By JO LUTZ
employees of the daily press
At Thursday’s regular session, the Grant County Commission passed a Walk and Recreation Plan with unanimous support, and while they could not agree to join a sustainability coalition, the commissioners sided with New Mexico Counties’ 2023 legislative agenda.
Public Comment Thursday was all about the outdoor recreation plan presented in Tuesday’s working session. Ron Troy endorsed the plan with a few caveats and additions.
“As I’ve looked through the draft plan, it’s about the different entities – I feel like the plan doesn’t address enough how the nonprofits have facilitated so much in our community, whether [the Gila Resources Information Project] or the Land Conservancy,” he said. “We’ve spent years on this and we realized the need to have a repository for maps. … Our nonprofit doesn’t want this job. But I believe there should be a non-profit organization dedicated solely to the trails and open spaces of this region.”
Gregory Brickner, interim CEO of Gila Regional Medical Center, told the commission that the transition to “insourcing” the hospital’s cancer center was 90 percent complete.
“Grant County has one of the lowest cancer rates,” he said, “but it doesn’t matter if it’s you or your loved one.”
He summarized that the University of New Mexico’s contract to operate the cancer center was not renewed in July 2021. Hospital management spent a year trying to replace UNM, then decided last summer to provide the service themselves.
Of the approximately 15 cancer patients per month in the service area, about 20 percent require radiation and oncology.
“The hardest to find are medical oncologists,” Brickner said. “Thirty-two million Americans live in a county without a medical oncologist. One in five medical oncologists is of retirement age.”
Hospital management offers oncology positions to two providers with the intention that one will serve as a backup for the other when unavailable.
District 4 Commissioner Billy Billings thanked Brickner for rebuilding the cancer center.
Sheriff Frank Gomez reported on incidents over the past few months that have resulted in a number of difficult law enforcement situations. He recognized officers who responded.
First, however, he offered a law enforcement perspective on a controversial manhunt last month.
In October, a high-risk pursuit ended in Santa Clara in which a man with known mental health problems stole a vehicle from Deming, as he had done twice before. Gomez said police had been wrongly accused and complained about “bias displayed by members of the public in negative press.” He said “the state’s catch-and-release program” was responsible for the incident.
Gomez then praised Detective Sgt. Jason Jordan for responding to a few notable incidents. On October 24, he responded to an armed and barricaded person threatening suicide. After lengthy negotiations with the victim, the man surrendered peacefully. Jordan was also responding to the November 10 suicide murder in Mimbres, in which the reporter was the brother of one of the deceased.
“Extensive crisis intervention training was used effectively in this incident,” Gomez said.
Gomez later told the Daily Press that “only through empathy and compassion was he able to calm him down and help him do what he needed to do.”
The sheriff also read an email from Gila Regional employees praising Deputies Aaron Ordonez and Trevor Jenson for assisting with a medical emergency Nov. 3 with CPR, chest compressions and driving the emergency vehicle.
After County Treasurer Patrick Cohn reported $42,825.90 in county proceeds from real estate auctions, the commission unanimously approved the Grant County Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation and Trails Plan proposed by SE Group consultants.
The commissioners seemed both satisfied with the plan and keen on the public input.
“It’s something I’ve been interested in for a long time—I campaigned for it in my first election,” said District 3 Commissioner Alicia Edwards. “It would not have been possible without the support of my colleagues. … I just want to say thank you to the chairman [District 1 Commissioner Chris Ponce] to draw attention to the issue of equal access. It’s incredibly important to our community. There is a section in the plan that addresses that, particularly with our high proportion of seniors.”
She also recognized the contribution of the late cyclists Martyn Pearson and Alex Olsen to the draft plan, as well as the contributions of the Land Conservancy.
“The mapping range is really amazing,” said Edwards. “It will be an incredible asset to the community that will continue in the future.”
Billings agreed with Troy’s earlier comments on nonprofit involvement.
“There has to be a place where nonprofits can stay in the process,” he said. “I’m not sure how prepared Grant County is to take the lead as outlined in the plan.”
District 5 Commissioner Harry Browne said he was impressed by how well the plan reflects community contributions.
“I appreciate the focus on maintaining the culture and conditions here now,” he said. “Nobody wants to be Moab or destroy our character to make money. I appreciate the focus on equal access. They also really leaned back to include motorized users.”
However, no such agreement could be found for a resolution to join the Coalition of Sustainable Communities New Mexico. Edwards and Browne voted in favor, while Ponce, Billings and District 2 Commissioner Javier Salas voted against – each for different reasons.
Billings said he thinks the organization’s goals are moving too quickly and fails to recognize the hardships on citizens of the fossil fuel transition.
“It’s going to be a slow process,” he said. “It’s not something we’re just going to get into.”
Browne disagreed that the coalition advocated phasing out fossil fuel use immediately.
“That’s the goal,” he said. “It is impractical to think that this will happen immediately, [but] It helps to have a goal in mind.”
Billings gave the example of a woman on a steady income he spoke to who was considering sharing her home because she could only afford to heat part of it.
“This suffering will be nothing compared to the scale of the suffering if we don’t keep climate change in check,” Browne replied, attributing rising food prices to climate change. “It’s going to affect people dramatically.”
Ponce strongly agreed on the need to move forward on sustainability but voted no to the resolution. He said part of his decision was based on an unanswered phone call.
“I don’t like paying someone else to be our voice,” he said. “I think the Commission is very capable of developing our own plan. I have more faith in us than in anyone else. I will vote no, but I think we can do a lot more ourselves.”
Salas clarified that he believes in climate science and the need to adapt, but said he does not fully understand the coalition’s strategy.
“What would New Mexico do now without fossil fuels? It pretty much drives our economy. We need to be at the forefront of renewable energy generation,” he said. “Our government does nothing until the urgency gets that bad. Do we need coalitions and groups to push them forward? Yes. The fear I have is they’re pushing too hard. I don’t understand them enough to trust the coalition.”
The resolution failed, but the commission easily merged to approve New Mexico Counties’ 2023 legislative priorities. With the legislature fast approaching, the commission assisted advocacy on behalf of the counties on issues such as incarceration compensation, prisoner transportation and extradition, emergency medical services, detention centers and the general fire and ambulance staffing crisis, funding and courthouse clarification of the Act on inspection of public records relating to election records.
Jo Lutz can be reached at [email protected]