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Council OKs allowing city facilities to reopen

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Local mental health specialist Amber Dollar addresses Roswell city councilors Monday night about what she described as far-reaching ill effects on youth and the elderly of state COVID-related restrictions. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record

[Note: This post has been updated to indicate the correct term for the type of action the Roswell City Council approved.]

The Roswell City Council passed a directive Monday night that will allow the city manager to keep city venues or facilities open, regardless of state public health orders.

The directive also states that the city manager must get the consent of the city council before closing any facilities or services for more than 48 hours. It further authorizes the city manager to take whatever safety protocols considered necessary for city sites. The resolution will expire March 1, 2021.

The directive was approved, 5-4. Councilors Jacob Roebuck, Margaret Kennard, Savino Sanchez, Barry Foster and Jeanine Best voted in favor, and Councilors Juan Oropesa, Judy Stubbs, Angela Moore and George Peterson were opposed. Councilor Jason Perry had to leave the meeting early and did not vote.

The measure was one of four items due to be discussed at a special meeting called about COVID-related restrictions and a lease involving the New Mexico Department of Health. The other items had not been voted on by press time.

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Roebuck proposed the measure, saying his concern is for the mental, social, academic and financial health of the people, especially youth.

Because Roebuck presented the item, he was able to call people to speak to the issue. They included a Roswell High School football coach, three Roswell High School students, a youth pastor, a fourth-grade teacher, a mental health specialist and a certified nurse practitioner.

Coach Jeff Lynn said that “idle hands are the devil’s playground” when referring to the closure of school buildings and the discontinuation of in-person sports and school activities that took effect in March.

“I have seen an uptick in gun violence in my kids. I have had four gun violence incidences since this started,” he said.

He explained two student-athletes he worked with had killed people, one shot himself in the leg and another was the victim of someone shooting at his vehicle. He also said that the New Mexico Activities Association has reported that eight student-athletes in the state have committed suicide.

Many of the other speakers also talked about rising levels of depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts and actions, violence and sexual assaults, substance abuse and academic failures that they have witnessed during their professional efforts.

Three Roswell High School students spoke about their difficulties trying to cope without the sports or band activities that they love, without academic support and sometimes without good internet connections to do online coursework.

Senior Sotero Garza said he has to use his phone as a hotspot to log on to the computer for school work and sometimes encounters difficulties as a result. He said he has been reprimanded for logging on late.

“When I went to the school and I complained and I said, ‘Hey, guys, I don’t have WiFi and there is nothing I can do if I am late to class,’ I was told, ‘Well, we have WiFi at the tennis courts.’ “

He said it was 106 degrees at the time he complained, and that he doesn’t think working at the tennis courts is a good option, especially in hot or cold weather.

Garza also said he has felt robbed because he has not been able to be a drum major this year as promised and is not able to practice on the saxophone as he needs.

City councilors and members of the public who spoke against the directive said that many of the issues raised by the students and the members of the public who spoke later involve schools or businesses, which the city has no authority over.

Roebuck said he realized that the city can’t affect businesses or schools and said that the directive is “far from a perfect” solution. But he said keeping city venues and facilities open would at least provide some opportunities for youth and the elderly to be active and social.

The Roswell Adult Center, the Roswell Recreation and Aquatic Center, the Roswell Public Library, the Roswell Museum and Art Center, the Spring River Zoo, city parks and the Nancy Lopez Golf Course at Spring River are among the facilities that have been closed or significantly restricted to public visitors by current or previous state orders that the city manager could choose to allow to remain open.

Roebuck is a founder of the Protect New Mexico Children campaign and a proponent of the Great Barrington Declaration. The declaration was developed by several medical doctors and now signed by 36,950 medical professionals who contend that the virus would best be handled by protecting high-risk populations from exposure while allowing herd immunity to develop in those considered to be at low-risk.

He was accused by a couple of speakers of having a conflict of interest because one of his business interests, the Roswell Christmas Railway, is held at the Spring River Zoo.

But Roebuck said that his concern is the welfare of vulnerable groups, especially youth.

“We have a moral obligation to help our children who are suffering. Some of them are dying,” he said.

He said he has great frustration that Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is not willing to speak individually with him, other local officials or state legislators.

“The trust is broken there,” he said.

Other councilors said that they did not think it was wise or effective to take an adversarial stance with the state.

Before leaving, Perry said that he remembered working at his first job with a manager who pounded his hand into a steel door because he was upset about district regulations. The man broke his hand in three places, causing months of problems, Perry said, even though at the time he still had to obey the district rules.

“A lot of what is being asked to be fixed cannot be fixed by this city council,” he said. “I want us to make a difference in our community, but I want us to do things that absolutely make a difference and not do things that are going to cripple our community in the future just for the sake of putting our hand into a door.”

Stubbs said that she was concerned that the measure was a “revolt against the government” and would end up pitting people against each other. Moore said it was obvious to her that the situation was about politics, even if people said that was not their concern.

Nora Sackett, press secretary for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, said state public health orders are law.

“State public health measures carry the full weight and scope of the law. Just as municipalities cannot choose to be exempt from state laws, they cannot choose to be exempt from state public health measures,” she said. “The state’s public measures are focused on protecting New Mexico from the ongoing deadly coronavirus pandemic. We hope local leaders also care about the health and safety of their community. Chaves County continues to record alarmingly high COVID-19 rates.”

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 351, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.

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Lisa Dunlap is a general assignment reporter for the Roswell Daily Record.