By Tony A. Archuleta
Sierra County welcomed newly-hired County Manager Bruce Swingle at the Tuesday, Aug. 19, County Commission meeting.
Swingle’s first official day on the job was Monday, Aug. 18. He formerly worked as the top administrator in McKinley County, and succeeds Mark Huntzinger, who was terminated after less than a year on the job.
Among those welcoming Swingle to Sierra County was local businessman/developer Randy Ashbaugh, who introduced himself to the new county manager and imparted both encouragement and advice.
“I’m a local business person here,” Ashbaugh told Swingle during public comment. “I was born on Austin Street, I have lived here all my life, and I love this town – this community. I’m not going anywhere. I’ve tried to help and build and employ as many people as I can.”
Ashbaugh, who owns the four Fast Stop convenience stores locally, among other businesses, and who is the developer of Hot Springs Retail Center where Walmart is located and where the Spaceport America Visitors Center is planned, also advised Swingle that “you’ve got your hands full” when it comes to running the county.
Of late, Ashbaugh has served in the capacity of leading county government watchdog, garnering widespread media attention through his candid remarks directed toward the commission, especially Commissioners Walter Armijo and Frances Luna (the third board member is Commissioner Bobby Allen).
A self-described “critic of the county the last three or four years,” Ashbaugh called to the new county manager’s attention two high-profile enterprises that he’s questioned in recent months and years – the then-vacant Flood Commissioner’s Office and the Sierra Vista Hospital renovation project, which he asserts got off on the wrong foot with construction of an ill-advised access road off North Silver Street.
“I hope you can bring honesty and integrity back to the county,” Ashbaugh said. “And I know you’ll be fair to all the county employees – they’ve had a rough time… I don’t know a single department that’s not having some kind of a problem.”
Ashbaugh also urged Swingle not to take it as a personal affront when he issues requests for documentation related to county business.
“I am just trying to find out myself and see what’s going on, and make logical, good decisions,” he said. “Many people in the audience, I guarantee you, will support you. Just keep everything above board, clean and visible.”
Ashbaugh warned, “the county is facing a lot of litigation in the future, and that’s going to have to be dealt with.”
COMPLIMENTING KING INDUSTRIES
In earlier remarks, Ashbaugh commended King Industries Inc., the Ruidoso-based private contracting firm that is now overseeing flood repair work throughout the county following a pair of devastating flooding events in July and September 2013.
“I think it was a very good idea of Mr. Jim Goton (flood commissioner appointed by Gov. Susana Martinez) to engage the company, and I am glad the county commission endorsed it,” he said.
JUSTIN KING’S 30-DAY REPORT
To start out the meeting, the commission moved Justin King of King Industries to the top of the agenda – not only accommodating a busy contractor on the go, but also putting that $120 per hour consulting fee to the most beneficial use.
“Over the past 30 days, we have continued to work closely with the Department of Homeland Security and FEMA,” King said in his report. “We met with them on multiple occasions and have made corrections to the project worksheets.”
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