Estancia’s municipal election pits an elderly political newcomer against a longtime incumbent.
The town has faced scandals including allegations of sex in the library between the librarian and town maintenance man. Whistleblower lawsuits are still pending after two town employees were fired: the town clerk and the assistant librarian who made the allegations.
Most recently, Estancia was placed in an “at-risk” category by the state auditor, because the town can’t account for tens of thousands of dollars. That issue is as yet unresolved.
There are three candidates, but only one contested race.
Town clerk Debra Kelly explained that when Ted Helsley resigned as mayor, Sylvia Chavez, who had been on the board of trustees, was appointed mayor.
That left a seat open, to which Stella Chavez was appointed. Stella Chavez is up for re-election on a two-year term for that seat, in an uncontested race.
Meanwhile, Josie Chavez, formerly Josie Richards, is seeking another term, facing challenger Manuel Romero.
Josie Chavez said initially that she would do an interview with The Independent, but then never returned repeated telephone calls to do so.
Romero spoke with the newspaper a few weeks ago.
Manuel Romero said he was born in Estancia in 1950. He said he was a good athlete, and got a scholarship to St. Joseph’s College in Albuquerque to play basketball.
Romero went into the U.S. Air Force, then taught school, retiring from Albuquerque Public Schools in 1994.
“I lost my wife, so I came back to Estancia,” he said. “I was very disappointed because we have a bunch of tumbleweeds all over the place. I’m running for one reason and one reason only: To give back to Estancia, which gave so much to me.”
Romero said his first priority in office would be to “straighten out the audit report.” The town is categorized “at-risk” by the state auditor. “That’s my first priority—to get the Estancia books in order.” He added, “We’ve got to account for all the money, no ifs or buts. This is money that belongs to the citizens and we’ve got to account for it.”
His second priority, Romero said, “is cleaning this town.”
He said he would use the stipend given to trustees to help pay for yard clean-up of the town’s elderly and impoverished residents. He also wants to establish a $50 prize for “yard of the month” to build an esprit de corps in town. “In other words I’m giving the money back to the citizens of Estancia,” he said.
Next, he said, “I’m a profession writer—I wrote plans in the Air Force. … Every opportunity to get a grant—we’re going to go after it.” Romero said he wants to do a study of Main Street, “talk to property owners, talk to people, and write a plan of how e can improve the appearance of Main Street.”
He said he would like to establish a Veterans Memorial in town. “We’re going to go for the moon, and hopefully we get something,” he said. “We’re not going to sit back and let the town die away. I’m 84 years old and if I don’t do it now, I’ll never get to do it. I’m going to volunteer a lot of my time. I’m retired. I’ve achieved the American Dream.”