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Mayor talks recycling, COVID, American Airlines

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Roswell Mayor Dennis Kintigh met Thursday, Nov. 5 with the Roswell Daily Record editorial staff to discuss a variety of issues facing the city. (Juno Ogle Photo)

Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record

Editorial staff of the Roswell Daily Record recently conducted a question-and-answer session with Roswell Mayor Dennis Kintigh.

Wearing masks and observing other COVID-safe protocols, reporters Lisa Dunlap and Juno Ogle and editor John Dilmore met with Kintigh in the conference room of the Daily Record. Topics covered included the pandemic and mask-wearing, the 2020 Census, and air service to the Roswell Air Center, among others.

The following are excerpts, edited for length and clarity, from the approximately hour-long interview. Other portions of the interview will be published in a future edition.

The census

Editor’s note: Roswell went into the decennial census with an estimated population of 47,635 — and a goal of recording 50,000 inhabitants, a threshold seen by many as key to the city’s future growth. The local group encouraging census participation, the Complete Count Committee, was headed by Marcos Nava.

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Dilmore: I don’t know what projections (have been done), or if any were done, but do you have any indication if we got above the threshold? Do you think that we did and when will you know?

Kintigh: My understanding is the first data comes out around January, but I don’t have any insight as to how we came out. I will say this, I think Mr. Marcos Nava and his team did an incredible job and I’m very appreciative of him.

Dilmore: Is there a modeling or a projection method that could be used, given how many households responded, that sort of thing?

Kintigh: That could be, but I haven’t seen it. We will find out soon enough, one way or another. Here’s what I will say, I believe we are in for some significant redistricting on the City Council. I say that because of what I have personally observed — and we all have — the growth in the west and the north. Population growth has not been evenly distributed around the city, so I expect the wards will move.

Dilmore: Would we get more councilors or would the wards just be redrawn?

Kintigh: We are limited by state statute to 10 and 10 is plenty.

Recycling

Dilmore: Recycling. Avid recyclers have really enjoyed having those bins.

Kintigh: I know.

Dilmore: Why are we … losing those, and why now?

Kintigh: The biggest challenge I think is the worldwide market for recycling material. Everything I’ve heard, read, indicates it’s changed because of what China has done.

On a more direct level, those communal bins, they’ve consistently had issues with contamination. People not being as disciplined or as conscientious as individuals who are serious about it. And the end result then is either you dump it or you sort it by hand, and sorting by hand is expensive and we really don’t have the resources to keep doing that.

So the staff and council are trying to find a way to keep recycling alive, in an environment that is challenging.

Editor’s note: The city has been working to establish a franchise agreement with a local company to provide curbside recycling.

American Airlines

Editor’s note: The pandemic’s impact on air travel hit home when it was announced in August that Roswell was one of 15 small cities anticipated to lose American Airlines service in October. But Roswell officials stepped in and negotiated with the airline to prevent an interruption of service here. The negotiations are ongoing.

Dilmore: Is there anything new that can be discussed in terms of the city working with American Airlines to try to keep our air service?

Kintigh: It is a matter of ongoing attention and we are in continuing dialogue with American Airlines. We are striving to make sure there is no interruption in service at all.

Dilmore: How dependent are … negotiations on whether additional funding comes from the federal government at some point?

Kintigh: If the feds stepped up, I think it takes the problem away completely because I would imagine the feds will want to require service to remain uninterrupted. But I don’t know if that’s going to happen anytime soon.

I think what we’ve got for us is a couple of things. One, we’ve got a reasonably decent track record for air service. We generate the customers. And two, I continue to believe that Roswell Air Center has become a key part of American Airlines’ fleet maintenance. This is a huge part of that whole effort. I can’t tell you how many American planes are out there, but a significant number. They’ve ramped up the number of people they have here.

Dilmore: So there’s a relationship outside just the commercial air travel.

Dunlap: So you’re guaranteed, as I understand it, flights until Dec. 3?

Kintigh: Yes, and I think we’re now guaranteed December because my understanding is they schedule like five weeks out in advance. So we’re now four weeks or a month from it. If we’re not at the point, we’re close to it and we’ve gotten no hint from them that they would interrupt it, so I think that’s off the table.

As a matter of fact, there’s been some talk, this is not American, but United is talking about pulling some of the planes out of storage for the holidays but then bringing them back after. …

COVID-19

Dilmore: As the pandemic’s been going on, there’s been a lot of talk about enforcement at the city level. What is the city’s current direction to people as far as following the Department of Health’s guidelines on wearing masks and social distancing? What do you encourage Roswell residents to do?

Kintigh: The city has adopted the guidelines, the city facilities comply with the state Department of Health guidelines, and that is what we’re doing. Enforcement in the opinion of myself and a number of others is a responsibility of the state. …

Certain jurisdictions have adopted their own ordinances. Doña Ana County back at the beginning of May or end of April, adopted a countywide ordinance requiring masks with a $300 fine. Some places have done that. Taos County I understand has a curfew from 10 (p.m.) to 5 (a.m.). And Las Vegas, New Mexico has.

I don’t see that happening here. Establishments … your business here, you’ve adopted your procedures. We feel that you’re responsible, businesses are responsible, you know what the information is, so it’s up to you.

Dilmore: As far as setting an example for folks, as a visible figure, is it your encouragement to people to wear masks?

Kintigh: You see me out and about, you’ll see me with this (face covering). I wear this all day. I’ll be honest with you, this to me is a lot more convenient. I don’t forget it. I don’t leave it in my pocket, I don’t leave it in the car, I don’t leave it on the desk. You take those things, like my wife the other day, she has one of those (masks), and we’re going into Albertson’s, she left hers in the other car. Fortunately, I had an extra one.

So I strive to wear the mask going in and I do it because I don’t want to bring unwanted attention to the establishments I visit.

There are serious disputes as to the value of a mask. I mean that. Wall Street Journal had an excellent opinion piece about a week ago that masking is nowhere near as effective as some maintain. Whether that’s accurate or not, it was written by a medical school doctor at UCLA.

So my attitude is I will strive to not cause embarrassment or discomfort to others.

More on the pandemic

Dilmore: You talk to a lot of people, including the business community. How are we doing as a local business community at this point in general?

Kintigh: A lot of people are fearful that the surge in numbers is going to result in some very severe restrictions and some businesses, small businesses, are going to, this will be the death knell. So, we’re concerned.

I’m really a fan of our local hospitality establishments, restaurants, stuff like that. I try to frequent only them. There’s nothing wrong with the chains, but the little one-facility people, those are the ones that I really want to frequent. Those are the ones that I think are the most vulnerable.

So, right now I think we’re a community that’s worried. And not about the virus, we’re worried about the governor.

Dilmore: How do you see it going through the winter?

Kintigh: Here’s what I will point out. Since mid-March, the latter part of March, I started collecting, preserving the data. I have four different spreadsheets. … I’ve been doing this now for over 220 days.

Every day, I look at the national numbers, state numbers, local numbers. I have every county from April 9. How many cases, what percentage of total cases, etcetera.

So here we are, we’ll be at the eight-month point. … After eight months of this pandemic, 99.97% of this county has survived.

Yet we are destroying businesses, children are falling further and further behind. Stress is a huge issue, and I think we have failed to deal with this properly. The lockdowns — Doña Ana County, mandatory masks. And … if you look at the last two weeks, I think they’re somewhere around 2,000 cases. Their percentage of state cases has continued to grow, and they’re arguably one of the most compliant counties out there. Same thing has happened in Santa Fe and Albuquerque, those are the counties of “good folks” as opposed to the southeast, where we have all the “rebels.” But they’re off the charts.

So, there’s lots of questions about how this truly spreads. We’ve all heard the anecdotal stories, one spouse gets it, the other one doesn’t. We’ve heard stories, you know, one person in the office having it but no one else in the office, so how — what’s going on? A family of five or six, three or four get it but one or two don’t — why?

I don’t think they know, “they” being the medical professionals, so we cling to … wear a mask, social distance, etcetera, etcetera. My problem is I don’t think we’re addressing it. …

Our hospitals. Every Wednesday at 2:30 (p.m.) we have a conference/conference call.

People from the city — myself, Deputy City Manager for Public Safety Mike Mathews, Karen Sanders, Emergency Services … we have call-ins from the hospitals, Department of Health, the school district. We don’t have any agenda — just what’s going on, what do you hear, what are we doing. …

The challenge the hospitals have, and this is true here and elsewhere, isn’t space. It is not beds. It is staff. Another frustration is, what’s been done to enhance our staffing. What do we do to bring in people who may be retired, who have stepped away from the profession, any kind of accelerated accreditation. We shut down schools. Did we keep the nursing schools open? I don’t believe we did. But maybe. …

Those kinds of things. That’s the need to provide the professionals so that we can deal with this. It’s frustrating because to a certain degree, I’m supposed to fix it and I can’t. …

Assistance to businesses

Dilmore: Is the city still pursuing possible avenues of filing a lawsuit against the governor over the COVID (impacts)?

Kintigh: I would not say so at this point. I say that because we’ve gotten some financial support … it’s not revenue replacement, but, for the community and for the city. We’ve got about $5.5 million awarded to us and … basically we’re in the process of documenting how we had legitimate expenses. …

We focused right now on the businesses.

Editor’s note: The city began this past week disbursing COVID-19 relief grants to 79 local businesses. The total amount awarded was approximately $1.29 million. Funding for the grants came from money the state received from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act. New Mexico got $1.25 billion from the aid package after Congress approved it in March. Of $150 million in assistance to counties and municipalities, $50 million was reserved for Small Business Continuity Grants or Small Business Redesign Grants.

More on the local grant disbursements can be read at www.rdrnews.com/2020/11/07/city-gives-1-29m-for-business-grants/

Recent elections

Dilmore: What did you think of the election results … in New Mexico and our area?

Kintigh: There’s a story in the Albuquerque Journal … about the Republican turnout in southeast New Mexico. I think that it’s been impressive, the work locally — and I give a huge credit to City Councilor Margaret Kennard, Councilor Jeanine Corn Best, they have a team of volunteers that walked every day … knocked on doors, passed out literature, the whole nine yards. Voter registration, Republicans did very well.

That wasn’t enough to have an impact around the state and that kind of is the reality of southeast New Mexico.

Took back CD2, the Republicans, that was a huge win. If you look at the Senate race, closer than previous …

I think that is a positive. But kind of like Churchill said after Dunkirk, victories are not won by evacuations. You do not make progress with close losses.

So what we’re going to see in this state is a shift in Santa Fe and the shift is troubling. It’s going to become increasingly progressive. Individuals that I served with in my time up there and respected, Sen. John Arthur Smith, Sen. Mary Kay Papen, gone. I think the Republicans picked up Smith’s seat. But they were in the majority, Smith chaired Senate finance and was respected — not always loved — but respected by everybody. So it’s going to be very concerning as to what direction the state takes.

New Mexico is a hodgepodge of very different communities. What we have down here is very different from the northwest and the urban areas like Albuquerque and Las Cruces, and I think we’ve survived, functioned as a state by recognizing and tolerating at the very least each other’s differences. I’m concerned that the progressives in their passion to “improve” will no longer tolerate the culture of southeast New Mexico.

We could see some very oppressive legislation. So I paint a dark picture but I am concerned.

Dilmore: Oppressive legislation aimed at what?

Kintigh: I think gun ownership is one. I think how police — this qualified immunity issue. There’s a huge potential for problems with that.

Qualified immunity, basically it says if you do something wrong but you weren’t trying to — you were trying to do your job the best you could at the time, something happens inadvertently. Not deliberately. If you deliberately try to hurt somebody, you’re responsible. But if you’re doing the best you can based upon the information you have, no you’re not responsible, you were doing the best you could.

That doesn’t just apply to police. That applies to CYFD, that applies to all state agencies, and so if you take … caps off of lawsuits, who pays? The taxpayer. …

For example, Roswell is part of self-insurers’ fund of municipalities. We contribute tax dollars to the pot, claims are made, evaluated. Sometimes they’re paid, sometimes they’re disputed. But if there’s a sudden huge jump in claims, we’re going to have to put more money, money that would have gone to roads goes into insurance — and that affects everybody.

And ultimately, the state is the deep pocket.

So those are just examples of concerns I have. … This whole session coming up, I’m concerned.

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