Eight County Commission candidates were invited to a forum Wednesday night; only three showed.
Of the three candidates for the Las Vegas-based District 5 commission seat, only Nicolas Leger attended. Richard Maestas, Leger’s opponent in the June 3 Democratic primary, and the lone Republican, Fred Romero, didn’t show. Maestas said a couple of days ago that he would be attending his grandmother’s 96th birthday party in Albuquerque.
In the race for the Pecos-based District 2 seat, Democrat Ramon Lucero and the lone Republican candidate, Mary Bridge Maloney, attended. Not showing were three Democrats, Eloy Gonzales, Joe Lopez and Marcelino Ortiz.
Leger said he was disappointed more candidates didn’t attend the forum, which was sponsored by local watchdog group Committee for the People and the Las Vegas Optic.
“It’s one thing to put up signs and ads in the newspaper; it’s another thing to take questions from voters,” said Leger, a longtime Las Vegas attorney.
When the candidates were asked about their top priority if elected, Maloney said she would focus on eliminating what she called a “lack of transparency.”
“People are dissatisfied with how the county government is functioning. We don’t know what the county government is doing. We’re not always getting straight answers,” said Maloney, a business communications coordinator who works with international clients.
Lucero said roads would be his focus.
“We have lots of challenges with roads. The roads are in really bad condition,” said Lucero, a project manager with an engineering firm.
Leger said his priority would be the proper development of the county, including roads. He confirmed that most rural residents are concerned with roads, although he added that the county is cash-strapped.
On the issue of naming buildings after politicians, both Lucero and Leger expressed opposition.
Leger said that after the county completed its new courthouse, some wondered whom it should be named after. However, he said a district judge opposed naming it after anyone. “It’s the people’s building,” Leger said.
Lucero said many people who help out with a project are left out when a building or other landmark is named after a politician.
Maloney, however, said she’s not against naming buildings after politicians if they can serve as role models for the younger generation.
On water issues, both Maloney and Lucero commended the county for seeking money for hydrological studies to determine how much water is available. Lucero said he would like to have a regional water authority so area governments could “manage collectively,” but Maloney said such an agency would be an unneeded layer of government because it would perform duties already performed by the state engineer’s office.
Leger said he wants to bring all water users to the table, a good alternative to litigation. He said the county could also require new developments to have graywater catchment systems and community water systems rather than individual wells.
On other issues:
• Natural gas exploration: Maloney said the state has driven out the oil and gas industry with its regulations, but it’s important to bring back that income. She said oil and gas can be extracted in an environmentally friendly way, thanks to technological advances.
Leger said the income from energy is generous and that property owners are entitled to lease their land for oil and gas drilling. “We need to ensure that drilling is done in such a fashion that other resources are protected,” he said.
Lucero said he would need to research the positives and negatives of oil and gas development.
• Commission salaries: County commissioners now make $19,854 a year, which used to be the maximum allowed under state law until the Legislature recently increased it to $22,000. Leger said the residents of Las Vegas have “spoken loudly” that $19,854, which City Council members make, is too much for part-time elected officials. “I think that salary is high,” he said.
Maloney said the constituents need to decide what the proper salary should be.
The city is reducing council members’ pay to $10,000 in two steps over several years.
• Transfer station hours: Maloney said the Pecos area had the “best solid waste transfer guy.” She said he serves the public well and doesn’t keep bankers’ hours. As for transfer station hours, Leger said the county wants to have hours that are convenient for the public, but he said services may be limited because of money.
• Term limits: The state limits county commissioners to two four-year terms. All three candidates said that term limits weren’t needed because people can get rid of bad elected officials by voting them out.
• Experience: Leger talked about his work as a real estate attorney, which he said involves many county issues, including roads, water and land use. He said as an attorney, he has been a problem solver, which he contended suited him well for the role of commissioner. Lucero said his work involves small rural water associations and assisting them with the funding they need, which he said provides him with experience to serve as a commissioner. Maloney stressed her background in business.