award from the New Mexico Counties, formerly known as the New Mexico Association of Counties, for his work on its board of directors and executive board.
All four of his colleagues on the commission expressed their appreciation for Duffey during the group’s final meeting together Dec. 18.
“You teach commissioners an awful lot that you probably don’t even know about,” said T. Calder Ezzell Jr., “and I appreciate what you’ve done specifically for Jeff (Bilberry) and me.”
Chairman Robert Corn said, “It has been a great six years, buddy. I suspect you’ll be knocking on my door next fall trying to get some money from me for the junior livestock auctions.”
In presenting Duffey with the Glass Flame Award in June 2017, Steve Kopelman, New Mexico Counties Executive Director, said, “He asked the difficult questions, was very actively engaged and always vigilant in how funds were utilized.”
For his parting words Dec. 18, Duffey gave credit to others.
“Chaves County is the best and I have said that many times up here,” he said. “This is a professional group of people that works for Chaves County, and you make us look good because you all do work hard. I read one time that it doesn’t make any difference how much money you make in life or how much you accumulate. It is how much you serve, and you all do an outstanding job serving other people.”
During a later interview, Duffey said he has no regrets about his years on the commission and thinks some progress occurred.
“I won’t say I accomplished anything, but we, as a commission, did some good,” he said.
His list of positives included efforts to delist the lesser prairie chicken and the dunes sagebrush lizard from the federal Endangered Species Act, to build the new $15 million Chaves County Detention Center and, in his words, to balance private property rights with public access rights. In that last category, he gave the example of an ordinance passed during his tenure that prohibits closing a county road if it provides the only access to public lands.
“I know that some people were upset over a situation in the south part of the county when we decided to close a road,” he said, referring to a May 2017 decision regarding a portion of Felix Canyon Road, “but there were other access routes to the public lands, so I think we did a good job of making sure there is access to public lands while protecting private property rights.”
Duffey said he feels no need to give advice to his successor.
“She comes with a lot of years of experience as a legislator,” he said. “She knows to listen to the people, just as the rest of us do.”
In his opinion, the most pressing matters before the next few commissioner boards will be the issue of county leadership, as key senior administrators are nearing retirement eligibility.
“The important thing in how the county runs is the county manager, and in Stan (Riggs) we have the finest county manager in the state,” he said. “I think the same is true about (Finance Director) Joe Sedillo. I don’t know how many years it will be until they retire, but they will retire eventually. Replacing those guys will be tough.”
In keeping with the comments he often gave at the end of commission meetings, Duffey said he wants to encourage civic participation.
“I just think people need to study what is going on in their community and in their country. People need to get involved in the process,” he said. “I think one of the biggest problems we have is that people sit on the sidelines and complain. You need to to get involved. We can all complain, but what we need is for people who will work together toward solutions to build a better country, which is what I think we all want.”
Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 311, or at email@example.com.