The municipal election in Tijeras has pitted a slate of three candidates against the mayor and one of her supporters in what has become a battle for the identity of the village.
There are three candidates running for two seats on the village council: incumbents Maxine Wilson and Don Johnson, and challenger and former village councilor Ernestina King.
Meanwhile, a sitting councilor, Felix Garcia, is challenging incumbent Mayor Gloria Chavez for that position. Garcia has been involved in the village’s government since the 1970s, he said, serving as mayor and councilor. Chavez has been in village government around 20 years, also serving both on the village council and as mayor.
The slate of three candidates each pointed to controversial decisions made by Chavez, who accused two women at the Tijeras Senior Center of stealing scrapbooks that one of the women, the late Doris Lark, said she had made and paid for herself.
That story made national news and led to a lot of ill will between the village council and the mayor, the three said, because the council wanted to drop the matter, but the mayor wanted to press charges against the women.
A civil rights lawsuit against the village is still pending, brought by Floy Watson and Jim Lark, the widower of Doris Lark.
The Independent interviewed Garcia, Wilson and Johnson for this story. Despite repeated phone calls, neither King nor Chavez had returned phone calls seeking an interview before The Independent went to press. The interview with Chavez quoted below was conducted Jan. 5, the day that those running for office had to declare that intention.
Felix Garcia is up-front in stating that he is running for mayor of Tijeras again at the age of 72 because he feels the incumbent mayor has to go. “There’s a lot of unhappy people in the village now, especially with the senior center,” he said. “I was asked by a lot of people to run—I was about the only one they thought could take her out of there.”
Garcia said problems in Tijeras started around the time of the controversy over the Senior Center. “We used to communicate real good—all of a sudden about 2-3 years ago, it was, [Chavez] was the mayor, she was the CEO, she hired, she fired, she did as she pleased,” he said. “We [on the council] didn’t agree with that so we started having controversial issues.”
Garcia said the members of the village council frequently don’t get information from the village, or get late or incomplete information, when they ask for it. “All of a sudden we were left in the dark with a lot of things the mayor was doing that the council didn’t know about,” he said.
Garcia was mayor for 14 years, he said. “We started the fire department and the MVD. Then people thought they needed new blood, I guess.”
Another reason Garcia said he’s running for mayor is to repair the relationship with state legislators, after a meeting a year ago which became a public fight between the mayor and Sen. Sue Wilson Beffort, who walked out of the meeting, saying she was being disrespected.
Garcia said he wants to change the way the village does business: “If I become the mayor, all I want is transparency between the mayor and the council and employees that work for the village. I want to straighten this thing out once and for all. … This thing about the senior center, it’s gotten out of hand.”
Garcia said he would “get the council involved where I don’t make decisions on my own,” adding, “I want to know all the legislators and have good communication between the village of Tijeras and our legislators, and see if we can get funding back to the village.”
Incumbent Mayor Gloria Chavez did not return repeated phone calls for an interview for this story. But in January she gave The Independent a brief interview, where she said, “I’m seeking another term because I feel I’ve done a great job and just to continue on the path we’ve been. We’ve been very successful and got a lot of infrastructure in.”
She said the biggest issue for the village is to expand the village’s wastewater system. “We’re almost done with the water [system] now so now we’ll continue on with the wastewater, getting funding for that, continuing that. I’ve been workin on it since I was mayor, and prior to that when I was councilor as well.”
Chavez said she is “trying to get commercial development,” noting that “during part of my term unfortunately we had the recession.”
She said that “now people are coming out of it” and that she is working to get commercial development throughout the village. “With the infrastructure in place that will be a plus with attracting commercial development.
Asked what she does for a living, Chavez responded, “I am pretty much full-time mayor—I devote all my time to being mayor.” She said she also babysits her grandsons.
Don Johnson is running for his fifth or sixth term on the village council. He said a year ago, he and others on the council were approached by a group of concerned citizens “to do something,” due to the controversy at the senior center.
But, he said, difficulties between the village council and the mayor dated back a little farther than that, to an employee that the mayor wanted to fire, but the council wanted to keep. “The council fought her on the idea, and that’s what kind of started the problems between the mayor and the council.”
Johnson continued, “And then when we go to the senior center issues, it turned into more problems. We didn’t support her on taking these two older ladies to court over the scrapbook issue. She wanted to do that, we tried to stop that, and that added to the flames, and then what happened was the press. Cameras wee there about every other meeting and it turned into a big whoop dee doo.”
Johnson said that members of the village council tried to get an item on the agenda so they could make a public statement about the scrapbook issue, only to find that Chavez removed it every time.
In addition, Johnson said, “the rules changed,” with deletion from the agenda of items for new business and old business. “I was using that a lot to ask what’s going on with the senior center, what’s going on with this, what’s going on with that,” he said. “All of a sudden the agenda didn’t have that on there. There was no place bring out anything she doesn’t want to talk to.”
Johnson said his priorities include “taking care of residents with services,” and he adds business coming in to Tijeras in that category.
Johnson said he would continue working on the wastewater system, and also sidewalks in front of the bank. “If you walk to the library you’re on the road, with no protection,” he said. “There are walking trails possible I want to see happen.”
He said he would also work to improve the relationship with the area’s legislators, saying that Sen. Sue Wilson Beffort had been insulted by the mayor and several others at a meeting a year ago. “It turned into the mayor and Sue Wilson Beffort had a big fight,” Johnson said. Then Sue Wilson Beffort, rightly so, walked out of there—she was being mistreated by several people. … So we’re still in that situation with no funding because of problems with legislators.”
He would also continue to seek federal funding.
Johnson said he is endorsing Garcia in the race because he wants to restore public trust in the village, adding, “I don’t want to make national news unless it’s something good.”
Maxine Wilson is seeking her fourth term on the village council. She, along with fellow councilors Don Johnson and Felix Garcia, have offered themselves as a slate opposing the mayor.
“The main thing for me is I’ve been after transparency,” Wilson said. “The communication is not there. The council isn’t always aware of what’s going on. Information going out to the residents is no longer happening—we don’t have a newsletter, don’t have a website.”
Wilson said that information is provided to the council “always at the last minute” and that it “takes and act of Congress” to get it.
She gave an example of the village financials, saying that the village council had only just approved the financial statements from September, because they were incorrect. Wilson also said that when she asked for more information on the financials, that the village then provided 100 pages of spreadsheets that it took her two days to go through. “I’ve asked over and over and I’ll continue to do that,” she said. “I think I’ve already succeeded in getting some of that out, now.” She said she wants another term on the council so she can keep applying this pressure.
She said another issue for her is respect. “The mayor shows no respect toward us [on the council], no respect toward our legislators, no respect for our business owners and people that ask for things that they don’t want to give them. Respect has to come back and I think we can do that with Felix [Garcia].” She added, “I think if we have Felix [Garcia] in office there will not be anything hidden. It needs to be open.”
Wilson also takes issue with the mayor’s management style. “We’re constantly having to be sure we’re not going to get sued for this or that, and most of the time we’re in the dark,” she said. “We’re supposed to be making decisions—everything’s always at the last minute, and we’re not going to be pushed.”
Wilson said she wants to encourage business in the village and also pointed to infrastructure as a priority. “We want people to hear good things so instead of passing through Tijeras, they stop and shop. We want to straighten out our reputation, not be known for bad things.”
Ernestina King was formerly on the village council, and is seeking another term. Despite initially saying she would do an interview with The Independent, King did not return multiple phone calls to do so.