By Steve Hansen
QCS Managing Editor
Tension at previous meetings may result in rule changes for residents who want to speak before the Tucumcari City Commission.
The Commission voted Thursday to hold a work session before its next meeting to discuss rule changes.
At work sessions, the commission discusses issues without voting on them. They are open to the public.
The commission’s next meeting was set for Tuesday, Nov. 26. The commission also voted to move the “Items from Citizens” agenda portion from near the beginning of commission meetings, where it appears now, to a point closer to the end.
“While citizens have the right to be informed, you don’t have the right to speak at meetings,” Mayor Amiel Curnutt told the people who attended Thursday, “We give you that privilege.”
Curnutt referred to a letter to commissioners from City Attorney Randy Knudson that stated there is no right of citizens to speak at public meetings in state statute. In all, he praised citizen involvement.
“People are passionate about their city,” Curnutt said.
In asking for rule changes, Commissioner Robert Lumpkin said citizen comments should be reserved for city business, not complaints, which he said should be addressed at city hall or to individual commissioners outside the public meeting context.
He also called for requiring some order and decorum in public commentary.
Public commentary sessions in recent commission meetings have featured sometimes heated attacks and accusations against City Manager Doug Powers and individual commissioners.
Lumpkin addressed some of those accusations.
In response to innuendoes about the city budget, he said, state auditors certify all items in the city budget.
“We get the highest ratings from our auditors,” he said.
On the city’s inaction on demolishing and disposing of the Sands Dorsey building destroyed by fire in 2007 and further damaged in another fire in 2012, Lumpkin said the owner, Robert Hengstenberg of Chimayo has not been responsible, leaving it to the city to dispose of the ruins.
Tax funds are insufficient to cover the estimated $400,000 to $500,000 cost of the building’s ultimate clean-up, he said, and state money for demolition is not available. Toxic materials present at low levels on the Sands-Dorsey site, greatly increase the cost of demolition and disposal.
In addition, he said, the city’s frequent turnover in key employees since 2007 — including two city manager replacements — has worked against arranging the building’s cleanup.
He reminded commissioners the commission attempted unsuccessfully in 2010 to hold a referendum that would divert money from a special tax to fund for acquisition of water from Ute Lake to raise about $500,000 over two years to clean up the Sands Dorsey site.
Lumpkin also addressed charges made by citizens that Curnutt is not a city resident and uses city funds to pay for trips to Albuquerque on weekends to visit his wife. Lumpkin said Curnutt lives and pays taxes in Tucumcari and pays for his own travel back and forth to Albuquerque.
He also said he resented citizen remarks that included name-calling against individual commissioners and accusations that the city had been a bad landlord.
In the citizen remarks that followed Lumpkin’s remarks, four residents spoke.
One was John McTigue, who was asked to leave the podium after he said Powers was not qualified to hold his job, and launched a verbal attack against Commissioner Ernie Dominguez.
Curnutt interrupted McTigue after he had spoken for about a minute and demanded that McTigue leave the podium.
Gary Montaño, a frequent critic of the city’s inaction on Sands Dorsey, said his company would be happy to make an offer to purchase the building, referring to a proposal to attract a private developer to buy the site and use grant funds to tear down the building as part of a larger investment in a new building there.
Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Patsy Gresham announced two Christmas events, including the annual Christmas Parade of Lights scheduled for Dec. 14, and a program that rewards people for shopping locally for Christmas. If local shoppers turn in receipts that showed they made $50 in gift purchase from city merchants, they will be eligible for a $100 prize in a drawing scheduled for Dec. 23.
Daniel Garcia, another resident, criticized the chamber for not posting a notice about Hispanic Heritage Month from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15.
Jeanne O’Dean, a new resident, complained she had suffered wind turbine syndrome from living close to the wind turbine on the Mesalands Community College campus. She also said that an associate of hers could replace the horizontal-axis wind turbine with a vertical-axis one that could eliminate the low-frequency vibrations that she said cause wind turbine syndrome.