RC residents voice concerns of transparency

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What began as a meeting about the effort to potentially disincorporate the city of Rio Communities grew into several residents and a city councilor airing frustrations about what they say is a lack of transparency with certain members of the current governing body.

George Salas, a Rio Communities resident who is helping gather names on a petition to call for a special election for disincorporation, started out by saying he was disappointed that Mayor Mark Gwinn didn't reply to his invitation to the meeting.

"I was expecting Mark to come, but he never responded," Salas said. "It's sad that he's not here."

Salas said the primary reason for the meeting was to "dispel rumors. We never want to disincorporate. We're just trying to get our community leaders to show us a pathway to success."

He said since the city incorporated officially on July 1, 2013, the gross receipts taxes the city has accrued will never be enough to establish a police department or fix the roads.

"We would like to live in a progressive city, not a failing city," he said. "If we have to disincorporate to get back to where we were, I think it's better than where we are."

In a telephone interview, Gwinn said he didn't attend the meeting because, "I worked to incorporate Rio Communities. It would be an oxymoron to go to that meeting. I don't think it would have been appropriate for me to go. I'm working on going forward, not backwards. My gut told me it was going to be a witch hunt."

Resident Michael Melendez asked Salas what he thought would be a functional government and how many employees would be required to run the government.

Salas said while the city has a city hall, Rio Communities officials have not made accommodations for the judge in the building. He also said Rio Communities needs a full-time city clerk and staff who will keep all the records.

One resident said he didn't know why anyone in the unincorporated county would want to incorporate, saying more businesses in the city would attract more criminals.

Helga Woerner, a volunteer at city hall, said city officials have accomplished a lot, including passing several ordinances and resolutions.

"They've been working hard," Woerner said. "We're trying to get a lot of businesses in here. The streets are being fixed by volunteers. Please just remember that we're full-force ahead."

Dorothy Trujillo, another resident spearheading the disincorporation efforts, said she was initially for incorporation, but when she started looking at the finances, she realized it wouldn't work.

"The amount of money needed is enormous and we don't have it," Trujillo said.

Gloria Perea, another Rio Communities resident, said she was for incorporation 100 percent. But, she said, she's become disillusioned with some members of the governing body and how they operate.

"We have four councilors and the mayor," Perea said. "I've been to every meeting and every time there's a vote, the council is split … We need a council who will listen and be transparent."

Salas said he's also concerned about the capital outlay project request Rio Communities officials asked for during this year's state legislative session. He said he was under the impression that the city was only asking for $625,000 for a municipal complex building. But he said when he investigated further, he found that a total of $1.8 million dollars was requested by legislators.

He said when he confronted the mayor about the amount, Gwinn seemed surprised, but Salas said the mayor's name was on the requests.

Gwinn said he and Councilors Frank Stasi and Cyndi Sluder did lobby legislators for $625,000 for the complex and doesn't know why $1.8 million was requested.

In the list of capital outlay projects submitted by local legislators and compiled by the Legislative Council Service, the request for a Rio Communities government complex appears four times, with slightly varying titles.

There is a $625,000 request for a Rio Communities government complex and a second request for the same dollar amount for a Rio Communities multipurpose complex land/building.

The other two projects listed are for a Rio Communities multipurpose complex, Phase 1 for $400,000 and a Rio Communities government complex, Phase 2 at $225,000, totalling $625,000.

Looking at the capital outlay requests made by legislators representing the city, Sen. Michael Sanchez (D-29) requested the $400,000 for the Phase 1 project, and Rep. Kelly Fajardo (R-7) requested $625,000 for the government complex and $225,000 for the project labeled Phase 2.

Rep. Don Tripp (R-49) is carrying the $625,000 for the government complex, as well as the funding designated as the Phase 1 and 2 projects.

Rep. Vickie Perea (R-50) submitted the Phase 1 and 2 projects for $400,000 and $225,000, respectively, as well as the $625,000 for the multipurpose complex land/building.

Councilors Kaylon Northcutt and Mary Lou Serna, who were both at the disincorporation meeting, indicated they were unaware that the city asked for $1.8 million.

"I want to make it very clear," Northcutt said at the meeting, "there's only three people running this city — Mark, Cyndi and Frank. I have to find things out on the street. I'm here to do things right and represent everyone.

"Mark Gwinn is the biggest liar I've ever met in my life," he added. "There is absolutely no transparency of all three. They want to keep you in the dark. I guess ignorance is bliss — that's their thing."

When questioned by the News-Bulletin in a phone interview about his claims, Northcutt said he has emails that contradicts what the mayor has said, including about the fire department.

"For example," he said, "Mark will start talking about something (in the workshops) and the other two councilors know about it before Mary Lee or I know about it. They're privy to information that we're not. I feel like they're at the adults' table and I'm sitting at the kids' table."

Northcutt also claimed that Gwinn, Sluder and Stasi lied on the application for the capital outlay funding for the municipal complex regarding the planning of the project.

"We have nothing planned," Northcutt said. "I have seen no plans in my hands for any projects or heard of any."

The councilor said he's also concerned that he hasn't seen proof that the city has insurance, despite the mayor telling him that Rio Communities is covered under the New Mexico Municipal League's insurance.

"To this day I haven't seen any documentation that we have insurance," Northcutt said. "The Municipal League says they don't have any signed documents regarding insurance. Mark says we're insured, but he doesn't prove it."

The mayor did say that proof of Rio Communities' insurance is on the municipal league's website. And while he disagrees with Northcutt's claims that he's a liar, he believes that the councilor has a right to his own opinion

"It's not going to deter how I'm doing the city's business," the mayor said. "I hope the rest of the residents don't feel that way because I have always been up front with them. I was kind of astonished when I heard what (Northcutt) said."

Councilors Frank Stasi and Cyndi Sluder said they didn't want to comment on the allegations because they were not at the meeting.


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