The candidates for the Ward 1 position on the Roswell City Council have some stark differences but also common concerns about the need for infrastructure improvements, as indicated by their comments during the 2020 Municipal Election Candidate Forum held Tuesday.
The contest for the ward in the central region of the city is between first-time political candidate Cristina A. Arnold and incumbent Juan P. Oropesa.
The director of the nonprofit Basta! New Mexico, Arnold said in her introductory remarks that “it is time for a change.”
She said her family has been in Roswell for generations and that she considers the city to be “full of possibility.” She said she would work to support city management to create a friendlier environment for businesses and wants to foster communication and collaboration between city government and the community.
Oropesa, a retired state and Roswell Hispano Chamber of Commerce employee, said that he and his family have lived in Roswell for more than 50 years and that he has sought to give back by serving a long list of youth, sports, educational and community organizations at both the local and state level.
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“My objective is to hopefully have a positive impact that will enhance quality of life in Roswell for all of us,” he said.
The forum at the Roswell Convention & Civic Center, organized by the Leadership Roswell Alumni Association, provided voters another chance to hear about the candidates and the issues on the ballot.
Early and absentee voting are continuing until Feb. 29. Election day is March 3.
The candidates agreed that people and the Roswell Air Center are two of the city’s best assets.
“The community is amazing at coming together,” said Arnold. “But if we are going to talk about city assets, I would actually say the Roswell Industrial Air Center is one of our very, very valuable assets that needs to be expanded, that needs to be like a seed, planted and watered so that it can grow.”
She added that she wants to see the city, the economic development community and Chaves County government work together to create a “conducive environment” for Air Center growth.
Oropesa said that the city’s educational institutions are also assets.
“I also agree the citizens of Roswell are probably the best assets this community has, but you also have to include the school system, the university, the New Mexico Military Institute, and, yes, the airport is probably the gem in the rough, as they say.”
He said he recommends that the Roswell Air Center be governed by a regional air authority. State legislation to enable air authorities to manage former military airports was passed in 2019, but the city is still analyzing how that would be accomplished.
“We have worked to try and utilize that, the airport, but we haven’t done a good job of it,” Oropesa said. “And I am willing to try and see if we can go a different route. And what I am talking about is the air authority, to see if they will be able to do a better job than we have done as a council.”
Bond issue opinions
Oropesa said that he opposes the proposed general obligation bond issue to build a new public safety complex, primarily because of its price tag of up to $35 million.
“According to the information that I have, the bonding capacity for Roswell is $29 million, and so when you approve a $35 million bond, it will put you over the bonding capacity that the city has,” he said. “At the same time, you are not talking about $35 million. You are talking about roughly $51 (million), $52 million when you add the tax to it.”
He said that he agrees that a fire station on the east side of the railroad tracks is needed and that something needs to be done about the police station on West Second Street but added, “I don’t think to say it is all or nothing, I don’t think that is the answer.”
Arnold chose not to disclose her own view on the issue.
“I think we can all agree that we actually need to come up with a solution for public safety, whether it is a full complex or whether it is two separate buildings, so I don’t know that I need to answer yes or no I support it, because I think we all support our officers and we all agree that is a way we need to be going.”
She added that if voters pass it, she will ensure that City Council members “follow on track.” If voters do not approve it, she said she would work with the City Council, the Chaves County Commission and others to create “a conducive plan for us to move forward.”
Both candidates strongly agreed that their ward’s greatest need is better infrastructure.
Arnold said she came to her conclusion by driving around the ward a lot and knocking on doors to talk to people.
“I am going to have to say roads and water mains and sidewalks,” she said. “We actually have roads that don’t have sidewalks or are not ADA compliant,” referring to standards required by the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“If you drive in the poor neighborhoods, there are no sidewalks to speak of. Roads are terrible. They are terrible on Washington and Kentucky, almost everywhere. I think we need to address those issues and address them quickly.”
He noted that he is chair of the Roswell City Council Infrastructure Committee. “I will continue pushing for roads, sewer, water lines, sidewalks and all those type of things that will improve the quality of life for individuals,” he said.
The candidates differed on how large a role the city should play in the homeless issue.
Oropesa wants to see the city do more.
“I would be willing to support any program that will help them get a place — not a tent city — but a permanent place where they can get out of the inclement weather and be able to take a shower and be able to do everything else that people can do at their own homes. So if we need to get some special funding, then I am willing to do that. But I am not willing to move one individual from one side so he can bring his tent to the other side of town and still be in the same situation.”
Arnold said that this is an issue in which she believes in “community growth and limited government.” She said she thinks nonprofits and community organizations should take the lead.
“In my mind as a city councilor, not as a community organizer, but as a city councilor, I believe that it would be our responsibility to offer a hand within the role of the government to these nonprofits that are doing a good job of getting out there and learning what we can do and what grants we can get and what we can do to assist them better.”
Asked about one word for leadership, Oropesa chose respect and said he thinks leaders treat everyone as they want to be treated and do not ask of others what they are not willing to do.
He closed by telling people that he intends to be a strong, fair and equitable leader. He said his track record of accomplishments as a city councilor are available for voters’ review and that he wanted to reassure them that he makes decisions based on the merits of the issues, not on “pay for play” or “play along to get along” tactics.
Arnold closed by saying she has enjoyed meeting and talking with people during her campaign activities. “If I am not elected,” she said, “I have already won.”
She said her word for leadership is selflessness. She said leaders put forth extra effort to ensure that what they are doing is for the benefit of others, not themselves.
Editor’s Note: Additional coverage of the Municipal Election Forum will appear in a future edition of the Daily Record.
To keep up with coverage of this and other 2020 elections of local and regional interest, go to rdrnews.com/category/news/elections/.
Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 351, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.