Estancia Trustees Address Pay Raises for Clerk and Interim Chief

Trustee Stella Chavez, Trustee J. Morrow Hall, look at Mayor Nathan Dial as he smirks at a member of tand Mayor Nathan Dial
Trustee Stella Chavez, Trustee J. Morrow Hall, and Mayor Nathan Dial - Photo by Todd Brogowski/Mountainair Dispatch

The July 17, 2023, meeting of Estancia’s Board of Trustees could be broken down into three broad topics: land use and maintenance, matters concerning the interim chief and town clerk, and the Old Timers’ Day events. Mayor Pro Tem Noah Sedillo was not present for the meeting, so all decisions, which happened to be by unanimous vote, were the product of votes by Trustees Stella Chavez, J. Morrow Hall, and Albert Lovato.

During the public comment period of the meeting, Mayor Nathan Dial and Chief Jason Downing advised that they were updating the Estancia Police Department’s use of force policy. Chief Downing said that he would seek feedback for the changes to the policy at the next meeting of the Board of Trustees. Also during the public comment period of the meeting, Warren May advised that there would be a rib contest as part of the upcoming Old Timers’ Day event. He stated that interested parties could still sign up as contestants and asked the town for approval for contestants to set up overnight and begin cooking outside of Albert Park’s regular hours. The trustees took no formal vote on this request.

Mayor Dial briefly discussed a potential $500.00 fine for tampering with a utility meter by Estancia resident Shae Silva. Tampering with utility meters is a violation of Estancia Ordinance 2018-02. When a finding of violation occurs, the ordinance prescribes that the town will shut off the violator’s utilities until the necessary penalties are paid. Silva was not present for the meeting, nor were there any representatives acting on Silva’s behalf at the meeting. Mayor Dial said the allegation would be discussed “off-line” with the board of trustees. If Dial conducted an ex parte - or non-public - meeting to address adjudication of the claims against Silva or to review the evidence against Silva, the meeting would violate the New Mexico Open Meetings Act. See Office of the New Mexico Attorney General, Open Meetings Act Compliance Guide (2015), at 27-28, and NMSA 10-15-1 et seq. (1978).

Surveyor Tim Aldrich, a Representative of the Lands of Young & Young, LLC, a holding company for the adult children of the Young family and the land the family holds in Estancia, sought the town’s approval of a revised plat for two tracts of land. The representatives explained that they sought the approval of the revised plat to sell the land eventually. The board of trustees unanimously approved this request.

The board of trustees unanimously approved Resolution 2023-13, Participation in Co-Op Project L500537. Neither this resolution nor the underlying Co-Op Project L500537 are available for review presently.

The board unanimously approved Town Clerk Michelle Jones’ Fourth Quarter Fiscal Year (FY) 2023 Quarterly Report and the FY 2024 Final Budget. Jones reported to the board of trustees that the town made a net profit of approximately $564,000 in FY 2023.

With respect to matters regarding town employees, the board of trustees addressed the salaries of Town Clerk Michelle Jones and Interim Chief of the Estancia Police Department, Jason Downing. The board of trustees approved a measure by Mayor Dial to raise the salaries for Downing and Jones to $36.00/hour. Currently, Estancia pays Downing $33.00/hour and Jones $32.25/hour. Dial explained that he believed it was essential to give the town clerk a salary that reflected the level of trust placed in her concerning the town’s finances, seemingly alluding to the misconduct of former Torrance County Clerk Yvonne Otero concerning county finances. Trustee Lovato expressed concern regarding raising the salary for Chief Downing, as “he hasn’t accepted the job yet.” Lovato’s comments apparently refer to continued negotiations between the town and Downing regarding the non-salary benefits of the position. Trustee Hall spoke highly of Downing and Jones, stating they are “both jewels.” Based on a unanimous vote, the board of trustees approved hiring Kristin Shively for the position of part-time library aide. The board also approved scheduling a hiring committee to interview for Maintenance Worker 1 and Finance Administrative Assistant positions. The committee will meet on July 27, 2023, at 6:00 PM.

Estancia’s trustees approved a professional services agreement with Duprees Trees. Trustees joked about whether the company could recommend an evergreen tree for the lake's center at Albert Park. They also discussed an action proposed by Dial to address abandoned and inoperable vehicles in Estancia’s alleyway easements and on driveways throughout the town. Dial explained that addressing what he described as at least 15 unregistered “junk cars” throughout the town was important. Dial’s strategy of eliminating nuisances in the town can be considered an attempt to mitigate neighborhood blight. Mayor Dial’s approach to improving neighborhood blight has been correlated with avoiding under-appraisal of homes for sale in a rural community, increasing municipal tax values, and increasing housing market activity. See Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of Policy Development and Research, Mitigating Neighborhood Blight (Jan. 22, 2018).

The trustees tabled the following matters listed on the agenda for the July 17th meeting:

  • A resolution amending animal control fees;
  • The previously mentioned issue concerning tampering with a utility meter; and,
  • Review of the town’s incident procedures.

Updated 7/19/23 to add Warren May as the individual who spoke about the rib contest during the public comment period.

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