By Tony A. Archuleta
Barring a special or emergency meeting, Sierra County Commission Chairman Walter Armijo and Commissioner Bobby Allen will preside over their last meeting as county elected officials next Wednesday.
Armijo, exiting office after reaching his two-term limit, and Allen, denied a second, four-year term in last month’s General Election, are riding off into the proverbial sunset of county politics.
The duo served their county at a time when running local government is as great a challenge as ever, especially during tough financial times.
Democrat Armijo was elected to office in 2006, and Democrat Allen was elected to office in 2010 facing no opposition. Allen lost his re-election bid to Republican challenger Sherry Fletcher.
Armijo and Allen (along with Vice Chairwoman Frances Luna) have weathered many a political storm during their shared tenures on the commission, including “landfillgate,” “sheriffgate,” “Allengate” and “floodgate” – contentious issues that generated much heated public debate and the occasional display of acrimony.
Yet as the year closes in, the commissioners and the outgoing sheriff, Joe Baca, appear to be on friendly terms, the landfill closure is mostly resolved, a new flood director is expected to be hired soon and Allen, well, he recently appeared none too pleased about losing his District 1 seat, but the always outspoken Allen did escape censure from his fellow commissioners.
Through no fault of their own, Spaceport America’s prospects took a giant step backward on the current commissioners’ watch with the tragic crash of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo in October.
Everything “cool” about being a county commissioner since at least 2008 revolved around the spaceport, but with so much potential grounded on so many fronts – spaceport visitors center (not yet), spaceport access road (going south), VG headquarters (not Truth or Consequences, Williamsburg or Elephant Butte) – county commission office carries that much less allure of late.
Another less contentious issue involving the sheriff’s office –much less contentious than when the sheriff left for six months to attend National Guard officer’s training out of state and the commission on a 2-to-1 vote named an interim sheriff– has been a lack of adequate working quarters.
This commission will leave it to the next commission to deal with plenty of lingering issues of the past months and years, but it did manage to find new quarters for both the Sheriff and Road departments, buying the Whitehead Chevrolet dealership building and property on South Broadway for approximately $700,000, including a property exchange.
Allen was not in attendance at the Nov. 18 meeting, during which the commission (Armijo and Luna) voted to okay the deal following executive session.
The reasons for Allen’s absence were not immediately announced, but presumably he will attend the Wednesday, Dec. 17, meeting and, if form holds true, share his own views on the pending transaction.
After a comprehensive workshop last month, this commission might also implement a new pay scale for county employees who, according to County Manager Bruce Swingle, are significantly underpaid compared to similar-sized counties in New Mexico.