Candidates offer their views at well attended forum

From left in ballot order:  Municipal Judge candidates Danford Cross, Gary Southern and Joe Dominguez. Commission candidates John Mihm, Lorenzo Emillio and Nitin Bakhta.  Second row from left: Commission candidates Edward Perea, Ruth Ann Litchfield, Ernest Dominguez, Robert Lumpkin and Thomas Even.

From left in ballot order: Municipal Judge candidates Danford Cross, Gary Southern and Joe Dominguez. Commission candidates John Mihm, Lorenzo Emillio and Nitin Bakhta. Second row from left: Commission candidates Edward Perea, Ruth Ann Litchfield, Ernest Dominguez, Robert Lumpkin and Thomas Even.

By Steve Hansen

QCS Managing Editor

About 200 Tucumcari residents gathered at the Tucumcari Convention Center Tuesday to hear 11 candidates for city offices expound on their views of the city’s future.

The forum was sponsored by the Tucumcari Rotary Club, the Quay Action Group, and radio stations KQAY and KTNM.

Each candidate gave one-minute responses to two questions crafted by event organizers in advance, then to questions presented by audience members and pulled out of a box.

Candidates spoke in ballot order at first, but the order was changed as questions changed. Each candidate also presented a two-minute opening and closing statement.

Here, in order of presentation, are summaries of the candidates’ opening statements:


Ruth Ann Litchfield, candidate for City Commission, District 3:

Litchfield emphasized her education background and 30 years of residency in the city. She said the city should work for growth and more jobs. Tucumcari, she said, should strive again to become a Blue Ribbon city. The commission should stand united.


Ernest Dominguez, incumbent candidate for City Commission, District 3:

Dominguez thanked people for coming, both from District 3 and the rest of the city.

“Your support makes me stronger,” he said.


Edward Perea, candidate for City Commission, District 3:

Perea talked about his experience as the region’s Head Start administrator, a position from which he retired six years ago. He said he developed administrative experience, as well as employment interviewing and contract administration for five counties.


Thomas Even , candidate for City Commission, District 4:

Even emphasized his experience as a business owner in the Atlanta, Ga., area. He said Tucumcari needs a commissioner who can look at issues in a business-like way and “make us prosperous and successful.” He said the city commission should not be looking elsewhere for solutions. “We should stay at home and work on what we have here.”


Robert Lumpkin, incumbent candidate for City Commission, District 4:

Lumpkin has lived in Tucumcari since 1972, when he started teaching at Tucumcari High School. He got to know a lot of people, he said, and after retirement, he said, many asked him to run for the city commission. Retirement, he said, should be a time of “doing what you want to do,” and said being a city commissioner has given him a happy retirement.


John Mihm, candidate for City Commission, District 5:

Mihm said it was good to see so many candidates focused on the betterment of Tucumcari. The people of the city, he said, should work to “clean it up and make it palatable.” He said he is working on ideas to give businesses an incentive to come to Tucumcari. The city has “a lot of potential,” he said. “I hope the community comes together to exploit the great place we live in,” he said.


Lorenzo Emillio, candidate for City Commission, District 5:

Change is needed in the city, he said. There is a need for some new ideas. In response to a charge that he would be crazy to want the commissioner job, Emillio said, “I’m crazy enough to think the city can grow and prosper.” He said all citizens must work together to make it happen.


Nitin Bhakta, candidate for City Commission, District 5:

Bhakta said, “I have hope in the future and an active interest in the betterment of Tucumcari.” He said he is willing to put in “hard work and time” to help the city grow and prosper. He is willing to put forth great effort for the betterment of Tucumcari.


Wilfredo Gonzalez, candidate for City Commission, District 5, did not appear.


Gary Southern, candidate for Municipal Judge:

“Judges who make laws are called activist judges.”


Joe Dominguez, incumbent candidate for Municipal Judge:

Dominguez said he is a retired quality control specialist for the New Mexico Human Services Department. He has been Tucumcari’s municipal judge for 17 years and has become “well qualified in 17 years of experience.”


Danford Cross, candidate for Municipal Judge:

Cross said he chose Tucumcari as his retirement home after doing research for two years. He came to town about eight years ago and opened his music store in Tucumcari, calling himself a “pioneer of the old downtown.” It was rough at times, he said, “but I stuck it out.” A fire last year destroyed that business, and Cross said he had been looking for something else when some suggested he run for municipal judge. He said he is a good judge of character and seeks to restore trust in the municipal court and help Tucumcari enhance its curb appeal.



Question 1 for Municipal Judge candidates:

The New Mexico State Statute requires all municipalities with a population of over 1,500 to have a Municipal Court.

Why do you feel this is necessary and what are the funds generated from fines used for and by whom?



Without it, we’d have chaos. We’d have too many domestic pets and weeds. The money goes the court. Court costs are $29, of which $20 goes to Children, Youth and Families and the jail and $9 goes to Santa Fe to pay for judge training.



Municipal courts keep magistrate and district courts from becoming overloaded. Revenue from fines goes to the city’s general fund, not including court costs.



Municipal courts keep magistrate and district courts from clogging up. “We handle about 1,000 small cases a year,” he said. Money goes to the general fund, where it is used to pay court employees’ salaries, among other things.


Question 2 for Municipal Judge candidates:

All Municipal Courts should be run in a fair and consistent manner.

How will you accomplish this based on the diversity of people and multiple cases in any given court day?



“Every family that comes into court I talk to in a very nice way,” he said. People are happy with what goes on in the court, he said.



There are many cultures in Tucumcari, he said, and he would treat them all fairly and impartially. He favors an open court. There is currently no transparency. “If we were judged in front of our peers, we know we were being treated fairly and impartially.”



“I have worked in the U.S. and Mexico,” he said. “I can handle different cultures. My major was Sociology.”


Question 1 for city commission candidates:

The New Mexico Municipal League publishes a document called “52 Tips for Successful Public Service.” In this document, Tip No. 10 states, “Focus your attention on ways to prevent problems, rather than trying to solve them as they occur. For instance, filling potholes is one approach, but developing plans to prevent them is another. What do you think of this statement and how does it relate to the City of Tucumcari and your role as a commissioner?


Mihm, District 5:

Being proactive is the key to success, but we do have shortfalls. It’s part of a commissioner’s role to address the shortfalls.


Emillio, District 5:

Commissioners respond to budget, ordinances and management of the city manager. They need to support the city and prevent problems, but they should take care of problems the city already has.


Bhakta, District 5:

“I agree with the statement. As a businessman, I know that preventing problems is better.” A commissioner has to make short term decisions as well, he said. Bhakta then announced he was leaving the forum to take care of urgent business.


Perea, District 3:

The city has a map of the streets. It should also survey crossings and sidewalks, then calculate how much money will be needed, prioritize projects and submit grant applications. If the commission works as a team, “we can resolve the issues that may arise.”


Litchfield, District 3:

Prevention is better, she said. She said she will educate herself to help find the best way to solve problems and continuously read and learn. “I will learn from the past, and talk to constituents and department heads” to learn what can be done to solve problems. “I will leave my personal opinions at the door,” she said, and go for what’s best for the city.


Dominguez, District 3

In work sessions, Dominguez and commissioners Amiel Curnutt, the current mayor, and Dora Salinas-McTigue, District 1, have developed a work plan for preventing some issues, he said, but the commission does pay attention to potholes that are already there.


Lumpkin, District 4:

The commission needs to be prepared for unforeseen circumstances, he said, but water and sewer systems must be maintained. The commission should make sure there is room in the budget for planning and prioritizing for the future.


Even, District 4:

A manager Even worked with used to say, “Bring me solutions, not problems,” he said. The city should spend money first for local problems, like repairing streets around Even’s business, he said.


Question 2 for city commission candidates:

The New Mexico state statute and the City of Tucumcari Municipal Code both address the roles of the Commission in a “commission–manager” form of government as:

The Commission will:

1. Adopt a budget that is prepared and presented by the City Manager

2. Develop and adopt ordinances, policies and procedures for the city.

3. Fill the position of city manager and manage his or her employment.

How do you interpret these responsibilities and how will you be a successful commissioner, understanding your limited responsibilities as a commissioner?


Even, District 4:

Compared to the job he once had that involved working with budget and policy for 79 radio stations across the country, he said, the commissioner’s role should be easy. He said as a consultant working with the radio stations, he was able to complete a two-year project in 18 months. With the commission, he said, the main job will be to make sure “we’re all on the same page.”


Lumpkin, District 4:

For the budget, he said, the commission works with the financial director and city staff. The commission passes ordinances as a main function, and in personnel policy, he said, “You want to vote for what’s best for Tucumcari. It needs to be a joint effort.”


Mihm, District 5:

The budget needs to be maintained, he said, and the commission needs to pass reasonable ordinances. City management, he said, needs to “answer to the people,” he said, and those actions need to be reviewed by the commission.


Emillio, District 5:

The budget process needs to be assessed, he said. The budget hasn’t changed more than 10 percent from year to year, and the city may not be making proper budget allocations. As a law enforcement official, he said he knows how to write and enforce laws. He said the city manager’s job is difficult, knowing that every day, he will face a “whole bunch of complaints.”


Dominguez, District 3:

There are five commissioners, including Dominguez, he said, and “I am only one vote. I’ve got to work well with other commissioners and the city manager. We continue to communicate and do well.”


Perea, District 3:

To adopt a budget, he said, commissioners need proper training. He said that with more education, he will be able to help review policies and procedures. Commissioners need this knowledge to maintain their responsibilities to the best of their ability, he said.


Litchfield, District 3:

The commission needs to support and guide the city manager, not micro-manage the manager. The commission should respect the chain of command and follow municipal codes and statutes. Commissioners, she said, should approach the mayor and manager as needed to make sure things are done properly.


For the third question, each candidate drew an audience question from a box and handed it to the question reader, Karen Alarcon, without looking at the question.


Southern, municipal judge:

The questioner asked the candidate to explain minimum vs. mandatory sentencing and asked the candidate to explain the difference between “may” and “shall.”

Southern said he would research sentencing requirements. “May” means “optional.” “Shall” means the action is mandatory.


Dominguez, municipal judge:

The question was why a newly discharged military veteran would want to stay in Tucumcari after receiving three tickets for violations that had nothing to do with public safety.

Dominguez said he would encourage anyone to stay in Tucumcari. Any ticket, he says, usually deals in a matter of public safety, so, he said, he did not understand the questioner’s meaning.


Cross, municipal judge:

The question was how the candidate would handle a situation in which he knew a party who was going to appear before him in a proceeding.

Cross said he would refer any case that involved someone he knew to another judge if he thought he could not be fair and impartial.


Litchfield, District 3:

The questioner said the city of Tucumcari has 18 department heads and said that was “a lot of chiefs for the number of Indians,” and asked what a commissioner would do in that situation.

Litchfield agreed that it could be the city has more departments than it may need and said she would work with commissioners and the city manager to determine whether some departments could be consolidated.


Dominguez, District 3:

The questioner asked how the candidate would handle open citizen complaints.

Dominguez said he generally brings complaints to commission work sessions and sometimes at meetings, where the commissioners can address such issues as a whole.


Perea, District 3:

The question was what the candidate would do to help businesses already located in Tucumcari to stay in business in the city.

Perea said he would like to visit all the businesses to find out what their issues are, what they need and how the commission could help. That should produce a lot of good ideas, he said. He said he would use a philosophy of “your concern is our concern.”


Lumpkin, District 4:

The question was whether the candidate thought that all public employees should be evaluated annually.

Public employees, Lumpkin said, are being evaluated constantly by managers and the public. If the city were to adopt form annual assessments, he said, “it has to be fair, just and properly done. You’ve got to justify your decisions and be accurate.”


Even, District 4:

The question regarded the state of New Mexico’s role in maintaining infrastructure.

Even said the city “needs to go after every opportunity to fix infrastructure. We chase wind farms and racinos, but nothing has come to pass.” He said that combining state efforts with the city’s can accomplish repair of infrastructure in Tucumcari.


Emillio, District 5:

The question asked, in the face of decreasing population and state funding, what was the game plan to keep Tucumcari going.

Using the newly reopened Odeon Theater as an example, he said, “the people themselves make change. It’s going to take all of use working together. It’s the only recipe we have to make it work.”


Mihm, District 5:

The questioner asked the candidate whether he would work to carry out a majority opinion with which he disagreed.

Mihm said, “absolutely. A majority decision reins supreme. We have to move forward, we can’t backtrack. As long as the majority agrees, it’s our job” to carry out decisions agreed upon, he said, even if not everyone agrees.


Closing statements:


Cross, municipal judge:

He said, “I honestly feel I can do the job. I don’t play God. I’m fit to a fair and impartial judge.” As a musician, he said, he has played with musicians from all cultures. He said he would like to see the court run in front of peers, and to restore trust in the animal control program. He said he wants to treat all people in such a way that “if I’m in the grocery store, I won’t have to change aisles.”


Southern, municipal judge:

He said experiences as an agricultural inspector, security guard at a horse racing park, and as a highway construction traffic controller involved making judgments and interpreting laws and rules. He said he will enforce the laws of the state as a municipal judge.


Dominguez, municipal judge:

“I feel I am qualified for the job,” he said, “and I want everyone to support me,” but he urged his listeners to “vote for the person of your choice.”



Mihm, District 5:

He said his experience in reviewing budgets and profit-and-loss statements and in setting priorities qualify him for a commission post. He said he works well with others and will work with anybody to improve the city. His time in Tucumcari, he said, has been the best time of his life.


Emillio, District 5:

Insanity, he said, is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results. It’s time to consider different paths and other opinions to move the city forward. It will require a group effort from the entire community, he said. If the city wants to stagnate and decline, he said, “all we have to do is nothing. We’re all here because we care.”


Perea, District 3:

Everyone has talent they can lend to help the community, and the whole community should get together to improve, he said. How each gets involved, he said, is up to individuals. “No one can do it all at the same time,” he said.


Litchfield, District 3:

The commission, she said, can get a lot done with the help of the community. “All the candidates want what’s best” for the community. She pledged to listen to complaints, look at both sides of the issues, and “fairly assess what is best for Tucumcari.”


Dominguez, District 3:

Dominguez pledged to continue work hard for District 3 and the city of Tucumcari. He said he will continue to work for jobs, attracting new business, and supporting existing businesses and organizations.


Even, District 4:

Even said he moved to Tucumcari in 2009, attracted by the historic businesses that were still operating. Since then, he said, he has seen much deterioration. “We love Tucumcari,” he said, and would like to see some businesses come back. He said the city’s infrastructure has been neglected while the city chases “castles in the sky. We need to stay home and put effort into what we have.” Improving the city, he said, would attract more business, increase the tax base and, hopefully, move the city forward.


Lumpkin, District 4:

City commissioners, he said, should “educate ourselves the best we can and vote for what’s best for Tucumcari.” For example, he said, if the city needs to hire a new manager, commissioners would have to weigh the pros and cons of hiring someone from out of the area or a local candidate.

“Things will work if we take a balanced approach and find out what’s good for Tucumcari.”


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