By Steve Hansen
QCS Managing Editor
The Tucumcari City Commission reinstated Doug Powers to the city manager’s job Thursday before a standing-room-only crowd, most of whom cheered when the vote to reinstate Powers was made final.
Like the vote to fire Powers taken on Sept. 26, the commission’s vote to reinstate Powers was 3-2. Commissioners Robert Lumpkin and Ernie Dominguez and Mayor Amiel Curnutt voted to reinstate Powers with commissioners Dora Salinas-McTigue and Jimmy Sandoval voting against the motion.
The swing vote was Dominguez, who had voted on Sept. 26 to fire Powers. He changed his mind, he said, after the commission met in executive session to discuss Powers’ situation with City Attorney Randy Knudson, and then, back in public session, approved holding two “communications meetings” a month between all five commissioners—and Dominguez emphasized “all five”—and the city manager.
Dominguez had said he voted to fire Powers on Sept. 26 due mostly to communications issues. Powers communicated well with some commissioners, he said, and not with others.
Sandoval defended his second vote to dismiss Powers on Thursday based on what he called Powers’ inaction on the Tucumcari cemetery, lack of growth in the city, and the city’s refusal to accept bids from local businesses on some projects.
As a member of the cemetery advisory board, Sandoval said Powers had ignored appeals for action to improve the cemetery far too often.
In addition, he said, city employees had neglected to honor a request for a plot in which to bury a veteran.
“Veterans have been ignored for so long,” he said, “and then to have something like this happen.”
He said the city was shrinking when he joined the commission, and it’s still shrinking.
In addition, he said, while he worked hard to prepare some local businesses to bid on some city projects, their bids were still turned down.
“That’s why the jobs go away,” he said.
While he pledged to work with Powers, he said, “I will stand my ground.”
Salinas-McTigue had no comment.
Commissioner Robert Lumpkin, who voted against Powers’ dismissal on Sept. 26 and for his reinstatement on Thursday, said “thanks to the commission for doing what’s best for Tucumcari.”
Mayor Amiel Curnutt expressed appreciation for the turnout and urged more citizen participation.
“You can tell us like it is or tell us where to go,” he said.
Powers, who attended the session, said he was “overwhelmed by the support from the community. I’ve never seen a crowd like this at a city meeting.”
He added, “I always said the people of Tucumcari are the best people in the world. I’ve always been proud to say I’m from Tucumcari.”
He said he was “humbled” by the community support.
During the “Items from Commissioners” portion of the meeting, Lumpkin urged the commission to reinstate Powers and defended Powers’ record on matters that included the cemetery, the wastewater treatment plant, and Tucumcari’s landfill. He read a letter from the Tucumcari City Memorial Cemetery Board that commended Powers’ performance on improving the cemetery while acknowledging the board had been “most critical” of Powers’ decisions about cemetery management in the past.
In public comments before the vote to reinstate Powers, two speakers defended the decision to fire Powers.
Daniel Garcia defended the commissioners who voted on Sept. 26 to fire Powers saying “You were within your rights. You did it legally, and that’s important.”
Gary Montaño said that city law gives the majority of the commission the right to fire the city manager, and that law is not subject to interpretation. The Sept. 26 agenda item in which Sandoval had requested a discussion about communications issues between the commission and the city manager without mentioning a possible dismissal of Powers, was sufficient notice, Montaño said.
Seven other speakers, however, supported reinstating Powers.
Warren Frost, head of the Quay County Gaming Commission that is advocating a racetrack-casino proposed for the city, said that the important thing about the commission’s vote on a city manager was “public perception” of whether the city commission can “do things openly and competently.”
“A stable and competent” city governing body, he said “doesn’t meet outside city commission chambers and decide to fire a city manager.”
Leonard Griego, foreman of the cemetery work crew, said he was grateful that Powers had made sure the cemetery staff had a backhoe, additional lawn mowers and a safety cage that protects workers in graves against the collapse of grave walls.
Yvonne Braziel, an owner of Del’s restaurant and two other Tucumcari eateries, said “We’ve got to stick up for Doug. “It’s not fair to us, our employee or folks in the community,” she said, when all the commission can do to “every (city manager) who does a good job is oust him and oust him.”
Powers would have been the third city manager in five years to be discharged by a city commission vote.
Cinda Barber, of Tucumcari’s Versatile Construction Co., said Powers is “totally honest,” and the “kind we like to do business with.”
Powers’ handshake, she said, is “as good as gold” as an assurance.
Mark Lake, director of the city’s MainStreet program, said he and Powers have worked well together on the project to renovate Tucumcari’s rail station, which, he said “is one of the best projects in town.” When there have been conflicts between MainStreet and Powers, he said, the conflicts have always been resolved.
Dr. George Evetts, a retired physician, said that if Powers is discharged, “all the things we’ve been working on might be damaged. We might lose the Racino.” He said the city commission cannot micromanage the city manager, but the commission and the manager should work together to get things corrected.