Rio Communities Municipal Election

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In its first municipal election, Rio Communities residents will soon go to the polls to elect their first mayor, city council and municipal judge.
In January, residents in Rio Communities elected to incorporate as the state’s newest municipality by a vote of 672 in favor to 391 against in a January election.
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 through Friday, May 10. There is no early voting, but absentee-in-person voting will be held at the Bureau of Elections through May 10.
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.
The mayor, the judge and the two councilors voted into office who receive the least amount of votes will hold office for two years, and the two councilors who receive the most votes will serve for four years.

Rio Communities candidates

Mayoral candidates
Mark Gwinn
Seth Pfefferle
Michael Vallejos

Municipal judge candidates
Heather Benavidez
Syl Saavedra

Council candidates
Nella Bunny Guenther
George Moscona
Kaylon Northcutt
Elizabeth Sagrestano
Mary Lee Serna
Cynthia Sluder
Frank Stasi
Helga Woerner

Mayor

Mark P. Gwinn

Name: Mark P. Gwinn
Age: 61
Occupation: Retired superintendent of operation at BNSF
Education: Bachelor of Arts degree from Western New Mexico University
Have you ever been arrested of convicted of a DWI or a felony? “No.”
Have you or your business ever filed for bankruptcy? “Yes, in the early 1980s.”

1. Why did you decide to run for elected office in Rio Communities?
“I have been a part of Rio Communities most of my life. My wife and I raised our children here. I still make Rio Communities my home. I believe in our future, I believe in our residents. I’m running to give our community a voice for the people, to build a better way of life for our children, families and seniors.”

2. What will your top three priorities be if elected?
“First, public safety. As we went through the process of incorporation, safety was a No. 1 concern of the people in Rio Communities. We want better police protection and response times from law enforcement. Second, review our infrastructure. Focus on our roads, weed control, animal control and vacant homes. Third, clean our community up. Give our children a better future, a safer place to play, and improve our quality of life. Showcase our community for future growth economically.”

3. As a new city, Rio Communities has little to no money. What will you do as a newly elected city official to make sure the city is financially secure and bring economic development?
“As a leader during the incorporation process, I will continue to lead and help develop our community. I want the four active steering committees to help with our financial needs. We have public safety looking at the option for a police chief. Public works is looking at ways to maintain our current infrastructure and build a five-year plan. Finance committee working with the department of finance in the state to develop our budget. Identify our group, working with companies who would work well within the development of our community.”
4. Do you favor changing the name of the city? Why or why not? If yes, what are your suggestions for the new name?
“As the chairman of the incorporation movement, we heard all kinds of names for the new city. I believe the naming of our community should be left up to the residents. As mayor, my concerns will be building our government and working toward our future.”

 

Seth Pfefferle

Name: Seth Pfefferle
Age: 58
Occupation: Graveyard shift clerk
Education:
Previous political experience? None
Have you ever been arrested of convicted of a DWI or a felony? “No.”
Have you or your business ever filed for bankruptcy? “Yes, I filed personal bankruptcy in the 1980s due to identity theft by a relative.”

1. Why did you decide to run for elected office in Rio Communities?
“To prove a point that local elections should not be an insiders’ game. I believe that elections in which such a large majority refuse to vote need a deft hand, sensitive to the concerns of the huge majority that voted ‘no’ by not voting.”

2. What will your top three priorities be if elected?
“To put finances where it does the best, infrastructure, street maintenance, political contracts that make sense with either Belen or the sheriff’s department, preserve open space and look to a future beyond a golf course and closed businesses, such as Solo Cup.”

3. As a new city, Rio Communities has little to no money. What will you do as a newly elected city official to make sure the city is financially secure and bring economic development?
“Use federal/state programs and shift from the old style industries demanding tax incentives and temp workers. People complain there’s nothing to do here but golf, drugs and cruising. We need convention facilities, dances, tourism, museums, science and places of higher education, repairing the public park.”

4. Do you favor changing the name of the city? Why or why not? If yes, what are your suggestions for the new name?
“No, the plural is accurate. CityData.com shows 25 percent (wealthy) come from Los Angeles, 38 percent from Rio Ariba County, N.M. (low income) and the rest of us in between. Visit the website for Rio Communities and City Data for a wealth of information.”

 

Michael A. Vallejos

Name: Michael A. Vallejos
Age: 46
Occupation: Co-owner of High Desert Industrial Supply
Education: Belen High School, 1984
Previous political experience: President of Greater Belen Chamber of Commerce
Have you ever been arrested or convicted of a DWI or a Felony? “No.”
Have you or your business filed for bankruptcy? “Yes, I filed for bankruptcy in 2001. I did the best I could at the time, that experience taught me a lot.”

1. Why did you decide to run for elected office in Rio Communities?
“I want to make a difference to help make this city a very desirable place for people to want to move here and do business here. Let us make our city safe for our children and our families. I feel we need to have unity as a government body and work with RCA, Valencia County commissioners, and people in Santa Fe.”

2. What will your top three priorities be if elected?
“1. Public safety: community policing; 2. Develop a good set of ordinances for our citizens and our businesses that want to relocate here. We want to be a business friendly city; 3. Establish a budget.”

3. As a new city, Rio Communities has little to no money. What will you do as a newly elected city official to make sure the city is financially secure and bring economic development?
“As a governing body, we need to carefully plan and don’t over-commit our city; ‘baby steps,’ we will all work with our citizens to establish a business friendly city, look for incentives from our federal and state government.”

4. Do you favor changing the name of the city? Why or why not? If yes, what are your suggestions for the new name?
“No, I personally like the name Rio Communities since it’s been around for a long time, and also it is a recognized name, but if our citizens want to change the name, we are open to suggestions to see what the community wants as a whole.”

 

City Council

Nella Bunny Guenther

Name: Nella Bunny Guenther
Age: 74
Occupation: Therapist and volunteer ESL tutor
Education: UNM counselor training and various training courses
Previous Political Experience? None
Have you ever been arrested of convicted of a DWI or a felony? “No felonies.”
Have you or your business ever filed for bankruptcy? “Approximately 25 years ago, my husband and I filed bankruptcy in order to restructure our business.”

1. Why did you decide to run for elected office in Rio Communities?
“I decided to run for elected office in Rio Communities because this has been my home for 35 years, and I want to be a part of the incorporation and all that I envision is to happen to this community. I have a lot to offer.”

2. What will your top three priorities be if elected?
“1. To encourage new businesses to come into the community; 2. To encourage clean-up programs; 3. To listen to residents’ concerns and endeavor to resolve them.”

3. As a new city, Rio Communities has little to no money. What will you do as a newly elected city official to make sure the city is financially secure and bring economic development?
“Encourage new businesses to come into the community, become financially stable, and assist in establishing new programs and activities. I am a good financial planner and I know I can offer a great deal of help.”

4. Do you favor changing the name of the city? Why or why not? If yes, what are your suggestions for the new name?
“Yes, I am definitely in favor of changing the name of the city — with the new city, I think it also needs a new name. My suggestion is ‘Nuevo Ciudad.’”

 

George C. Moscona

Name: George C. Moscona
Age: 70
Occupation: School counselor, workshop facilitator, licensed professional clinical counselor
Education: BA, 1966 College of Santa Fe in education; MA, 1973 Goddard College, Plainfield Vt., in psychology/counseling; MRE, 1988 Loyola University, New Orleans, La., in religious education
Previous political experience: Past president of RCA, current vice-president of RCA
Have you ever been arrested or convicted of a DWI or a felony? “Never arrested of DWI or a felony.”
Have you or your business ever filed for bankruptcy? “Never filed for bankruptcy.”

1. Why did you decide to run for elected office in Rio Communities?
“As an officer of the Rio Communities Association, I am actively involved in our neighborhoods and our incorporation. I have demonstrated leadership and organizational skills over these past years. At RCA, we have created forums to hear the concerns of our residents and find solutions.”

2. What will be your top three priorities if elected?
“My top priority is creating a safe environment for us to thrive and raise our children through strong ordinances and law enforcement. Second: Creating a strong financial base through economic development. Third: Attending to our youth. They are our future and we need programs and facilities to support them.”
3. As a new city, Rio Communities has little to no money. What will you do as a newly elected city official to make sure the city is financially secure and bring in economic development?
“We already have many home-based businesses that bring immediate taxes. I created the business division of RCA to encourage residents to shop locally and keep our businesses thriving. The economic development steering committee continues to contact businesses and invite them to locate here.”
4. Do you favor changing the name of the city? Why or why not? If yes, what are your suggestions for the new name?
“While the name Rio Communities, N.M., is OK, when this issue is brought to the voters, I am in favor of changing the name to Del Rio or Riverside or Riverview, names which value the past and express our vision for the future.”

 

Kaylon Northcutt

Name: Kaylon Northcutt
Age: 48
Occupation: Respiratory therapist at Johns Hopkins Hospital
Education: Lubbock High School in 1983; York College 1985 Athletic Scholarship; California paramedical 1991 respiratory therapy; State College of Florida 2000 Cultural Anthropology
Previous political experience: None
Have you ever been arrested or convicted of a DWI or a felony? “No.”
Have you or your business ever filed for bankruptcy? “Yes, 1993.”

1. What made you decide to run for elected office in Rio Communities?
“If elected I want to implement a strict code of ethics and rules. I want to be sure every person is represented, everyone counts and everyone’s opinions needs to be heard. I want to make our town better for us and for generations to come. I want our government to be transparent.”

2. What will be your three top priorities if elected?
“1. Implementing a code of ethics and rules; 2. Security: Decrease robberies, make our streets safe for our children, speeding; 3. Businesses: Help the businesses we have now and attract new businesses.”
3. As a new city, Rio Communities has little money.  What will you do as a newly elected city official to make sure the city is financially secure and bring in economic development?
“Tax dollars must be spent wisely. There is no room for errors. No wasteful spending. Apply for grants. Work with state officials to secure monies for our town. We also need to utilize volunteers. We must help the businesses we have and offer incentives to bring in new businesses.”

4. Do you favor changing the name of the city? Why or why not? If yes, what are your suggestions for the new name?
“It is up to the people of Rio Communities.”

 

Elizabeth Sagrestano

Name: Elizabeth Sagrestano
Age: 65
Occupation: Retired
Education: Associate degree from UNM
Previous political experience: None
Have you ever been arrested or convicted of a DWI or a felony? “No.”
Have you or your business ever filed for bankruptcy? “No.”

1. What made you decide to run for elected office in Rio Communities?
“To help with the development and future of the Rio Communities.”

2. What will be your three top priorities if elected?
“1. Public safety; 2. Economic development and jobs; 3. Infrastructure.”

3. As a new city, Rio Communities has little money.  What will you do as a newly elected city official to make sure the city is financially secure and bring in economic development?
“1. Establish a budget; 2. Contact other incorporated cities to see what they’re doing to be financially secure; 3. Talk to the New Mexico Municipal League for information on what financial aid and assistance is available.”

4. Do you favor changing the name of the city? Why or why not? If yes, what are your suggestions for the new name?
“No. For more than 40 years, this area has been known as Rio Communities. Why change the name. If the name is changed, you’ll have to explain it used to be Rio Communities in Belen.”

 

Mary Lee Serna

Name:  Mary Lee Serna
Age: 68
Occupation: Retired
Education: BA in Spanish and home economics
Previous political experience: None
Have you ever been arrested or convicted of a DWI or a felony? “No.”
Have you or your business ever filed bankruptcy? “No.”

1. Why did you decide to run for elected office in Rio Communities?
“I have always been civic minded and participated fully in our community. I appreciate the incredible blessings I enjoy as a United States citizen and our obligation to understand and participate in the political process. I am able to devote the time it will take to make our new city a success. I hope to give back to this community some of the joy it has given me the past 15 years. Finally, I plan to research details, understand the big picture, and find solutions.”

2. What will be your top three priorities if elected?
“Public safety (police, ambulance and fire) these should have priority.
Regulation/fees/permitting make it as easy as possible for businesses to grow or relocate and be aggressive about maintaining a business friendly environment. Infrastructure: Make Rio Communities attractive to any business by improving the streets.”

3. As a new city, Rio Communities has little to no money. What will you do as a newly elected city official to make sure the city is financially secure and bring in economic development?
“I understand that the strength of our economy depends on maintaining the character of Rio Communities in order to build an outstanding quality of life, to attract visitors, and to bring in new businesses.
“I will work and communicate cooperatively with my fellow colleagues, the Rio Communities Association, the economic development department and as many citizens that are interested in developing the economic growth of our new city. I have an excellent relationship with our legislators and plan to lobby for capital outlay. We must also ensure that every possible penny spent stays in our community by supporting local businesses.”

4. Do you favor changing the name of the city?
“Not at this time, the name Rio Communities is unique to New Mexico.”

 

Cynthia Sluder

Name: Cynthia Sluder
Age: 52
Occupation: Wife, mother, caregiver, co-partner; Let’s Move That Food
Education: 1978 Belen High graduate
Previous political experience: Worked under Valencia County government as executive director of Tierra Bonita (2003-2010)
Have you ever been arrested or convicted of a DWI or a felony?  “No.”
Have you or your business ever filed for bankruptcy?  “No.”
Why did you decide to run for elected office in Rio Communities?
“Rio Communities deserves strong leadership based on experience grounded in moral and ethical values. I was inspired to share my abilities and a core belief system to develop a resilient and successful governing body and community.”

2. What will be your top three priorities if elected?
“1. To work for a consensus among elected officials to instill confidence and unity with the residents; 2. To research and implement the necessary ordinances, policies and procedures of operation to create a sound pathway for our community and governing body; 3. To identify and address and correct public safety concerns.”

3. As a new city, Rio Communities has little to no money. What will you do as a newly elected city official to make sure the city is financially secure and bring in economic development?
“There are no certainties and no crystal ball in economics. I will seek government funding to develop and support communities based on need         and demographics, including ICIP, CBIG monies. I recognize patronizing local business, aggressively pursuing new business, balanced with conservative spending and sacrifice is necessary for immediate financial stability.”
4. Do you favor changing the name of the city? Why or why not? If yes, what are your suggestions for the new name?
“No. We are the community nestled next to the river. Our western boundary is defined by the Rio Grande. I love the name and am proud to be a part of Rio Communities. Now let’s cherish the past, embrace the present and focus on future pressing issues for a viable city.”

 

Frank Stasi

Name: Frank Stasi
Age: 69
Occupation: Painting and drywall contractor
Education: High school and trade school
Previous political experience: None
Have you ever been arrested or convicted of a DWI or a felony? “No.”
Have you or your business ever filed for bankruptcy? “No.”

1. Why did you decide to run for elected office in Rio Communities?
“I decided to run for office because I felt I could bring my experience of being in business for 33 years. I feel this experience will help me make good decisions for the city. I have the dedication and the time to serve you as a councilman.”

2. What will be your top three priorities if elected?
“Security and safety for our residences and business. It is important to establish neighborhood watches to be the eyes and ears for local enforcement until we can afford to stand on our own. Planning and zoning: We need to plan for our future by enforcing the codes that are in place and also to insure that permits are current. Economic development is a necessity for our new city.

3. As a new city, Rio Communities has little to no money. What will you do as a newly elected city official to make sure the city is financially secure and bring in economic development?
“I am currently serving on the financial committee and have already started researching additional funding through appropriations and grants. We are currently working with the Municipal League to discover additional revenue sources. I am also serving on the economic development committee as I feel very strongly that additional businesses are absolutely necessary so as to increase our tax base, therefore, providing goods and services to our citizens.

4. Do you favor changing the name of the city? Why or why not? If yes, what are your suggestions for the new name?
“I am not in favor of changing the name as there is presently no funding available to have an additional election. Changing the name would not be a priority as there is a lot of other issues that need to be prioritized.”

 

Helga N. Woerner

Name: Helga N. Woerner
Age: 76
Occupation: Bookkeeper/accountant
Education: High school
Previous political experience? None
Have you ever been arrested of convicted of a DWI or a felony? “No.”
Have you or your business ever filed for bankruptcy? “No.”

1. Why did you decide to run for elected office in Rio Communities? “To make it a better, safer and a growing place for all our citizens.”

2. What will your top three priorities be if elected?
“Keep our residents safe from crime, organize groups of neighborhood watch, and entice more people to move here, including businesses.”

3. As a new city, Rio Communities has little to no money. What will you do as a newly elected city official to make sure the city is financially secure and bring economic development?
“Give tax incentives to businesses for coming here, and create revenue. Get our own police person to give out tickets to N.M. 47 speeders. Try to get the old nine-hole golf course, which has not been used in years, for a city park, including a gazebo. Have outdoor festivals with music, dancing and a vendors’ setup.”

4. Do you favor changing the name of the city? Why or why not? If yes, what are your suggestions for the new name?
“Yes! Rio Communities is too long. We need a more appealing name. Residents can make suggestions, the city council will select three and the people can write or hand deliver their vote.”

Another candidate

Paul DeWitt declined to answer the News-Bulletin’s candidate questionnaire. He is running for city council.

 

Municipal Judge

Heather R. Benavidez

Name: Heather R. Benavidez
Age: 34
Occupation: Trial court administrative assistant, 13th Judicial District Court
Education: Belen High School, 1996; B.A. political science, Spanish minor, UNM, 2010
Previous political experience: First-time candidate
Have you ever been arrested or convicted of a DWI or a felony? “No.”
Have you or your business ever filed for bankruptcy? “No.”

1. Why did you decide to run for elected office in Rio Communities?
“The decision was based on my strong sense of social responsibility and a genuine love and concern for Rio Communities and its residents. With the recent incorporation I am presented with the perfect opportunity to utilize my experience to aid in the actualization of the city’s infinite potential.”

2. What will be your top three priorities if elected?
“My top priorities are to seek the constituents’ valuable input in the establishment of a convenient, efficient, and effective court schedule; development of a Community Service Program; and to work together with the mayor and council to instill an enduring sense of peace and justice within the community.”

3. What, in your experience or education, makes you most qualified for this position?
“My tenure at the District Court, as both a clerk and TCAA, has given me a wealth of experience and knowledge crucial to the successful completion of the numerous responsibilities assigned to the office of municipal judge.
“Attaining my B.A. was an invaluable lesson in hard work and determination.”

4. Do you believe in alternative sentencing? If so, what types of alternative sentencing would you implement?
“Alternative sentencing first must be legal and within the confines of lawful sentences. The types I’d consider implementing are community service, fines, and deferred adjudication.”

 

Syl Saavedra

Name: Syl Saavedra
Age: 68
Occupation: Retired educator
Education: Associate of Arts in general studies, Bachelor of Arts in physical education with a minor in history from CSUDH Los Angeles
Previous political experience? None.
Have you ever been arrested of convicted of a DWI or a felony? “No.”
Have you or your business ever filed for bankruptcy? “No.”

1. Why did you decide to run for elected office in Rio Communities?
“I was invited to join the incorporation committee and I met some of the most wonderful people. Upon Rio Communities becoming incorporated, I became a member of the municipality and finance committees.
“We band of brothers and sisters have worked so well with each other that I want to continue with the vision we have set for our community. In becoming an elected official I can continue with that vision.”

2. What will your top three priorities be if elected?
“Stabilize our community and assist in the demise of lawlessness in our community, communicate and educate our citizens to know and respect the law, and do my diligence as an officer of the court.”
3. What, in your experience or education, makes you most qualified for this position?
“As an educator for the Los Angeles unified school district, I taught at the senior high level for 30 years. I was appointed a dean of discipline, my main focus was keeping a safe learning and teaching environment within our school.
“I administered in-house suspension, suspension, transfers to other high schools and expulsions. In my position as the dean of discipline for a total of eight years I was involved with parents, teachers, administrators, law enforcement and the court system.”

4. Do you believe in alternative sentencing? If so, what types of alternative sentencing would you implement?
“Yes, I believe in alternative sentencing because all of the surrounding communities have implemented it and it has become a very successful tool in combating crime. A. Community service, already being instituted in Rio Communities; B. Teen court, in place in Los Lunas; C. Driving school; D. Work with schools, school projects, essays, team participation, church youth groups.”


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