Eaton elected commission chairman

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It's been 20 years since he last took the oath of office.

Newly elected County Commission Chairman Charles Eaton is proud to be back to serve the public and hoping to guide the county in a new, more positive direction.

"I want to thank my constituents for their support, and the commissioners' confidence in me to lead them for this next year," Eaton said. "We run on a political platform to get here, but once we do, we need to set the politics aside, strengthen and become one unit. We need to do some long-term planning and stop the bickering."

At Wednesday's county commission meeting, commissioners voted amongst themselves for a chairperson and vice-chairperson. On a unanimous vote, Eaton was elected chairman and Alicia Aguilar was elected vice-chairwoman.

Eaton, who was first elected to the commission in 1992, represents District 4 and Aguilar, served her first term in office from 1998 to 2004, serves in District 2.

Aguilar also thanked her supporters and said she was looking forward for a term of "government of the public, for the will of the public. We need to stay away from personal agendas."

Not only did the commission get new leadership for the year, but it decided to set a new meeting time for its business meetings — meetings on the first and third Wednesday of each month will now start at 5 p.m. The public hearings on the second Wednesday will remain at 5 p.m.

Former Chairman Donald Holliday made the motion to move the meetings to the end of the day. He explained that the decision to hold them in the mornings was to make staff not already at the meeting available to the commissioners

"I think we only needed someone once," Holliday said. "Having them at 5 is more fair to the working man."

Commissioner Mary Andersen said the move could result in some overtime for staff, but agreed the later time was more convenient for the public and seconded the motion.

It passed unanimously.

Aguilar also asked that the agendas be made available to the public further in advance that the previously commission mandated 48 hours.

"What about three business days? We need something that is more informative and provides more time to the public to review the agendas," she said.

Saying he had heard a lot of concerns about the release time of the agendas while campaigning, Eaton said he wanted to be "as transparent as possible in conducting county business."

He pointed out that last month an item was "added at the last minute," an item that was an historic decision and made a "great impact on us taxpayers and the residents of Valencia County."

The agenda for the Dec. 19 meeting was submitted to the News-Bulletin on Friday, for publication in the Saturday paper's "Community Databank." Early Monday morning, the agenda was amended and the award of the solid waste contract was added.

"People felt they didn't have sufficient input until they picked up the paper on Saturday and the decision was already made," Eaton said. "A lot of residents don't have Internet and rely on the paper for access."

Eaton continued, saying the commission needed to keep "adding things at the last minute to the barest minimum. It's an indication that bad things are being done; a bad indication that we're not being transparent."

After further discussion, the commissioners voted unanimously to require the agenda be available to the public four business days before a meeting. The state's Open Meetings Act does allow for emergency meetings, county attorney Dave Pato noted, allowing the commission to call a meeting with as much notice "as practically possible."

During the discussion of the adoption of the parliamentary procedure the commissioner will follow, Aguilar asked for clarification on an item.

"Basically what item six requires is that the county manager makes the ultimate decision on what goes onto the agenda, which has historically been done with the chair's signature," she said. "Can we change that and make the final decision either the chair or the county manager?"

Pato said the commission's procedure also included a provision that any individual commissioner could make an agenda item request.

"And it will be on the agenda for consideration. That is not at the discretion of the county manager," the attorney said.

The commissioner's parliamentary procedure, a modified version of Robert's Rules of Order, passed unanimously and without changes.

The county's Inspection of Public Records Act resolution passed on a 4-1 vote, with Aguilar casting the only "nay."

She pointed out that IPRA required public entities to post information in a public place explaining how to obtain records and the deadlines it must meet in response to records requests.

"I don't think we're doing that," Aguilar said. "The IPRA guide has a sample of what should be posted. I would like to see us follow the act and guide completely."

Aguilar asked that the commissioners' appointments to various boards and commissions be tabled, saying she only received the current listing of appointees the Friday before the meeting.

"I don't recognize some of these names and I'm not sure if they want to serve again or how active they are on these boards," she said.

She did say she was prepared to make her appointment to the county's planning and zoning board.

"We need to approve P and Z, but I would like to table the others," Aguilar said.

That board is a bit more pressing, since it meets on the fourth Wednesday of every month, she said.

Aguilar appointed Mike Milam of Cypress Gardens. Holliday appointed a Peralta resident, but the commissioner informed the News-Bulletin Thursday morning that he had declined.

Due to redistricting, Holliday's previous appointee, Meadow Lake resident Jim Lane, had been moved into Aguilar's district, along with that district's previous appointee, Scott Edeal.

Eaton said he would also like to change the appointee for District 4, but he had not confirmed his appointment to replace Mike McCartney.

Commissioner Lawrence Romero kept his appointee, Joan Artiaga, and Andersen retained Greg Gaudette to represent her district.

The commissioners also considered how they would handle public participation at meetings.

Aguilar said she wasn't comfortable with the draft resolution presented for their consideration, which limited public comments to two minutes.

"I feel the public should be included. I have faith that the chairman can handle the meetings," she said. "I don't see a need for this resolution. I would like to see this left open and if we want to later, we can implement something if we need it."

The commissioners voted unanimously to table the resolution for now, with Aguilar noting that they could revisit the issue if it became necessary.

Before the meeting was adjourned, Eaton and Aguilar addressed the audience briefly.

Eaton, the former county fire chief, said some of his priorities while in office would be to improve public safety and address environmental issues in the county.

"This governing body is also lacking in relationships with its neighboring governing bodies," he said. "We are all facing some of the same issues. We need to dialogue with them and we need to get aggressive with our legislative requests."

Aguilar said whatever projects she works on as a commissioner, she will bring back her results and information to the commission.

"For instance on the hospital, I have been gathering data from Belen and Los Lunas so we can start comparing apples for apples and oranges for oranges," she said. "We can delegate the money, but we can't delegate our authority. We are still responsible from beginning to end for making sure that money is spent correctly.

"I would like us all come on board with our hospital. Because that's what it is — our hospital, not one entity competing with another."


-- Email the author at jdendinger@news-bulletin.com.