RC officials to start governing

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When the citizens of Rio Communities decided to incorporate, they knew it was going to be a tough battle. And when those same residents elected their first governing body earlier this month, they chose folks who they thought could fight the good fight.

Clara Garcia-News-Bulletin photo: Rio Communities Mayor Mark Gwinn stands by a new sign in front of city hall welcoming everyone to the new city. Gwinn, along with the newly elected city council and judge, will soon start learning what it means to run a new city.

Mark Gwinn, the first elected mayor of Rio Communities, said since the May 14 election, he’s been trying to relax a little before the real work begins.

“Now it’s back to reality,” Gwinn said. “We’re working with the New Mexico Municipal League and seeing what our team is going to have to do to educate ourselves so we’ll be ready to tackle the issues as they come.”

Municipal Judge Heather Benavidez will be meeting with the municipal league soon to get her education to become a judge and set up the new court.

The municipal league will conduct an introductory seminar for the new officials in June to teach them what they can and can’t do, such as what the Open Meetings Act covers.

“This is an act that none of us really know a whole lot about,” Gwinn said. “I’ve contacted the Attorney General’s office and asked if they could provide us copies of (it). We want to get off on the right foot. We want to review this and make sure we have the right protocols.”

Gwinn also is talking with the Mid-Region Council of Governments, which works with the state Finance Authority and New Mexico Taxation and Revenue. Help from them begins after July 1, when the new city officials begin acting on issues.

Since January, when residents voted to incorporate, several municipal committees have met to research issues. Gwinn said he will use the committees and their research to ensure residents’ needs are covered.

“As a group of citizens, it’s important that all of it is done correctly the first time so hopefully we’ll only measure once and cut twice with it,” the new mayor said.

Because Rio Communities is starting from the ground up, Gwinn said the new city still relies on county services, including planning and zoning, animal control and law enforcement. He said he has been contacted by Valencia County Sheriff Louis Burkhard, and will meet with him soon about public safety in the city.

“We’re wanting to do the same kind of agreement with the county that they had with Peralta for at least two years,” Gwinn said. When Peralta incorporated in 2007, the county continued services for two years until the new town could formulate and enforce its own ordinances.

In the interim, Gwinn said Rio Communities needs the county’s support and looks forward to working with county officials.

“It’s Civics 101,” Gwinn said. “Luckily, I had the best teacher in civics, Mr. (Boleslo) Lovato. Finally, after all these years, I’ll finally get to use what I learned back in the ninth grade. He was the mayor of Belen, and he was a great person and I learned a lot from him.”

As soon as the new fiscal year begins July 1, a portion of the gross receipts from Rio Communities businesses will be collected and returned to the city for its general fund. But those monies won’t come back right away; it may take several months before they are deposited into the city’s bank account.

“Some say we won’t see them until September and others say it won’t be until Christmas time,” Gwinn said. “So we’ll just have to wait and see, but we will have people working on it. And as soon as we do get it, we can actively start working on our budget.”

The new mayor said because the city won’t see any of this revenue for a few months, he is working with MRCOG representatives who told him about start-up funds for new municipalities.

“This isn’t going to happen overnight,” Gwinn said about building the city. “We also have to talk about hiring a clerk. We’re thankful that we have a community like we have. We have a lot of people who are willing to volunteer their services for the clerk’s position. We have to have someone who has experience in finances, and hopefully someone who has a background in government.

“That’s what’s great about Rio Communities,” he said. “We have a diversified group of people in Rio Communities. We have folks from all around the United States who have that background and who are willing to help.”

As mayor, Gwinn says, one of his goals is to keep the residents informed about what the governing body is doing. He also said he hopes they will speak up about how they want their elected officials to govern and the issues they want addressed.

And as soon as the council meets, Gwinn hopes to jump right in and begin addressing his main concerns, including public safety, the financial budget, public works, animal control and sustaining Rio Communities’ infrastructure.

“Public safety and the budget are my main concerns,” he said. “A lot of folks want us to see us build our own police force. It won’t happen overnight, it takes time. From the beginning, when we first started to talk about incorporation, public safety was the No. 1 concern. They want to see us take back our community.”

As the newly elected officials begin their work, Gwinn said it’s history in the making. He’s proud to be part of it and hopes that everyone will become involved in shaping its future.

“Our heritage only goes back to ’62 or ’63,” Gwinn said. “I was fortunate, my folks had the ninth home up here, so I’m part of that heritage. I remember my sister and I were the only kids in that whole area that were catching the bus. It’s really come a long way.

“While our history isn’t centuries old, we have our footprint, and we will, over time, be making our statement of what and who we are.”


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