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Bilberry, Taylor win county commission races

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Richard “Dick” Taylor, right, and Barry Foster, second from left, talk with Sheriff Mike Herrington Tuesday night as election results were being announced at the Chaves County Administrative Center. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

Incumbent Jeff Bilberry and former commissioner Richard Taylor have won their bids for seats on the Chaves County Board of Commissioners, having defeated their primary opponents and facing no general election challengers.

In addition, T. Calder Ezzell Jr. will return to the board for a second, four-year term, as he had neither primary nor general election opponents.

The results of Tuesday’s voting, as well as early voting and absentee ballots, are unofficial. They will have to be confirmed by a canvassing meeting of the Chaves County Board of Commissioners, scheduled for June 9 at 2 p.m. at the Chaves County Administrative Center. The New Mexico Secretary of State also certifies election results.

The elected commissioners will join a five-member board, all Republicans, that have authority over a wide range of issues and functions, including planning and zoning, property taxes, the Sheriff’s Office, the Chaves County Detention Center, road maintenance, economic development and capital projects.

For the District 3 seat, Bilberry and challenger Randy Robertson, a field supervisor for Hanson Operating Co. Inc., had a very close race. Bilberry, an executive officer of a large ranching group, received 1,660 votes, or 56.48% of the total, while Robertson garnered 1,279 votes.

“I just appreciate all the people in Chaves County who believed in me, and I appreciate all those who helped me campaign and work through all this,” he said. “It was just a hard campaign, the way we had to do it this time. It just wasn’t the same as in the past, but I just appreciate all the support from everybody.”

He said addressing the financial uncertainty will be the top priority in coming months.

“Everything is pretty unclear where everything is headed with this COVID-19 situation,” Bilberry said. “Right now everything is wired down tight, and we are going to keep moving forward with that and keep the county moving forward as much as we can.”

Robertson said that he was pleased to see the high turnout for the district.

“We knew it was going to be a tough race,” he said, “because he was an incumbent.”

He added that he probably will run again in four years, given how many votes he secured this time.

For the District 4 seat, Dick Taylor, a certified public accountant who served for eight years from 2005 to 2013, beat current Roswell city councilor and elementary teacher Barry Foster, 699 to 427 votes, or 62.08% to 37.92%. The seat was open because Robert Corn is serving the final months of his second term and cannot run again this year.

“I am looking forward to going back on the Board of Commissioners,” Taylor said. “I was here for eight years, and I think my expertise in finances will be a big asset to the commission. …  I think that is the biggest pressing issue because of what this COVID-19 has done to the revenue for both the county and the city and state, and we have to deal with that. That is what I tried to stress with voters is, I have the experience. I have worked on budgets. I understand budgets.”

He added that he was pleased to see a good turnout this year and that he appreciated the team of family, friends and volunteers who worked on his campaign.

Foster said it was unusual to campaign in the midst of the coronavirus and “stay at home” public health orders.

“Races are hard anyway because we have no polling and we have no way to tell (until the results come in),” he said, “but it was definitely different with not being able to … I like to actually stop and talk and shake hands and talk to people and this was really feeling totally disconnected.”

He said he considered himself to be running against an incumbent because of Taylor’s prior experience with the commission, as well as his larger campaign fund, and he would have appreciated having debates or candidate forums.

“I have given the people a choice,” Foster said. “If I hadn’t have (run), there would be no choice, like we had in two other races in the county. And that’s what we have to make sure we do not have. We need to make sure we have choices for people when they vote.”

He said his two priorities had been to ensure that the county spent city property taxes in a fair manner, especially given that the majority of District 4 lives in the city, and working to create a more cooperative relationship between the county and city. “Win or lose, that is what we will continue to work for,” Foster said.

Ezzell, who received 1,152 votes for his unopposed bid, said he expects to continue to focus on budgets as he returns for a second term serving District 2.

“I think the entire commission’s priority is to continue to be good stewards of the taxpayers’ money,” Ezzell said. “We see all the newspaper articles and Facebook posts about how the city had to slash its budget, and we hopefully have passed a really good budget that did not have any severe cuts. And, any shortfalls that we may have, we anticipate will be covered by our reserves, which I think tells the residents of Chaves County that we have been good stewards of their money. And it’s just not for the period of my first term, that goes back a decade or two where we have had fiscal conservatives that took care of our resources and controlled our spending.”

In response to a question, Ezzell said he would like to think that the fact that he had no opponents was an indication voters approved of his work. He also added that the generally conservative nature of the area meant there has not been a lot of opposition to his votes.

“Three controversial matters before the commission in my first term — one was about private property rights, one was about the right-to-work ordinance and the other one was on Second Amendment protections,” he said. “And, while those are controversial subjects somewhere, they aren’t really in Chaves County because we are generally conservative.”

Ezzell also said that he would appreciate the opportunity to work for another four years with Bilberry.

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 reporter02@rdrnews.com.