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Rio Rancho, N.M4
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Posted Thursday, April 17, 2014
CRR rate plans unveiled
to Chamisa membership

Clubhouse minimims, golf and social pricing uspets some who have stayed with financially strapped club 


Membership rates for the new Club Rio Rancho were unveiled Thursday night to a sometimes satisfied, sometimes critical group made up mostly of people who have maintained membership in the struggling Chamisa Hills Country Club.

Principal owner in waiting Jhett Browne and minority partner Bob Gallagher had hoped the meeting would end with the 200 or so in the audience ready to become a sales force to recruit new members to the club when it changes ownership in less than two weeks and becomes Club Rio Rancho.

Instead the meeting degenerated into an open negotiation and a feeling by many current members that they are not being properly rewarded for sticking with the club during tough financial times.

It was the first meeting the new owners had with existing membership. They have met with concerned residents of the largely abandoned North Nine publicly three times.

The basic monthly rates of $300 for a family golf membership, $200 for an individual golf membership and $100 for a family social membership were largely accepted. What did raise the hackles of many in the group was additional charges for seasonal swimming, pool access and tennis that in the past had either been included in golf membership or simply ignored by some who took advantage of the amenities without paying extra for them.

Now those options are being individually priced in an attempt to keep the basic golf membership costs down and allow for more customized selection while still generating more income.

The other sticking point was the addition of minimum food and beverage charges of $75 for golf memberships and $50 for social memberships.

Discussion of rates for separate items – seasonal swimming (June through September), year-round pool access and tennis were mostly pleasant and sometimes even affable. But the exchange over social and golf memberships, which make up the bulk of the club, got heated for about 10 minutes

As the discussion shifted to the social and golf memberships, some members began comparing pricing for the larger packages versus buying individual items and expressed concerns, sometimes loudly, that they did not see the value or feel appreciated for their continued support.

The price structure and need for more money to make improvements to the club is a vicious cycle. Golfers want a good golf course, tennis players want good courts, swimmers expect a certain quality of pool.

But those items don’t provide the revenue to pay for themselves. What does bring in the bucks, and provide ownership with a chance at a profit, is expenditures on food and alcohol. But members don’t want to support a membership fee to eat and drink at a club that has a run-down tennis facility, dirty pool and golf course that has deteriorated due to water issues, among other things.

Too many golfers have become what  long-time member Kathy Colley called “trunk slammers,” individuals who play golf, put their clubs in the trunk of their cars and go home without patronizing the bar and restaurant. The money they pay in greens fees and memberships hasn’t generated enough revenue to keep the facility up to what most would consider country club standards, and memberships continued to drop.

Several individual members complained that they would be paying more under the new rate structure and feel they should be rewarded for their years of keeping the club on financial life support. But Browne said membership fees have not been raised in six years.

Browne made a change from the printed rate sheet distributed at the meeting, agreeing to lower the cost of pool and tennis additions from $60 to $50 per month when purchased in conjunction with a golf membership.

He also agree to look at two ideas presented by the audience: allowing golf members to accumulate free rounds u so they could give to guests to try to entice them to join the club, and letting members who run up more than their $75 or $50 food/bar minimum to apply the extra expenditure in some undetermined ratio that could be applied to other options such as tennis and swimming. The concept: the more you spend on food and liquor, the more benefits you acquire.

Unfortunately for the new ownership, by the time Browne got to present his idea for a membership drive that would provide prizes to those who recruited the most new people to the club, much of the audience had left the meeting in anger or frustration. Only about 25 people stayed for the whole meeting

Membership plans do offer different incentives, including private dining and lounge privileges; VIP seating in the main room that will be converted into Jhett’s Fining Dining that will also be open to the public but offers the “million dollar view” of the course and Sandia Mountains; monthly cocktail and wine/cheese members-only parties and other special events.
But Browne acknowledged that the facility can no longer remain totally private, and some members questioned the value of the additional perks a membership provides.

As it was the first meeting with members, the owners also addressed negotiations with the North Nine homeowners, water rights and a proposed development deal with the city that the Governing Body will discuss in closed session Monday night.

As has happened in the previous public meetings, Browne announced a few more details of his plans to improve the club. The expanded three-story bar will be called the “Triple Play Club” and seat double the current occupancy limit of about 60. And the club will feature work from local artists, a program being coordinated by Browne’s mother Joanne.

He also confirmed that John King, who operates a golf course design and operations business in Rio Rancho after a successful career supervising courses at nationally-recognized University South (and North), Cochiti and for the city of Albuquerque, will be a major player in Club Rio Rancho renovations.

And he announced that former UNM tennis players Johnny Parks and Ben Dunbar, who rank among the school’s all-time top winners, will operate a tennis academy that Browne pledged will be “the best in the Albuquerque area.”

Browne said immediate renovations the public and members will see including resurfacing of the six tennis courts to “USTA (United States Tennis Association) standards,” cleaning and painting the swimming pool and removal of weeds and trash at points where the golf course is seen from city streets. Those things can be accomplished in relatively short time; but improving the golf course will take time. That makes the sales pitch to get more new golf members that much more difficult.

To make sure people only get access to the areas like the pool tennis courts and member-only bar and dining room that they will be paying extra for (with memberships), Browne said club members would be given an access code or computer-coded card to the different facilities. That method would would also track their purchases to apply to the food/beverage minimums.

Some prices, such as the food menu and bar prices, are not yet available. Golf rates for the public haven’t been set either, though Browne told after the meeting that public greens fees would probably be between $30 and $35.

Paying that much to play a course that is in a less than pristine state might be a hard sell too.  But Browne hopes to attract more people, both the general public and new members, to get the cash flow he needs to make the immediate and long-term improvements he and his unnamed banker are banking will make Club Rio Rancho profitable in the future.

Opening to the public is an adjustment that some long-time club members may find hard to accept. But it has become a necessity as club membership has fallen from more than 1,100 in its heyday to less than 150 members.

Some members were more realistic, realizing that if Browne is not successful the club will likely close and the land possibly sold to housing developers. That option takes away the prestige of living on a golf course and probably means lower property values to surrounding homes.

Colley, a golf enthusiast who has won the club championship 10 times, has a unique perspective. As a former city councilor, she’s aware just how precarious things are for the club, but said things actually have been worse and that current owner Harry Apodaca is getting some unwarranted criticism.

“Some people have very short memories,” she said. “I have played here when we hit off of actual dirt. To me the course likes Augusta National right now.”

While admitting she was “disappointed” that club members were just now getting to meet the new owners, Colley supports the new rate options and believe most club members will too – eventually.

“The first thing I did when I moved here in 1986 was join the club,” she said. “And I haven’t had an increase in membership costs since then.

“I don’t have any kids. I don’t play tennis and I’ve been in the pool maybe 10 times. They’re simply giving people more choices by letting them pick what they want a la carte, and a whole bunch of people spend more than the minimum anyway.”

Colley said she understands the frustration of long-time members who have seen the facility deteriorate and have been promised by multiple new owners that they could fix it. But her sense is that most of the current membership will renew when the new rates go into effect July 1.

“You may have heard some complaints tonight,” she said. “But I think most of those who have stuck with it this long will continue to stick with it. Those who couldn’t are long gone anyway.”

Posted Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Golf course deal questioned

Editor’s Note: Today re-launches its opinion which will include letters to the editor and occasional opinion pieces and editorials. Your contributions are welcome. Please click here to e-mal your submissions. Please include your address and phone number for verification purposes only. Only your name and city will be published.


It has been an interesting experience to observe the presentation of the “new face” of Chamisa Hills Country Club, aka The Club at Rio Rancho, following the close of escrow May 1.

During two meetings with area property owners, different and unimpressive versions of finance and development activities were given by Jhett Brown, the scheduled purchaser. 

First, a dramatic notation of monthly operating expenses of $90,000 per month were subsequently reduced a week later to $35,000. Then the appearance of debt financing for the purchase of the North Nine golf course in the amount of $1.5 million (unavailable one week), subsequently appeared a week later.

Was the entire transaction really a solid sale, given the financial drama? What accounting revelations occurred so quickly?

Initially, in the absence of the aforesaid $1.5million, there was the necessity to sell a portion of the land on the North Nine course to a “big time” developer to sell 40 home sites to create adequate cash flow. Then that wasn’t needed when new money suddenly appeared.

However, the cost to redesign and rebuild the North Nine into attractive playing conditions has a potential price tag of approximately $2 million. No definite idea has been presented to area homeowners to design and build that scenario in terms of time and cash/financing.

To capitalize those additional costs, extensive membership growth would have to exist in the absence of mortgage funding. If one does the math per the proposed membership fees, it could be quite a while before the North Nine is ready for play.

Interestingly, it should be added that ‘any resistance to the idea of adjacent development’ of the 40 home sites, resulted in a not too veiled threat of litigation by “deep pocket, serious players” who would all but be assured of a victory, according to Browne.

For the record, Mr. Browne, the residents are not the supposed litigation foes, your opponent in a proposed rezoning of fairway property from existing special use to residential use. The opponent would be the City of Rio Rancho -- quite a different scenario, regardless of the depths of pockets by “serious players.”

It might be added that threats and intimidation in a sales presentation are poor form, to say the least, in winning over a prospect.

The latest proposal presented by Browne has golf course area residents being asked to provide club memberships to cash flow this deal, in lieu of property sales to developers for homes. If enough memberships are sold, then the housing idea presumably disappears.

It must be asked:  What assurances and conditions are provided by Brown to those homeowners that the same sale scenario wouldn’t be pursued in the future? Where is the written covenant of good faith? None is apparent at this writing.

It gets better. A “development agreement” by Brown with the City of Rio Rancho for “real property” (perhaps water rights?) to irrigate the property is scheduled behind closed doors on Monday. Is the City being asked to incentivize this deal in some undisclosed manner?  Could a collateralization of land secured by new membership fees provide financial leverage to negotiate groundwater pumping rights?

And what of the reclaimed water negotiation process in all this? Nothing has been publicly finalized about that rate structure.

Somehow, after much head scratching, I’m skeptical of the entire scenario. Are you?

Bill Nelson

Posted Tuesday, April 15, 2014

2 rookie candidates get at least 60 percent
to continue conservative electoral dominance

Smith takes District 5 runoff race over Buckner

For complete results and photos, click here


Political newcomers Gregg Hull and Shelby Smith were swept into office Tuesday night as the conservative tide that started in Rio Rancho four years ago is now a tidal wave.

Even though technically a non-partisan election, conservative Republicans Hull and Smith each beat their Democratic opponents by more than 20 percent, with each getting at least 60 percent of the total votes cast.

What was an all-liberal council four years ago is now all conservative after Hull beat Mike Williams for mayor and Smith defeated Tom Buckner for the city council seat in District 5. The change started four years ago when Tim Crum won the District 5 seat, and three more conservaties were elected to the council in 2012. This year three more conservatiives were elected to the council, and now Hull will replace Tom Swisstack as mayor.
Hull received 4,250 vores, or 64.9 perent of the total, compared to Willianms' 2,99 votes (35.1 percent). Smith's margin was slightly smaller, 711 to 4r7, meaning Smith got 60.1 perent of the vote compared to 39.9 for Buckner

Hull dominated across the board. In a complete statistical breakdown provided by the city, Hull won 52 of 56 categories. The only places where Williams had an advantage was District 2 voters who cast their ballots at the Meadowlark Senior Center (25-24), District 4 voters at Mountain View Middle School (3-1), and District 5 voters at City Hall (13-11) and Mountain View (2-0). Under the "convenience center" concepts, voters may cast their ballots anywhere and are not necessarily voting at the location closest to where they are registered.

Hull won each of the six distinct polling locations by wide margins, thus earning pluralities in the total vote and percentage as well. Hull dominated the absentee 415-174) and early (1,394-812) totals. He won the two largest Election Day voting locations (Meadowlark and Soul Rio Church) by 376 votes or more, and took the two smaller Election Day locations (City Hall and Mountain View) by and took three each of the Election Day polling places by at least 135 votes.

Smith, meanwhile, was undefeated, wining 13 if 16 statistical categories and tying Buckner in three others. He won the overall numbers everyplace but City Hall, where he and Buckner got 12 votes each.

The overall turnout was 6,549 voters, comparatively high for a runoff election, where some predicted a low turnout due to spring break in the Rio Rancho schools and the deadline for filing federal tax returns. A total of 6,925 votes were cast in the initial election on March 4.

The mayoral election was a bitterly fought contest, with opponents in both the general and runooff eletions questioning Hull’s character throughout. So one could acknowledge Hull was makng a statement of fact, not boasting, when he told Tuesday night something he had been saying privately all along:

“I told you so,” he said. “I told you we could do it clean.”

But because of the bitterness of the race, neither side was quite ready to kiss and make up.

“We ran a race, and he ran a good race,” Hull said of Williams. “I wish him and his family well.”

Williams’ only comment: “God help this city.”

By contrast, the District 5 candidates were extraordinarily complimentary of each other.

“If I had to lose, I’m glad it was to Shelby,” Buckner said. “He will be an outstanding asset to the city and I look forward to working with him.”

Said Smith: “I can’t tell you how much it meant to have someone conduct themselves like Tom Buckner did in this runoff, especially seeing some of the other things we saw in the mayor’s race.”

Hull was gratified, but not necessarily surprised, by the margin.

“I don’t know what we were expecting,” he said. “I really sincerely played this to the end not having any expectations.

“I am humbled by the support the voters gave me.”

The two will have to hit the ground running, going from their swearing in ceremony Monday night at City Hall to an executive session of the Governing Body to discuss a development agreement with the new buyers of the Chamisa Hills Country Club.

“I’m painfully aware of that,” Smith joked.

Besides working with the city council on existing issues, Hull said his first priority would be  “to get out and interface with the public really quickly and get an understanding of what they want.” Hull said he would use town hall meetings and meeting with small groups, such as business leaders and representatives of faith-based  groups, to help him establish policies for his administration.


Posted Monday, April 14, 2014

Voters to decide mayor,
1 council seat in runoff

Polls open at 7 a.m. in four locations


Here we go again.

Two races, four candidates and voting locations, and the end of one long campaign comes to a conclusion Tuesday when Rio Rancho voters will go back to the polls a second time in an attempt to determine a mayor and city councilor from District 5.

After the totals are certified Friday and winners sworn in Monday, the 105-day election process will finally complete – unless there is a tie, in which case state law calls for the winner to be decided by lot, which could include anything from cutting a deck of cards to a hand of poker.

But that’s extremely unlikely. So what started on Jan. 7 with a simple declaration process and has included forums and phone calls, door knocking and candidates talking, emails and mailers, and shots in the media and social media, will finally be over.

Oh yes, and all those signs will be gone in a few days – just in time to make room for the candidates for county, state and federal office who are seeking votes in the June 3 primary and Nov. 4 general election.

But Tuesday it’s still about the local candidates. Greg Hull and Mike Williams emerged as the top two vote-getters from the March 4 election from a four-field, but neither got the more than 50 percent needed to secure election outright. The same thing happened it District 5, where Shelby Smith and Tom Buckner topped another four-man field.

Polls open at 7 a.m. at the same four convenience center locations used in March – Meadowlark Senior Center, Soul Rio Church, City Hall and Mountain View Middle School. The polls close at 7 p.m.

A total of 57,488 voters are eligible to participate in the runoff, actually down from 57,601 registered voters in the March 4 balloting. As of the close of business Monday, 2,793 votes had already been cast by early or absentee voting, 612 more than were cast in the March 4 election that also included races for municipal judge and two other city council seats.

The breakdown, by district:

*District 1: 9,411 eligible, 370 votes.

*District 2: 8,645 eligible, 404 votes.

*District 3: 8,408 eligible, 379 votes.

*District 4: 10,903 eligible, 669 votes.

*District 5: 9,372 eligible, 403 votes.

*District 6: 10,579 eligible, 569 votes.

Absentee ballots may still be turned in to the city clerk until 7 p.m. Tuesday.

The four candidates were asked Monday what would be the one thing they would like voters to be thinking about just before they cast their vote.

The answers …

*Hull, in a statement released through his campaign manager:
“Rio Rancho voters have a very important decision to make tomorrow about what direction they want our city to go. I have run a positive, forward-thinking campaign and tomorrow's results will reflect that.”

*Williams: “I want them to think they are voting for the right man, someone who has the experience and qualifications, has been a resident of the city for 29 years and has his heart and soul in it.”

*Smith: “I want them to remember that I have a long record of service to the country and the city, and I will continue to do so if they honor me with enough votes to make them their city councilor. And I will listen to all citizens, not just a select few or those from any political party, and decide how to vote based on what they feel is important to them.”

*Buckner: “Most people have made up their minds by the time they get to the polling place, but I would want look at the level of experience between the candidates. I bring 54 years of professional experience and have been making difficult decisions for most of those 54 years. I have the experience to go there and do what is best for the people of Rio Rancho.”

Look for complete unofficial results on this site by 9 p.m. Tuesday.

All four candidates turned in the second of three finance reports for the runoff election due Monday at noon.

In the mayor’s race, Hull shows once again outraised and outspent his opponent by about a 2-to-1 ratio.

Hull’s report shows $10,407.09 in contributions and $9,023.12 in expenditures. Williams, in contrast, shows $4,281.18 in contributions and $4,019.63 in expenditures.

Coupled with the numbers from three reports from the March 4 election, Hull shows totals of 52,582.98 raised and $52,134.84 spent, while Willliams’ figures are $21,643.03 raised and $21,355.48 spent.

Neither candidate rolled over any funds from the first election. Williams’ report shows he spent all he raised the first time around -- $17,355.85 – while Hull’s report actually shows a deficit ($42,175.89 raised; $43,111.72 spent) in the March 4 campaign.

The spending totals are much lower and closer in District 5. Smith’s figures were harder to track since his reports for the first campaign did not keep a running total.
Adding the totals of Smith’s first three campaign reports shows $3,365 in contributions and $2.234.78 in expenses, including no new expenses on the third reports. So far his two runoff reports show contributions totaling $3,876.56 and expenditures of $3,849.10. Add those numbers together and you get $7,241.56 in contributions and $6,083.88 in expenses for the entire campaign.

Buckner, meanwhile, raised $4,830 for the first election and spent $4,530. So far he’s raised $2,712.35 and spent $2,113.90. Totals: $7,542.35 raised and $6643.90.

A list of individual contributors is available on the city’s web site (click here). Final financial reports for candidates are due by 5 p.m. on May 15.

Posted Saturday, April 12, 2014
Membership drive could save
North Nine from development

Owner of new Club Rio Rancho optimistic


Options for preserving the abandoned North Nine golf holes as open space have seemingly narrowed to one: Find enough members to join the new Club Rio Rancho so principal owner Jhett Browne gets the money he needs to renovate the club.

More than 100 people, mostly homeowners who live along the 63-acre North Nine, met Saturday with Browne at what is now called Chamisa Hills Country Club and started years ago as Rio Rancho Country Club.

After hearing from city councilor Mark Scott and Browne, the group agreed to support a membership drive and formed a committee to meet with the new owner in an attempt to keep the area behind their houses as open space for now, with hopes of returning it to some form of a golf course in the future.

The financial possibilities of that happening got easier within the last week. Browne announced he had met with a lender who could give him the $1.5 million he wants to renovate the club and other 18 holes by using the North Nine as collateral. To make his payments on the loan, Browne said he would need about $35,000 a month in revenue from the North Nine, not the $75,000 to $90,000 figure he projected last week before locating the unnamed financier.

After Browne’s presentation, he and minority partner Bob Gallagher left the room to allow the homeowners to discuss their options. After presentations by three members and some question-and-answer exchanges, those in the audience were asked by a show of hands to commit to buying either a full family membership (at $300 per month) or social membership ($100 per month). Seven people committed to the golf ($2,100 per month) and 44 more for the social membership ($4,400 per month), which equates to $6,500 month in revenue.

That’s still quite a distance from Browne’s $35,000 figure. For example, it would take 85 full golf memberships and 85 social memberships at the same prices would generate $34,000. But it would appear more manageable than the 300 (memberships) x $300 slogan being touted last week.

Browne was recalled to the room and the unofficial vote was staged again for his benefit. His response: “That’s awesome.

“I don’t want to build in your back yard,” he told the group. “I think you have the consensus right here, right now, to make the thing work. We’re hearing some great stuff.

“How far we have come – it’s amazing. It started with just a  couple of people, and now we have a room full of people and a lot of hands up. I want to applaud you for that.

“It looks like we’re going to be able to be able to save the north course. It’s time to think about how we’re going to do it. I’ve been giving thought of once we save it for open space how we can save it for a golf course. There’s many ways to do that to.

“If we can do this, we can do the other too. We’ve got a partnership we’ve put together here. Basically, it’s you and me. We’ll figure it out as we go somewhat, but if we work together we can accomplish great things.

“Thank you from the bottom of my heart. I was over there (on the North Nine) today and I see a golf course over there.”

The turnout was about half the crowd that came the last Saturday. By the end of that meeting 100 people had signed in representing North Nine households.

Those who signed in were asked to choose at least one of three options. Only 38 indicated buying the course outright from Browne was a viable choice.

In addition, 30 voted for buying a full membership; 46 opted for a social membership; and 31 indicated they were unsure or had no response.

Homeowners are hoping to generate enough money to keep Browne from selling the North Nine to a developer who could then build more houses. Browne has said he has talked to one developer who would buy the property for $2.5 to $3 million, though he declined to identify that developer when questioned publicly, citing a confidentiality agreement.

The homeowners, who have unofficially adopted the name of N-Cubed (as in North Nine Neighbors), formed a committee of seven to work with Browne in an attempt to hash out a legal agreement that would prohibit the new owner from making any future deal that would allow for the construction of more houses. 

The committee will meet next week and hopes to be able to present an agreement publicly in two weeks.

Browne had previously offered to sell the North Nine to homeowners for the $1.5 million he needs, with the hopes of buying it back (with interest) with the intent of turning the area into an executive (shorter) nine holes. But that proposal came with the proviso that 40 to 50 lots would be carved out for additional development to pay the estimated $2 million it would take to make it some form of a golf course again.

Current owner Harry Apodaca has not only not watered the area for almost a year but “cannibalized” the North Nine, using Browne’s word, by ripped out the sprinkler system.

In comments and informal “show of hands” polling, homeowners present Saturday unanimously don’t want additional houses. They also believe getting Browne to commit to not allowing selling to someone who would put in more houses is the key to selling enough memberships to meet the new owner’s financial requirements.

Whether that can be done in a legal agreement or though covenants, or if Browne would agree to such an arrangement, is something the committee hopes to negotiate.

Bob Walton, an initial critic of the deal whose private meetings with Browne led to the discussions, gave Browne a “homework assignment” in that vein.

“We can get you your money,” Walton said. “We can get enough people to sign up to retire your loan in five years, but you have to put on your thinking cap as to what after those five years that North Nine is going to look like.

“You keep saying 40 homes, but there are other ways of doing this. I can guarantee you almost that we can really make some progress in getting enough people to sign for five years if we have three or four options out there that don’t include 40 homes.”

While Browne left the early part of the meeting to strong applause, there remained a few skeptics. Some want to “trust, yet verify” the actual value of the land by an appraisal or developer; others expressed concern at letting Browne’s attorneys draft any proposed agreement. And there were no specifics on different forms of membership and costs; Browne wants to unveil those numbers first at a meeting for current members on Thursday night.

Several other pieces of new information and reactions from the meeting:

*City councilor Scott, whose district includes the golf course and surrounding homes, said the Governing Body would meet in executive session on April 21 to discuss the golf course issue. Not coincidentally that day is also when the new mayor and District 5 city councilor will likely be sworn in after Tuesday’s runoff election.

“I’m going to do whatever I can to save this space as a golf course or open space,” Scott told outside the meeting. “I’m going to do my best to convince the city council of the importance of the country club – its historical value, maintaining the space as a golf course or open space, maintaining property values.

“There are a whole bunch of factors. It’s not just the people who live on the perimeter of the golf course, it ripples out. It’s very, very important to the community.

“I will be calling on not just the group that met here today but all the people who live on the perimeter for their help.

“Let’s stay with the facts here. It is important. It is historic. All kinds of people have had there wedding receptions, meetings and events here for 40 years. I don’t want to lose it.”

Scott agrees with the homeowners that a compromise is within reach to prevent additional houses in the area and that restoring it as some form of golf course “is my first choice.”

“It’s too important to lose,” Scott said. “We have 140 square miles of places to build houses. We don’t need to do it here.”

Under state law the council can only meet in executive session for two reasons, personnel matters or the sale or acquisition of real property. Scott told the group that the real property provision is the reason the meeting would not be open to the public.

Based on previous information, the deal could include the golf course leasing water rights and/or purchasing an existing well from the city, and/or the city getting the option to buy some land from the course to drill a new well. 

*Browne reiterated plans for renovating the club include a restaurant that serves three meals a day, every day, called Jhett’s Fine Dining, along with two other areas within the club where alcohol will be served. The new detail was his plan to add a microbrewery, and perhaps a small winery, that would allow Club Rio Rancho to compete with other area establishments such as Turtle Mountain.

*In addition to an improved and expanded tennis operation that would include two former University of New Mexico players, the new owners hope to add facilities that would allow for indoor and outdoor volleyball.

*Browne said he has narrowed his choices of golf course management companies to two and hopes to sign a deal bringing one of them on board to start and May 2, the day after the deal with the current owner is closed.

*Future expansion plans may include an additional building on the site of the current golf cart storage barn to host special events now being hosted in the club’s largest room, where the new restaurant will be.

*Thursday’s current member-only meeting will also include a contest where prizes will be offered as incentives to the people who recruit the most new members.


Posted Wednesday, April 9, 2014
City council tables ordinance again


The Rio Rancho city council considered two ordinances, confirmed two appointments and said goodbye two members Wednesday night.

It was the last Governing Body meeting for Mayor Tom Swisstack and District 5 city councilor Tim Crum, whose replacements will be selected by voters in Tuesday’s runoff election.

The meeting had a relatively light action agenda but still took an hour and 40 minutes, due in large part to several employee recognitions, resolutions and proclamations that took 50 minutes at the beginning of the meeting. And speakers on a variety of topics took their turns to address not just their specific issue but also to offer their best wishes to Crum and Swisstack, who concluded the meeting with their own personal reflections and advice.

An ordinance that exempts city projects from restoration and permit fees on public right of way projects passed its second reading with no changes from the last meeting and will become law in 10 days. A second ordinance regarding setbacks and landscaping, and sets some regulations in attempting to show the difference between storage areas and open sales displays like one would see at a home improvement store, was postponed for a second time.

Different councilors raised different reasons and concerns with the ordinance. Three speakers -- Lynne Anderson, president of the New Mexico chapter of the National Association of Industrial and Office Properties, NAIOP board member Paul Wymer of Rio Rancho, and Chamber of Commerce President/Chief Executive Officer Debbi Moore -- all expressed concerns that language that allows businesses who find themselves not in compliance with the new ordinance have three years to resolve their issues. Anderson said her organization did not get to see proposed revisions to that section of the ordinance before the meeting.

Councilor Loonie Clayton, who said he has been working with NAIOP to get the organization to provide input on development issues, didn’t want the ordinance to pass because NAIOP had not had a chance to review it. Councilor Cheryl Everett, whose recent campaign was managed in part by Clayton, expressed concern that outside groups might be getting a chance to comment on staff work before the council even saw it.

Councilor Dawnn Robinson attempted to offer a floor amendment clarifying the language, but councilor Chuck Wilkins suggested it was redundant in some areas and wanted the amendment to be amended. And Crumm, wanting something to get on the books during his tenure, simply voted “no” to tabling the motion.

Confused? So was development department director Dolores Wood, who attempted to solicit direction from the council. But before the conversation became another debate on the issue, Swisstack and city manager Keith Riesberg interjected and ask that councilors submit any feedback to Wood.

The ordinance is now scheduled for consideration at the May 14 council meeting.

A second issue came up during the public forum where several parents – and two prospective students – asked the council to support an effort to bring a branch of the Albuquerque Institute for Math and Science (AIMS) to Rio Rancho.

The council has no specific say on the issue. Supporters of AIMS hope the council will support the charter school, which is affiliated with the University of New Mexico and could use facilities funded by the ¼-cent higher education gross receipts tax.

The Rio Rancho school district oppose AIMS because it would take away funding that it would otherwise receive from the state.

The two appointments to the Keep Rio Rancho Beautiful Committee that were approved are Charlene Spiegel (District 1) and Connie Walsh) (District 3).

The Governing Body med in closes session prior to the meeting for the expressed purposes of discussing “collective bargaining strategy” and a “limited personnel” matter regarding one city employee.

Representatives of “Sunday is Funday,” formerly known as the Mayor’s Picnic, presented Swisstack with a gift to thank him for his support of the event over the past six years while he was mayor. They also announced the event will be Aug. 17.

And Moore, in her capacity as a board member of Central New Mexico Community College, announced that CNM had authorized funding for technology-based classes that will be offered in space not being used in the Hewlett-Packard building. She also asked the public to complete an on-line survey seeking input on CNM.

The new general manager of the Santa Ana Star Center was also introduced. Shane Cadwell has 16 years of experience in the field, including 14 with Global Spectrum, the management company that operates the Star Center.

In other business, the council:

*Recognized Fred Tice from the maintenance division of the Parks and Recreation Department for 30 years of service. The city maintains 40 parks and more than 200 acres of open space.

*Recognized Arthur Montoya from the building maintenance division of the Public Works Department for 25 years of service.

*Recognized Vonda Nelson, children’s librarian at Esther Bone Library, for 20 years of service.

*Recognized firefighter Robert Mitchell and Capt. Aaron Garcia for 15 years of service with the city.

*Recognized April 13-19 as “National Library Week” in  Rio Rancho.

*Recognized April as “fair housing month.”

Posted Monday, April 7, 2014
Short term financial picture
for school district improving
RRPS likely to be able to balance budget next year,
but needs more money for computers, classrooms, teachers


It’s not like the Rio Rancho Public Schools are rolling in dough, but its financial picture won’t be as bleak next year.

Though district staff is only in the preliminary stages of forming the 2014-15 budget, chief operations officer Richard Bruce and finance department executive director Randy Evans told the RRPS board Monday night the district won’t have to dip into reserves again next year and may actually be able to put some money back into savings. And, at the same time, the district will be able to meet state mandates of at least a three percent raise for all staff and six percent for instructional assistants, something that will have to be part of contract negotiations with the teacher’s union.

The preliminary budget information was part of a busy agenda that included the adoption of match educational materials for kindergarten through fifth grade, the first reading of a policy on part time and temporary employees, a minor boundary change in advance of major moves to come and four reports.

The  early financial numbers are so new that what was listed on the agenda as “preliminary approval of 2014-15 budget” as an action item had to be tabled indefinitely. The district has until June 20 to submit a budget to the Public Education Department, so it has time, but many of the raw figures became available at the state budget workshop March 26-28 and a later revenue report from Santa Fe that came down on Thursday.

The early news, however, was favorable. This year’s state budget increased the “unit value” for schools from $3,817.65 per unit to $4,005.75 per unit, a 4.9 percent increase. That increase is the largest from the state in any one year since 2008, Evans said.

A unit is different from the number of students. Rio Rancho had 28,753 units last year and about 16,800 students, Evans said. A district gets extra units in the funding method for things like bilingual and fine arts students.

The most important number is that increase, coupled by a steady enrollment at the 80 and 120-day periods over the past two years, means the district should get about $6.5 million more from the state for the coning budget.

The revenue picture is also being helped by a reduction of $974,000 in unemployment insurance this year. Last year the state charged RRPS for 18 months of unemployment instead of 12 to correct an accounting error made by the state in previous years.

Out of that extra money the district has to fund those raises plus retirement, insurance and workman’s compensation increases. Bruce said the district also needs to give the facilities department a three percent budget increase to cover increasing utilities prices, the subject of one of the evening’s earlier reports.

Even with those expenses, Bruce said the district should be able to “reverse the trend” of dipping into reserves to pay for operational costs.

“We truly are talking about a balanced budget,” Bruce said.

And even though there is still more than two month left in the fiscal year, Bruce said, “We think we are on target to meet the challenge you gave us last year to have $4 million in cash reserves at the end of this year.”

It will be up to the board to decide how much of the new money goes into reserves or into other programs and costs. Grant money for some support staff positions, such as social workers and counselors, is running out. The district would also like to continue some mentoring programs for young teachers and start a program to support teachers who want to become administrators and beef up its substitute program. Bruce said the district has some needs in special education and the will face an new ongoing cost to fund InfoSnap, an on-line class registration system.

“We also have requests for about $2.8 million in new projects, pieces we have to flush out,” Evans said.

Superintendent Sue Cleveland also said the district if falling behind in technology, the topic of one of the other reports. At different schools the ratio between students and computers ranges from 15-to-1 to 9-to-1,  in large part due to increased testing and a state-mandated student survey (third report) that next year will require a 95 percent response rate as a five percent component of the new teacher evaluation system.

And, Cleveland said, each high school has lost an assistant principal in recent years just as more administrative time is required for that new evaluation system.

The district is also hoping to start setting aside money to fund the operational budget of the new Joe Harris Elementary School.

And as the state considers requirements to reduce class sizes, Cleveland said, “They have got to give us more resources or force us to destroy programs. We have more needs than we can possibly get resources for. Hard choices will have to be made, just like every years.”

Smaller class sizes effects a budget in more than one area. One is having enough actual classrooms.

“Pretty soon we’ll have to start having classes under a tree, like they do in other places,” Evans said.

The second problem is actually finding teachers. Cleveland said only 25 teachers will graduate from the University of New Mexico’s College of Education this year, and only one from New Mexico State.

The teacher shortage is such that the Albuquerque Public Schools had 130 classes covered by substitutes all year long, Cleveland said.

In other business, the board:

*Recognized six girls from Lincoln Middle School who performed in a national choir last month in Atlanta, Ga. Sofia Mejias-Archibald, Logan Gilbert, Casey Hennigan, Chloe Brownell, Morgan Maes and Emily Yates submitted an online audition in October, were selected in November and received their music in December. The 180-member choir performed in Atlanta’s symphony hall. Mika Proctor is the school’s choir teacher.

*Recognized Rio Rancho High teacher Leslie Keeney for winning the 2014 Southwestern Region Advanced Placement award.

*Heard a presentation from Elaine Manicke, principal of the Rio Rancho Cyber Academy, who is retiring at the end of the year. “Elaine is the consumenat processional, always,” associate superintendent Carl Leppelman said. “The results speak for themselves.”

*Heard a report from Maurice Ross, executive director of the transportation department.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

North Nine homeowners meet
with likely Chamisa Hills buyer


More than 200 people, mostly residents who live on the North Nine of the Chamisa Hills Country Club, met Saturday with likely buyer Jhett Browne on Saturday in hopes of keeping the area behind their homes as some form of open space.

Browne reiterated that he needs at least $1.5 million in revenue from the North Nine to make his deal to purchase the club work. Just how that money is raised, and if it will come from the homeowners or developers, remains the issue.

Browne said he had met with one developer twice – once shortly after the last full public meeting on Feb. 21 and then a second time – in an attempt to determine the market value of the 63 acres that make up the North Nine. Based on information he said he got from that unnamed developer, Browne said he could sell the property for at least $2.5 million.

Browne has said he would discount that price to sell to in part because he wants to attract those people as customers at the club that will become more public with fine dining, a three-story bar and a front bar as well. The price to homeowners: $2 million for a permanent sale, or $1.5 million with an option to buy back the property at that price, plus interest, in three to five years.

Browne, in turn, would use that money to obtain financing to fix the rest of the golf course. If he bought back the North Nine, Browne said the plan would be to turn the area into an executive (shorter) course and sell 40 to 50 properties for additional houses. Browne said he would need to carve out the lots because restoration of the North Nine to an executive course would cost at least $2 million after current owner Harry Apodaca quit watering the area and actually remove the sprinkler system within the past year.

Audience reaction was mostly positive, but opinions on what plan would be best was mixed. Some wanted to put up enough to buy the land outright; others preferred the lower price and buyback option.

Browne also said he would consider holding the land if the $1.5 million could be generated from other sources, such as membership fees. His number was 300 family golf memberships at $300 a month, or equivalent revenue with a combination of lower-priced social memberships.

The outright purchase would break down to about 300 people paying $5,000 each.

Browne said golf membership prices would remain about the same – going up $8 from the current $292 monthly figure. Memberships for single members would remain the same.

Some in the audience suggested social memberships prices be raised from $55 to $100 to help meet the revenue needs.

“I’m willing to work with any scenario that will get us to our magic number (of $1.5 million),” Browne said.

The 200-plus people included many couples, so determining an actual financial commitment from the audience is impossible. Browne said the club currently has 146 full members down from a high of 1,100 years ago. About 25 people raised their hands when asked if they were full members.

What can be reported is that exactly 100 names signed in and checked at least one of three options – buy the course outright, purchase a golf membership and/or purchase a social membership. A breakdown of how many people committed to each category was not immediately available.

After making a presentation and answering questions for about an hour and 15 meetings, Browne left the room to the homeowners to discuss their options. Told later about the 100 names, Browne seemed encouraged that a deal could be done with homeowners.

The one thing both sides need but neither can buy is time. Browne said his purchase agreement with current owner Harry Apodaca calls for a May 1 closing date, and that he has a 60 to 90-day window to convince the general public that his planned improvements are worthy of sustained support. The homeowners, meanwhile, need to come up with enough concrete numbers by that May 1 closing date to convince Browne to deal with them instead of a developer.

Though he couldn’t say so publicly, it’s clear that Browne is buying the club. He told the audience he has already spent $15,000 on fertilizer for the course because Apodaca wouldn’t do it. And he confirmed that five golf course management companies have been interviewed to run the course, though he has not seen the price estimate from any of them.

Without going into specifics, Browne also disclosed to the audience a few of the general ideas contained in a proposed development agreement with the city. Among the provisions:

*A re-use water rate “basically about twice the price” of the current 47 percent-per-thousand gallons of reuse water that currently costs the course $130,000 a year, Browne said. The proposal sets the new price “for the next couple of years” to give the course a chance to get off the city water system by drilling its own well. “We believe we have a deal that will keep that will keep that water static for two or three years while we switch over to well water.”

*Leasing water rights from the city that would set the rate where the course would pay about $300,000 annually. “We’re going to see a water increase, no matter what. But that’s the best deal we could cut. (Under the rate structure now in place) the water was supposed to go from $780,000 on July 1 to two years from July to approximately $1.2 million a year. Obviously the golf course can’t afford that in that it is already losing a million dollars a year”
*Giving the golf course city-owned 500 gallon storage tank already on the property in exchange for allowing the city access and he right to place certain equipment near a dry well located near the ninth green on the western nine holes.

The development deal will deal solely with water issues. Browne said that despite some reports to the contrary, city councilors Chuck Wilkins and Mark Scott were not “anti-golf course” and actually supported getting the golf course off the water system.

One problem not previously disclosed is that the reuse water the course has been using since its own two wells were shut down has a high salt and chlorine content that has done damage to the  four or five inches of soil under the current turf. Browne said only by some organic soil work, and converting to purer water, can the course be restored to the championship level it was at 20 or so years ago.

Homeowners interested in purchasing the North Nine outright may have been dissuaded when it became apparent that the $1.5 million purchase price did not include taxes, maintenance costs, insurance and the expense of improving the land that Apodaca hasn’t watered in almost a year.

And, in response to questions from homeowners worried about absentee ownership, Browne said he made an offer on a home across the club parking lot and he hopes to be living there in four or five months after the current owners finish building a new home in Loma Colorado.

Browne also clarified the status of Bob Gallagher, who has been handling public relations and governmental negotiations for the deal. Gallagher was out of town on previously scheduled personal business.

Browne made it clear he was purchasing the club, and that Gallagher was being given a small percentage of stock in the new Club Rio Rancho as a “finder’s fee” for his services and bringing Browne into the deal.

Browne reiterated previous statements that he and his family, who have operated the Farmer’s Market in Albuquerque for more than 50 years, would make up the day-to-day management team of the club.

Browne did not say exactly what Gallagher’s share of the club would be, but did tell the audience that state law requires anyone who owns more than 10 percent of a facility has to be fingerprinted for a liquor license and “Bob didn’t have to be fingerprinted.”

Will be updated with quotes and more information.

Posted Friday, April 4, 2014
Commission approves pay raise
for Sandoval sheriff's department


Whether they like it or not, Sandoval County Sheriff’s Department officers are going to get an average raise of at least 6.5 percent in their salary and benefits.

The Sandoval County Commission voted 4-0 Tuesday night to impose the wage scale recommended by management of both the sheriff’s department and of the county. Commission chairman Darryl Madalena was absent due to illness.

By approving the “last and best” offer made by the county, the commission voted to commit funds already in the budget to increase the benefits for department officers, who have been working without a contract for two years. During that time other county workers have received a raise in compensation similar to what the sheriff’s officers will now get.

When the department’s union and management could not agree to terms, a labor impasse was declared and the decision was submitted to binding arbitration. Under labor law, once a case is submitted to arbitration an employer such as the county can impose a new wage scale while waiting for the arbitration ruling.

Undersheriff Karl Wiese didn’t have exact figures but said that the union was asking for an increase that averages about 7.5 percent.

The way increases would be distributed is part of the arbitration issue. The administration wants to increase the starting pay for officers $1.25 per hour from $18.50 to $19.75 in an attempt to attract new officers, while Wiese said the union prefers a lower starting rate in order to reward officers who have been on the job longer.

Wiese told he had received two resignations within the past week, including one four-year officer who could get a raise of $3 per hour working for a nearby jurisdiction. Wiese said the salary structure approved by the commission would make the Sandoval County pay “competitive” with compensation given to officers in Rio Rancho, Albuquerque and Bernalillo County.

Under the previous pay structure, for example, Wiese said it took Sandoval County officers 10 years to make $22 per hour (the top rate), a figure they could achieve in three or four years in neighboring departments. Under the new structure, officers starting their fifth year will be paid $21.25 per hour.

The specific pay raises are as follows:

*Tier 1: Officers currently start at $18.50 per hour, which is increased to $19.40 per hour for the first three years of service. Under the new scale, pay will start at $19.75 per hour.

*Tier 2, year four though year five: From $19.40 to $20.40 per hour.

*Tier 3, years six though eight: from $20.50 to $21.25 per hour.

*Tier 4, years ninth through 10: from  $21.40 to $22 per hour.

*Tier 5, after 10 years of service: From $22 to $22.75 per hour.

The pay rate for sergeants would also increase from $24 per hour to $24.80.

The increases also include a 1.5 percent increase in the county’s contribution to the New Mexico Public Employee Retirement Association plan.

The increases go into effect the first full pay period following Thursday’s vote or a decision of the impasse, whichever comes later. That almost assuredly will be after the impasse decision, as Wiese said it could take up to six months for the impasse hearings to be scheduled and a hearing officer to provide a written decision.

In addition to benefits, Wiese said the two sides also disagree on certain contract language, especially regarding administrative control regarding overtime.

The pay issue was just part of a busy agenda where the commission also:

*Authorized a list of $2.411 million of road improvements.

*Agreed to publish an ordinance recognizing DHF Technical Products, Inc., as a “qualified entity” to receive local economic development funds.

*Heard a report on the 2014 state Legislature by lobbyist Larry Horan.

*Approved one of the conditions of the agreement with PNM to construct a solar energy facility in Rio Rancho Estates, an unincorporated area west of the city limits. The county will vacate 6.7418 acres of right of way for streets and utilities on the site.

In other business, the Commission:

*Approved the county’s financial and compliance report prepared by Griego Professional Servies LLC

*Adopted proclamations designating April as National Senior Volunteer Month and as Alcohol Awareness Month.

*Adopted May 4-10 as Water Quality and Conservation Awareness Week.


Posted Thursday, April 3, 2014

Likely Chamisa Hills buyers 'comfortable' with language, status of development plan with city

Meeting Saturday may decide North Nine's future


It’s not quite a done deal, but absent a drastic change you will be able to remove the word “prospective” from in front of all references to Rio Rancho’s only golf course.

Meanwhile, a meeting Saturday afternoon at Chamisa Hills Country Club could be the tipping point on whether the North Nine hole of the golf course remains as open space or is sold to developers.

Negotiations between the city of Rio Rancho and the buyers have progressed to the point that Bob Gallagher said he and partner Jhett Browne are Jhett Browne are both “comfortable” with the language that is in place and that they have met with two city councilors individually about the deal.

And, Gallagher said, the owners-in-waiting have interviewed five different firms about working on restoring the course that has deteriorated in recent years, largely because current ownership has cut back or cut out watering.

“We have been engaging in conversation that has resulted in changes to the original plan that I submitted which have been good changes,” Gallagher said late Thursday morning. “They have been changes that have been suggested by the city and changes that have been suggested by us. I had a phone conversation for over an hour with (city manager) Keith (Riesberg) on Tuesday and am scheduled to speak with him again this morning.

“We met with two of the councilors yesterday and at this point Mr. Browne and I are very comfortable with this draft and we are preparing move forward.”

Gallagher said the document still needed to be “fully vetted though us” but he expects it to be “in the city manager’s office early next week.”

At the last city council meeting councilor Chuck Wilkins asked that the golf course to be a discussion item at the April 9 meeting, but it is not on the agenda on the city’s web site.  Gallagher said that city staff he had been told city staff was not prepared to make a presentation, and city councilor Mark Scott said the Governing Body is likely to have a work session in the afternoon prior to the council’s next meeting on April 23.

Gallagher said last week he had hoped the deal could be closed earlier than a projected May 1 deadline, but it now appears that original target date will be pretty close to accurate.

“I wish it would not have happened that way,” he said.
“I think the staff was concerned that they don’t have all the documents at this point, and I certainly can understand that. But if it was kept on (the agenda) and all the documents weren’t there, they could have just removed the item. And we think we could have gotten all of the documents to them.

“Right now here’s the timetable: We believe we get it in good form and get it to the city manager early next week. After that we hope to begin individual meetings with the councilors. We expect for it to be on the agenda for April 23 and we fully expect it can be done by resolution so the council can discuss it at that meeting and the mayor could sign it.”

Wilkins acknowledged Thursday afternoon he was one of the councilors who talked to Gallagher and Browne on Wednesday. Though he declined to provide any specifics of the proposal, Wilkins said the deal “looked promising.”

Scott, the other councilors who met with the prospective owners, said also was encouraged.

"I am very encouraged," Scott said. "They have been working on the development deal with the city and I am looking forward to seeing it."

Despite the time lag, Gallagher said, “We’ve had some outstanding dialogue and participation from both the elected officials and the administrative professional staff. It’s so nice working with a governmental entity that instead of figuring out ways to say no they’re working really hard to figure out ways to say yes. That’s the exception, unfortunately, not the rule nowadays.”

As for Saturday’s 3 p.m. meeting at the club, Gallagher said, “We didn’t call the meeting. A group of people from the North Nine area initiated it. We have been attending their meetings. The last one was last Saturday where they said they would like to meet this Saturday.

“We were under the impression they were going to meet this Saturday and present a plan, but their flyer says the prospective owners are going to do with the North Nine. It has the potential of a meeting with no outcome in sight.

“What they’re going to hear from the prospective owns is that we’ve reached out and asked time and time again for a plan. We told you we had to have one. We told we needed revenue from the North Nine, and we’re not hearing a plan.

“There’re two things we can do. We have talked to developers and we continue to be in very detailed discussions with developers, because we said we have to. We would love to compare any proposal that we get from those on the North Nine to what we’re discussing with the developers. But as of yet, we haven’t gotten any.

“At the last meeting they were told we are willing to discount the price to them from the price a developer is saying it is worth, and discount it drastically if that will help them keep it as open space. We are hoping on Saturday that they will come prepared with a specific proposal we can look at, or they come with a notepad that shows 100 or 200 people that have pledged to become full members when we take over.

“If that’s the case, we think that cash-flow wise we may be able to hold that open. We finally have a financial expert in the office, and as we crunch down the numbers, the numbers look tougher and tougher and tougher.

“It’s going to be more important than ever, as we look at those numbers, that we have a definitive, direct source of income from that 60 acres.”

Gallagher said before the completion of the deal is announced publicly he believed it was important that current club members hear from the new owners first and that such a gathering had not yet been scheduled.

Meanwhile, Gallagher said interviews with five golf course management companies, including at least two from within the state, had been interviewed and that a decision could be made early next walk.

“There was a lot of interest,” Gallagher said. “A lot of people seem to agree that this is a treasure and, if done right and you have the money to do it, it could certainly be restored to its luster. What we’re looking for is basically a golf course pharmacist who can prescribe what we will use on a golf course.

“Everything we do will be organic. No chemicals on the course at all, including organic clean-up of ponds on the course.”

Posted Thursday, April 3, 2014
Swisstack clears the way for a new mayor

Rio Rancho mayor Tom Swisstack is clearing the way for his successor – literally.

City spokesman Peter Wells confirmed Thursday that Swisstack has turned in his city issued car, access card, keys and cell phone earlier this week. Swisstack's six-year tenure as mayor will officially end on April 18 after runoff election results are certified.

"I was just doing that as a courtesy to everybody" Swisstack said. "I wanted them to have all the equipment and the car so they could get it ready for the new mayor. I don't want to be the cause of any delays."

Deputy mayor Lonnie Clayton said he had met Thursday morning with city manager Keith Riesberg but had not been told of Swisstack’s actions. Under the city charter, the deputy mayor can be called upon to represent the city when the mayor is not available.

Swisstack, who also has a full-time position as deputy county manager in Bernalillo County, has been accused by some for not meeting the “full-time mayor” status approved by voters in 2012. Though voters made the language change, the job description for the position of the mayor, and the salary, has not been altered.

Swisstack has defended his performance, saying he has fulfilled his duties and is always on call to respond to his city responsibilities.

Gregg Hull and Mike Williams were the top two vote-getters in the March 4 election. But since no candidate from the four-man field received more than 50 percent of the vote, a  runoff election has been scheduled for that race and the District 5 city council seat has been scheduled for April 15.

Early voting is underway at City Hall and absentee ballot applications are available from the city clerk’s office.

Posted Tuesday, April 1, 2014
Tea Party elects new board

The Rio Ranch Tea Party selected an eight-person board of directors Tuesday night.

All eight board positions were open, so everyone who sought a position was elected by acclamation.

The new board consists of (in alphabetical order) Carol Dooley, Dave Heil, Penny Knipps, Robet Lopez, Jean Montoya, Larry Ross, Stephan Van Horn and Moses Winston. They will meet Monday to elect for officers – president, vice-president, secretary and treasurer – from amongst themselves.

The Tea Party also announced it will offer classes for individuals wishing to serve as poll watchers and poll challengers. The four-hour training will be held in two two-night sessions on Tuesday and Thursday nights starting next Tuesday, April 8. For more details click here.

Mayoral candidate Gregg Hull also addressed the group. Though the Tea Party is not formally endorsing candidates in the city election, it generally supports conservative candidates, in this case Hull and District 5 city council runoff candidate Shelby Smith.

Heil is serving as Hull’s volunteer coordinator and outgoing president Darren Sowell is listed as a contributor to Hull’s campaign on required financial reports.

The party also announced a treasurer's report with a balance of i$2,407.28.

Posted Sunday, March 30, 2014

ON THE TRAIL with Lawrence Rael
Sandoval County native confident
in bid for Democratic nomination


Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of stories will publish in the coming months about candidates for office, especially as they make appearances in Sandoval County. Candidates and campaigns are encouraged to notify us about their events in the area.

Today, the series begins with Lawrence Rael, candidate for the Democratic nomination for Governor.


Look, Ma, the kid from Sile could be your next governor.

Lawrence Rael, a Sandoval County native, was quite relaxed and quietly confident at a campaign fundraiser Saturday at the Corrales home of State Sen. John Sapien.

And with good reason. Recent internal polling data that Rael cites shows him closing what was once a double-digit gap between himself and attorney general Gary King.

The numbers: King was between 31 and 32 percent in November and Rael was in the teens. Four months later and Rael says the gap is 26-21 and continuing to close.

“We’re in a great spot,” Rael told after talking to about 50 invited guests and likely contributors. “It also creates the nice motivation and momentum to move forward.

“Folks are beginning to start focusing on the election and looking at the issues. They’re the issues always thought were the issues, so I’m pretty excited and feel really good about where we are headed.”

In his remarks to his supporters, Rael said, “We are the only candidate that has moved up 10 percentage points in this poll. More and more, it’s (attorney general) Gary (King) who is losing his support across the state.”

More important, Rael said, is that his name emerged as the solid second choice to King voters.

“That really tells us a lot of folks who are out there in Gary’s camp maybe aren’t quite as strong as he might think,” he said.

The poll also shows about 20 percent of voters are undecided in the five-person race.

“Those are the folks we are going to work really hard to go after in the next 60 days to make sure they come to our side,” Rael said. “Gary’s been running in this race for about a year and a half. We started in November. So we know those folks aren’t going to go there. They’re going to go someplace. We want to make sure they come to us.

“It’s about making sure we get people to go out and vote, and that we get our message out.”

Rael’s campaign also polled voters statewide on issues, and he said the results confirmed his beliefs.

Tops on the list? Jobs and the economy, and Rael cited a recent Albuquerque Journal article that reported the state had lost 1,900 jobs since the beginning of 2013.

“We are headed in the wrong direction,” Rael said. “We are 50th in job creation. This governor is more interested in going out and raising money out of New Mexico with folks like Chris Christie and others and not focusing on what is important to New Mexicans – jobs and the economy of this state.”

Rael said he wants to “invest in New Mexico by bringing state investment dollars currently invested in Wall Street back to invest in New Mexico." That would provide “opportunities for our young entrepreneurs to create jobs and grow their businesses, build those businesses up, so they can hire more people.

“We have to invest in ourselves. If we don’t invest in New Mexico we’re not going to get others to invest in us.

“I want to make sure we give the opportunity to companies like Tesla and others that are looking to relocate to New Mexico in a way that is strategic and make sure that we protect New Mexico’s interests.  We do that by making sure whatever plans we put in place that we require they hire New Mexico people to work our jobs. That way we are provided every opportunity to get our dollars back.”

Part of that is providing infrastructure and job training. He said when he was the city administrator for Albuquerque and Intel first came to the area, they said they would like to hire more local workers but they were not sufficiently trained, so he helped get T-VI (now Central New Mexico Community College) to open a mini-campus on the actual factory site.

“That’s the kind of resourcefulness I want to bring to New Mexico,” he said.

Overall education, he said, is also a big issue for voters.

“This governor and this administration have created such a dysfunctional process under the guise of education reform. It troubles me tremendously,” he said.

Rael said Gov. Susana Martinez is “privatizing education, over testing our children, and making more and more prescription requirements so that our teachers are losing the art of education. They are frustrated because there are so many tests, and our children are beginning to learn more how to take a test than what they need to learn in life.”

Rael said Martinez is “not getting the buy-in from the people who count the most – the teachers.

“I will commit to all of you that the day I become governor the war on education is over,” he said. “We will provide the opportunities for professional development to help our children grow and be successful.”

The third important issue, and one that Rael said is crucial to him, is “transparency and trust in government.”

Citing his 12 years as Albuquerque’s administrator, in addition to his tenure as director of the Mid-Region Council of Governments and working for President Barak Obama, Rael said, “The one thing I learned that my mom taught we was trust. If people don’t trust you it doesn’t matter how hard you work. They will not support you.

“We need to go back and restore trust in our government to make sure the folks all across New Mexico know that our people are doing the very, very best job they can and are being as transparent as possible in providing the best service and know-how. That’s what public service is about.”

The question has never been about Rael’s qualifications. Former Sandoval County commissioner Donnie Leonard, who is serving as campaign treasurer, served on the board of directors at MRCOG. He calls “an administrator’s administrator” and cited Rael accomplishments such as the Railrunner, Isotopes Park and the Bio-Park as examples of a “man who can get things done.”

Sapien spoke of how Rael served as a mentor, advising him before he became a state senator. Sapien also spoke of how Rael will allow diverse sides of an issue to express their thoughts, then work with them to build a consensus.

Rael’s background narrative is straight out of Hollywood, the kind of rags-to-riches story that you would want if you were building the perfect candidate:

*Born in Santa Fe but raised in a tiny town along the Rio Grande just north of Cochiti Lake.
*Father dies when he’s a child, forcing Mom to sacrifice to keep the family going while instilling a work ethic and values that serve her son well.

*Small-town boy gets to the big time and succeeds.

The only question has been was if the consummate administrator had the skill set to step out in the spotlight and being able sell himself to voters. Rael admits it was something that didn’t come easily.

“That was a very interesting learning curve for me. When I was in the lieutenant governor’s race (in 2010) it was a different kind of perspective,” he told “It really challenged me to get out from behind the desk and become the leader.

“All the management experience in the world is important. But you still have to lead, to get people to follow.

“I learned a lot over the last four years. I’ve gone back and watched what we did before. But what’s really important is I’ve also seen what we can do when we put our heads together. We’ve just got to believe in ourselves. New Mexico’s best days are ahead. We just have to have good, strong leadership.”

And it was a lesson well learned. Rael didn’t throw out much red meat at the state Democratic convention on March 8, choosing to talk more about himself and his background to the delegates while some others went on the attack against the incumbent Republican governor.

Rael got what he wanted out of the convention – 20 percent of the delegates, enough to get on the ballot without having to obtain more signatures, and all the benefits that number brings (money, volunteers and momentum). And it also seemed to send a subliminal message – this is the guy who can run against a popular governor who has strong financial backing by appealing not only to party loyalists but independents as well.

Now that he’s out on the campaign trail, speaking to smaller private groups that he needs to raise money from, Rael tries to reinforce that message, talking about those poll numbers. And he’s also become more critical of Martinez.

He’s also learned the ability of political double-speak, mentioning at one moment his daughter is in California attempting to attract campaign funds and later criticizing Martinez for raising money. It’s something all politicians do, and is a sign of how Rael has learned how to adapt to his new role.

“I’m not a retail politician. I’m not that great at slapping backs and kissing babies and that sort of thing,” he told his supporters. “When you have a retail campaign you end up getting retail politics. And retail politics gets your retail government. And that’s what’s happening in our government right now.

“That government in Santa Fe is up for sale to the highest bidder coming out of Texas and any other part of the country that can provide enough money for this governor. That is not good for New Mexico, and that’s why we find ourselves where we are today. This governor is only interested in the next opportunity to be in Washington D.C. and to have her name out there with some of the mucky-mucks of the GOP and not really focusing on what is happening in New Mexico.  That’s why New Mexico has fallen behind.
“We can win this by simply getting Democrats to vote for Democrats and assuring independents they have a candidate they can trust, someone who is focused on New Mexico and has the experience and leadership to get things done.”

For Rael, the root of his campaign come from it’s his roots.

“I’m fortunate. I never would have thought I would have been in this kind of situation,” he told “It took lots of good from a lot of good people, my mother particularly. But also from school teachers and folks in the community who encourage you to go out and do your best.

“That’s the way lots of children in New Mexico are growing up – opportunities like that where we can provide them mentoring and support their teachers and their schools. Because that’s where they really learn that they have some value in life and can really do some great things for themselves.

“I’m a living example of how that can happen in our state.”

Asked to sum up his message to voters, Rael told “The message is very clear. If we want change in New Mexico, if we want to have a candidate who can compete with Susana Martinez on the issues and has the experience, you have to vote, first and foremost. I want Democrats to know they have a candidate in Lawrence Rael that believes in the values in New Mexico and believes in its people. If we can get that message out, and folks will believe in that message, I will work hard every day to make sure they are proud of their state.

“But it’s about getting them out to vote. It’s making sure they vote for a Democrat and that we begin to have a discussion in earnest about where is New Mexico.”

Then, paraphrasing the old Ronald Reagan debate line, “The question I ask people all the time is, ‘Are you better off today than you were 3 ½ years ago? I will tell you when you’re 50th in job creation, 50th in child welfare, the 49th worst-managed state in the Union, I do not feel I am better off today and many New Mexicans don’t either. Let’s move New Mexico forward.”

Whether his campaign can raise enough money to get that message to a wider audience is the battle that Rael and all of the candidates in a crowded field will face – at least until the June 3 primary.


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