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County elected officials end years of service

Dave Kunko has served three times as county clerk. (Daily Record File Photo)

Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record

Two well-known elected officials are concluding their current roles with the county today, as their terms of office have come to an end.

Commissioner Robert Corn and County Clerk Dave Kunko have served two consecutive terms of four years each, the most allowed by statute.

New Mexico law requires that elected officials sit out at least one term before seeking re-election.

Five newly elected officials for the county are scheduled to take the oath of office today. They include Corn’s successor, local accountant Richard Taylor, and the new county clerk, Cindy Fuller, who has been chief deputy clerk for about a year and half and was elections bureau chief from 2014 to 2019.

Corn pauses political roles, heads to skies

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Robert Corn says another run for political office is not in his immediate plans. (Daily Record File Photo)

For Robert Corn, it is not only the end of eight years as District 4 county commissioner but also the close — or at least an interruption — of a long chapter as an elected official for the area.

Before serving as a commissioner, which included acting as board chairman for three years, he was a New Mexico state representative for four consecutive terms from 1980 to 1988. Then he served 15 years from 1994 to 2009 as a Chaves County magistrate judge.

“I have been tied up since 1980, so I am planning on taking a few days off,” Corn said, joking that he might just look for a fishing hole. “I don’t have any plans right now.”

As chairman of the Republican Party of Chaves County, he said he has a few “odds and ends” to wrap up, which he said does not involve the presidential transition. A farmer and rancher in addition to other vocations, he said he also has been asked by a few people to put his pilot skills to use on their behalf.

“After my last commission meeting, the phone started ringing,” he said.

He said political candidacy takes two concurrent circumstances, the appropriate office and the will to run, neither of which exist for him at the current time.

“I am not in any hurry to get started down another path to another elected office,” he said.

He said he is leaving the county with the feeling that the Board of Commissioners’ accomplishments have been significant, but also with sadness about what has happened to county residents in 2020.

“This has been an interesting and challenging year with COVID and all the concerns that people have,” Corn said. “I don’t think any of us anticipated this kind of devastation in our lives, businesses and everything. I think everyone is feeling a lot of pressure.”

He lists his accomplishments as working to ensure that the county receive full allocations of Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) and the Secure Rural Schools payments from the federal government.

“That’s a lot of money to not only Chaves County, but also to other counties in the nation,” he said.

In addition to a lawsuit supported by commissioners regarding the PILT payments, Corn has met regularly with U.S. Department of Interior officials and Congressional leaders to argue the county’s case.

It also was during Corn’s tenure that an expansion to the Chaves County Detention Center occurred.

“We came in under budget and on time,” he said, “and it is paid for.”

He said he thinks the conservative fiscal policies of the county have served residents well. A former member of the county’s finance committee, he said the soundness of past financial actions have been evidenced by the numerous awards the county has received from the New Mexico Counties organization for its financial practices. It also recently received the Local Government Division Director’s Award from the New Mexico Department of Finance and Administration.

Will Cavin, the current chairman of the board of directors, has known Corn for about 40 years. He describes a person who has served area residents in numerous ways, including as a first aid instructor with the American Red Cross and a volunteer with ski rescue patrols.

“He has been an invaluable asset to the county, especially in his financial knowledge. He has done a great job of keeping us in a good place,” Cavin said. “He has been a great mentor to me in that, and also in our trips to Washington D.C., and being involved with the Western Interstate Region board.”

The Western Interstate Region group is part of the National Association of Counties and brings elected county officials together to work on common goals.

Cavin said that Corn has mentored him to seek policies and legislation that uphold county values of preserving property rights and keeping lands available for ranching, farming and other business activities in light of competing interests by federal agencies to protect endangered species’ habitats and conserve land as wilderness.

Both Cavin and Corn think that the five-member Board of Commissioners, all Republicans, will continue to function as it has in the years ahead.

“It is a good cohesive group,” said Corn. “They are all sound thinkers and that has been going on for a long time in Chaves County, and we are very fortunate to have a sound group to make the required changes, take care of the book work and make sure we always have a balanced budget.”

Kunko wraps up 25 years

Dave Kunko said during his last meeting with the Chaves County Board of Commissioners on Dec. 17 that he had worked for the county and city clerk’s office long enough to remember when records were recorded by hand and a lot of the work was done without computers.

He characterized the change from today and when he first started work in Chaves County Clerk’s Office as “light years” of difference.

“It has been an honor to be with Chaves County. It has been very good to me,” he said. “I left Chaves County one time and came back because it has been that good to me and my family.”

Today is the end of 25 years with the county and conclusion of his third four-year term as Chaves County clerk.

The Roswell native and Roswell High School graduate began his career with Chaves County around 1989, helping to manage elections and record and preserve marriage licenses, probates, deeds and other official records. Until about 2001, he worked as an employee in the Clerk’s Office, serving as chief deputy clerk for many years.

He first won the county clerk seat in 2000, serving from 2001 to 2004. Then he worked as Roswell city clerk for about seven years until 2012. In 2012, he decided to run for county clerk again. He won that election, as well as his 2016 re-election bid.

Kunko also has served as president of the New Mexico Association of County Clerks, leading efforts to advocate for changes to state election codes.

“I came in here with two main goals this last time,” he told commissioners. “We have accomplished a whole lot, but one that I was very proud of was voting convenience centers. And the other is that we have got our documents online now and people can access them. We can have a lot of people checking records all over the country without having to come in. And, in these COVID times, that is probably a good thing.”

Commissioner T. Calder Ezzell Jr. noted that he also would be known as the person who “killed” the Dunken polling location.

Kunko was a proponent of having the residents of Dunken in the boothill of the county vote by mail rather than opening a polling location in that area of the county. That decision was made as part of the decision to open countywide voting convenience centers, allowing people to vote at any one of the polling sites rather than requiring people in certain precincts to vote at a specific site.

Kunko said that leaving behind the relationships he had formed would be the most difficult aspect of ending his role with the county.

Incoming County Clerk Cindy Fuller called it a “tremendous honor” to work with Kunko during the past six years.

“He was an amazing boss who was fun to work for, always had our backs, laughed with us but at the same time expected things to be done with the utmost integrity and professionalism,” she said. “I’m grateful for all that I’ve learned from him and for the opportunity to work with him. He will definitely be missed around the office.”

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.