KRWG

Election comes at a time of leadership changes

Oct 24, 2019

Credit Walt Rubel

Commentary: There have been few odd-year elections in Las Cruces more important than the one now taking place.

For the first time ever, municipal and school board elections are being held at the same time.

Elections for the soil and water conservation board, which had been virtually ignored in the years before leading the opposition against creation of the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument, are also included.

Those changes, which were mandated by the Legislature, made a lot of sense to me. I know that some school supporters worry about including bond and mill levy issues in a larger, general election. But they have to be able to make their case without relying on low voter turnout for success.

The election comes at a time when both the city and the school board are being run by interim leaders.

Former City Manager Stuart Ed stepped down in April, offering the vague explanation that he had decided, “it’s an opportune time to move in another direction.”

It’s not clear if an ongoing investigation into the city Economic Development Department and its handling of funding for the Las Cruces Country Music Festival has anything to do with Ed’s decision.

The question of city leadership has not been a major issue in the race for mayor or City Council, likely because of the competent job being done by Interim City Manager Bill Studer.

Rather, the big issue once again is the need for the city to be more business friendly. And, more specifically, to do something about those arrogant jerks working in the building inspection and licensing departments. That’s not my opinion, I’ve never dealt with them. But it does accurately reflect everything I’ve heard about city government since moving here in 2002.

I was a little surprised that with 10 candidates in the race for mayor, none would appear to be to the left of incumbent Ken Miyagishima, who I consider to be a moderate progressive. For example, Miyagishima opposed the recent minimum wage increase passed by the state.

All of the challengers, with the possible exception of sitting council member Greg Smith, would appear to be vying for the business-friendly vote.

While the city’s departure with Ed was a bit of a mystery; the school district’s departure with former Superintendent Greg Ewing can only be described as a mess.

Despite mounting criticism and a growing string of lawsuits accusing Ewing of discrimination against employees and an autocratic leadership style, the school board rewarded him with both a raise and a contract extension. Then, weeks later, he announced his resignation and filed a lawsuit against the district, claiming that he was the one being subjected to a hostile work environment.

The lawsuits against the district by former employees will play out in the courts for months after Ewing is gone.

In response to Ewing’s leadership, a recall effort has been launched against the three school board members not up for re-election this year. That effort is now pending in the courts. Of the two members up this year, Maurry Castro is not seeking re-election.

Ed Frank, the board president, has three challengers. Frank has defended Ewing, saying he did not think he is the kind of person who would do the things that are alleged. Frank said he was surprised when Ewing filed his lawsuit against the district.

The school district, like the city, has been fortunate to have a strong interim leader in Karen Trujillo. Both the city and the schools will decide on permanent leaders once the new boards are in place.

Walter Rubel can be reached at waltrubel@gmail.com