RC council candidates vie for residents' votes

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The nine candidates seeking the four seats on the Rio Communities city council spoke last week about the issues they want to tackle if elected to the first governing body of the newest municipality in the county.

Those who will take the oath of office after the May 14 election will be unpaid officials, two of whom will serve for two years, and the others for four years.

The candidates, all of whom spoke at the Rio Communities Association monthly meeting last week, all said they want to make the community the best it can be, and that they will work with everyone to make that happen.

Mary Lee Serna, a retired adjudicator for the state of California Unemployment Insurance, said she has no political background, which, she says, can be a positive attribute in a candidate.

Serna, who moved to Rio Communities in 1998, told the crowd of about 175 that while the new city has a long road ahead of it, she's certain the city will be prosperous.

"My items of focus will be safety and police protection, economic development and code enforcement," Serna said. "The only option (for law enforcement) is the city of Belen or the sheriff's department. As we move along and get more money, we'll be able to establish our own police department."

As for economic development, Serna said the city has a great resource in the industrial park south of Rio Communities.

"We could have new jobs and good revenue," she said. "We need to attract businesses who will work with the government, the economic development committee and the chamber of commerce."

When asked what makes her most qualified for the position, Serna said she was born and raised in Tucumcari, graduated from Highland University, worked as a juvenile probation officer and retired after 32 years from the state of California.

"I love this community," Serna said. "I do a lot of volunteer work, including here at the state prison in Los Lunas."

Elizabeth Sagrestano, a retired secretary from the Central New Mexico Correctional Facility, has lived in Rio Communities for 31 years and has also worked as a records clerk at the University of New Mexico-Valencia Campus.

Apologizing for a slight case of laryngitis, Sagrestano said she looks forward to the opportunity to represent the new city of Rio Communities.

"I want to be able to be your voice in the city, in the county and in the state," Sagrestano said.

She apologized for her short presentation. The only question asked of the candidate from an audience member was, "Do you promise the council meetings will be that short?"

George Moscona, a former president of RCA, a licensed counselor and middle school counselor for Belen Schools, was born in New Orleans and has been a resident of Rio Communities since 1996.

Moscona thanked everyone who supported the incorporation effort, the incorporation committee and the municipal committees who have been working hard to gather as much information as possible for the incoming governing body.

"(If elected) I will listen to all of the recommendations to make sure we are making informed decisions," Moscona said. "I promise I will learn from the people, and will work with the other members of the council.

He said it will be important that the council focus on what's important and to take the time to make the right decisions for Rio Communities.

When asked what he believes are the top three positions the city should hire, Moscona said he says legally, a city clerk has to be hired. After that, he would like to see a police chief in place and then someone who will oversee the city parks — someone who will "pay attention to the children … the youth of the community."

Helga Woerner, who is a retired bookkeeper, said she is someone who is capable of handling the position.

Born and raised in Germany, Woerner said she has been a citizen of the United States for 53 years, most of her time living in Albuquerque.

When she and her husband retired, they moved to Florida for a few years, where she said the "neighbors were friendly with each other," and would like to see that here.

"I'm willing to work really hard to make sure this community is what we need and want," Woerner said.

Kaylon Northcutt, a Texas native, has lived in New Mexico for 10 years. The stay-at-home father of three has been married for 15 years and has degrees in respiratory therapy and anthropology.

"I want to form a city that we want," Northcutt said. "We should all have a say in that. Some of the problems I want to address is security, vandalism and new businesses."

Northcutt said he wants people to feel comfortable in Rio Communities and to enact programs for the children of the area. He also said trash is a really big problem in the city.

"I want to be available to everyone," he said. "I want to hear everyone's concerns, no matter how small they are. I've struggled, I know how hard life can be. I want to help people. I want to make a difference."

When asked if he's thought about having some sort of veterans services in the city, Northcutt said he wasn't a veteran, but believes it's a good idea.

Nella Bunny Guenther, who worked for the State Department in Washington, D.C., moved to Rio Communities in 1978.

"I've seen this community flourish and I've seen it decline over time," Guenther said. "I know that the incorporation is going to make it flourish again. I know it's going to work, and I want to help create a lot of changes and opportunities for people."

Guenther said she realizes that not one person can do it all, and not one person has all the answers. "But if we pull together, we can make a change. I'm a leader, not a follower."

The candidate told the audience she is an ESL tutor, a volunteer with the senior citizens center and is "very community minded."

She said she is "up for the challenge. I will work hard for you. My motto is, 'Think it, believe it, and make it happen.'"

When asked if she voted for incorporation, Guenther said she did.

Cyndi Sluder, who was chairwoman for the incorporation effort in 2000, is a former RCA president, executive director of Tierra Bonita. She also volunteers with the Belen Area Food Pantry and Let's Move That Food, and is a 1978 Belen High School graduate.

"For 12 years I've been ready for that baby to be born," Sluder said of the incorporation of Rio Communities. "For the past 10 years, I've tried to be involved. I love the community, and I've been blessed to be part of a lot of organizations."

Sluder promised to "play well with others," and that her objective for the city is to enhance the natural resources of the community.

"We have a pool of people with great resources and education," she said. "We have to stay together, maybe form neighborhood watches, but most of all, I want to bring us all together."

Frank Stasi owns his own painting and drywall business, was born in Chicago and moved to Rio Communities in 1979. He's a member of the finance committee, and said economic development is high on his priority list.

"I've seen (the area) grow, and we have no where to go but up," Stasi said.

When asked if he supported keeping the community rural, Stasi said Rio Communities needs growth, it needs business — to a certain point.

"Growth is defined by boundaries," Stasi said. "We have rural areas, and we should expand from there."

Paul DeWitt, a van driver for Renzenberger, who retired as the international sales manager for Cemco, is a Vietnam veteran and said he's been all around the world.

"I've seen what it means to be an American, and I want a chance to serve our fellow citizens," DeWitt said. "I want to be able to cover the basic comforts, such as security and policing."

He also wants to focus on infrastructure and zoning that will support the value of residents' property.

Applications for absentee ballots are now available at the Valencia County Bureau of Elections, 444 Luna Ave., in Los Lunas.

Absentee voting will be held from Tuesday, April 9, to Friday, May 10. There will be no early voting, but absentee-in-person voting will be held at the county bureau of elections office through May 10.

The voter registration deadline in Tuesday, April 16.

Election Day is Tuesday, May 14, and polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the First Presbyterian Church, 85 Manzano Expressway, in Rio Communities.


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