Two candidates’ forums were held in Mountainair Sunday, where two incumbents and four challengers are seeking seats on the town council.

Municipal elections will be held March 1 in towns around the state, including several in the Tricounty. Early voting is ongoing.

One forum was hosted by the Manzano Mountain Arts Council, while the other was reportedly pulled together by Barbara Chung and George Immawahr, both incumbents in the race.

While The Independent was alerted to Chung and Immawahr’s forum, the newspaper did cover the second forum that day, including a live webcast of the event which is still available at periscope.com. The first forum was attended by about half a dozen people, plus five candidates, according to a woman who attended both.

Neither Chung nor Immawahr took part in the second forum that day, which was attended by about 30 people in addition to three candidates who were on hand: Adrian Padilla, Peter Nieto and Michael Hays.

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Candidates seated at the table were Michael Hays, Peter Nieto and Adrian Padilla, as the audience watches. Photos by Leota Harriman.

The forum gave each candidate the opportunity to make an introductory statement, followed by questions from attendees, which were selected in random order and read out by Arts Council president Anne Ravenstone, who ran the event.

Hays said he is running for town council because communication between the town council and the community is “dysfunctional,” he said, adding that the town council has “resisted hearing from citizens.”

He took the current administration to task for following what he said is the “barest bones” of the Open Meeting Act.

He said that while he agrees with many of the decisions of the town council, the way those decisions are made means a “constant stream of suspicion” from the public.

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Nieto said that Mountainair’s focus “has not been towards the townspeople,” adding, “There is no town without the townspeople.”

He said that people have “lost confidence” in their town’s government. “People are not simply dissatisfied—they are furious,” Nieto said.

His priorities would be infrastructure, but Nieto also wants Mountainair to come “into the 21st century” by allowing payments to the town to be made electronically.

Padilla is a firefighter who works for the Forest Service. A graduate of Mountainair High School, he said he plans “to stay here the rest of my life,” adding that he is running to make the town a better place for his children.

He described himself as an “approachable person” and a “quick learner,” admitting that he has never attended a town council meeting. His priorities include public safety.

Padilla said he would like to see the town work to create something for young people to do. “There’s a skate park but I never see kids there,” he said.

Candidates were asked how many Mountainair police officers are certified.

In response, Nieto said a “top priority of mine” is to get the town police department on good terms with State Police and the Torrance County sheriff.

Padilla said as far as he knows, the police force is certified, adding, “Let’s get these cops up to speed if they’re not.”

Hays said the town has three full-time officers, with one in training this spring, adding that recruitment is difficult. “The pay is surprisingly low for as dangerous as the job is,” he said.

Another question asked whether the candidates would turn a relative in if it were discovered that he or she was manufacturing drugs. All three candidates in attendance gave similar answers, saying they would.

“Bottom line, the law’s the law,” Padilla said. “To me if they broke the law, they gotta face up to it.”

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Another question asked, “Why should we elect you?”

Nieto repeated his priorities: infrastructure, to be on good terms with the sheriff, and to make electronic payments.

Hays blasted the two incumbent candidates, referring to “outrageous” and “appalling” behavior. “The temperament of this town council has been punitive and dismissive,” he said, thumping his hand down on the table. “For a town council member to be that abusive and draw a small stipend—unacceptable!”

Hays added, “I don’t care who you vote for as long as it changes.”

Another question asked what the candidates would do for youth in Mountainair.

All agreed that young people in town need more to do, with Padilla and Nieto favoring looking at existing public spaces for improvement, and Hays suggesting that Mountainair “ask the kids.”

Another question asked how they would improve the town’s communication.

Nieto said he would use social media to communicate with townspeople about what the governing body was doing, including surveys asking how he, as a representative of the public, should vote.

Padilla said the town could send out messages in utility bills, and said he would also use social media. “The town’s website is always down,” he said, also mentioning contacting The Independent or other newspapers. “Make these things known,” he said.

“To increase communication, one goes out and asks questions,” Hays said. “What I suggest is that the town council actually solicit comment.”

Many of those at the forum live outside the town limits and so won’t be able to cast a vote.

“It’s crucial for this town to grow,” said one woman who did not want to give her name, “to take advantage of all these diverse opinions, to somehow allow us to have a voice in the town’s future.”

Fred Sanchez lives in Tajique but said he attended because he plans to run for the county commission and wants “to know what’s going on in the towns and villages.”

Rebecca Anthony said she lives just outside the town limits, and said she liked the three candidates at the forum for different reasons. “It sounds like they share the emotional investment in the town that I do.”

Others live inside the town limits and said they plan to vote.

“I’m encouraged that we’re going to get some new energy, some honest information and a change in our town council,” said Pamela Armas, who said she has lived in Mountainair for 15 years.

Asked if she expects a change in the town council, she answered, “I definitely think there will be a change. I base it on the information I heard today at this meeting and what I heard at the other meeting.” Armas added, “[The other meeting] ended up, in my opinion, with the two town council members that we have showing their true colors again, showing control and very bad behavior—and that’s what we need to get rid of. We don’t have a voice here in this town, we do need a voice in this town, and I think the three people here today might give us the opportunity to have that.”

“I think it’s definitely time for some fresh faces on the city council,” said Judith Reynolds, who said she has lived in Mountainair for 17 years.

Devin Nieto and Angel Logston-Nieto are both 18 years old, say they plan to vote, and said that Peter Nieto is their brother.

Devin Nieto said he liked it best at the forum when Hays said the town should ask its young people what to do. Angel Logston-Nieto echoed that idea, adding, “And we really do need to get the debit and credit cards going.”

Leota Harriman
Leota Harriman

Leota started working for The Independent in 2006, working her way up through the ranks. An employee buyout in 2010 led to her ownership of the newspaper. Leota has served on the board of the N.M. Press Association, and is currently its First Vice President. She is passionate about health and wellness, especially mental health, and loves making art. She can be reached at news.ind.editor@gmail.com.