Home Local News Lambasted … again: Lovington city commissioners hear strong words from public, employees at meeting

Lambasted … again: Lovington city commissioners hear strong words from public, employees at meeting

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LOVINGTON — Lovington City Commission meetings have been animated lately, and the specially called meeting Thursday night was no exception.

Commissioners, several of whom had been in various meetings most of the day at city hall prior to the scheduled meeting, greeted a standing-room-only gallery of people in commission chambers. Only commissioner Bernard Butcher, District 3, was not in attendance at the meeting, either in person, or by phone.

While the meeting had been called to name Lovington Police Department Detective David Miranda to the interim police chief position, along with appointing other management staff, residents and some city employees had come to question commissioners about mismanagement in the city — from finances to seeing people in four leadership positions, along with several other city employees, depart the beleaguered county seat in the last several months. Those departures include Police Chief David Rodriguez and Public Works Director Wyatt Duncan in just the last week, and former city manager James Williams and former finance director Gary Chapman resigning within days of each other earlier this year.

During public comments, City of Lovington EMS Coordinator Schylar Farnum addressed the commission about the problems within the city.

“I’ve been taught my whole life that silence is acceptance, and I don’t accept what is happening,” Farnum told the commission.

She said she was not speaking for any other employees, but wanted to honestly tell the commission how she feels about the current situation in Lovington. Commissioners sat and listened, noticably uneasy in their seats as Farnum spoke.

“I don’t accept the entire commission was blind-sided by our seemingly recent issues of failing city government. We have problems in our city. Big, monstrous problems. It’s scary to those of us who are employed here, who do care for our citizens, that the problems only seem to keep getting bigger every time we come to work,” she said.

Farnum noted city employees have endured “layoffs, pay cuts, hiring freezes, education budget freezes, and we’ve not had any uniforms purchased in the last two years that we didn’t buy out of our own pockets.” She added that there have been no raises, no employee evaluations, or incentives of any kind to retain current employees, or attract new ones. “And yet, most of us have tried to stick this out, out of sheer devotion to our town and our families and our coworkers.”

“COVID did not cause our issues. Low gross tax receipts did not cause them. Mismanagement caused them.” – Schylar Farnum, City of Lovington EMS Coordinator

“The issues we are facing as a city did not happen in one year, they did not happen in two years. COVID did not cause our issues. Low gross tax receipts did not cause them. Mismanagement caused them,” Farnum scolded commission members. “Although we’re paying the price, exactly whose mismanagement (caused the problem) is not the citizens of Lovington’s problem. It’s also not the employees who choose to work here’s problem. This is a commission problem, and it’s a position which you all willingly ran for. These issues have been building, and I feel like it is your responsibility, as elected commissioners, to see this coming and head it off. You’ve approved every budget and are able to get financial records at any meeting. The buck ultimately ends with you all every time.”

Farnum told of a recent commission meeting where she felt commissioners talked down and blamed department heads who are short staffed for the city’s problems, and told commissioners she would not have blamed Rodriguez and Duncan for resigning immediately after that meeting.

“Now I feel it’s a fair question to turn to you. … how will you fix this city?” she asked.

“Confidence in city commission with the city departments is non-existent. I’m curious how many of you (commissioners) actually know how many firefighters or EMTs work in our city. I’ll let you know — there’s supposed to be 21. Currently we’re at 14, and we can hire one. These people make little more than minimum wage per hour and work 72 to 96 hours a week to keep us safe, to keep our families alive and healthy. They keep our houses from burning down, yet they can hardly pay their bills. We have a city that has grown in population and commerce, but is still being staffed as if medical emergencies and crime have not grown. They have. And, in large numbers and with profound magnitude. Yet, we are managing our situations with bare staffing, and paying pathetically low salaries.

“It is embarrassing how little we pay these people. Very few in this room have actually darkened the doors across the street (at the fire department) to speak to us, have coffee, shake hands, or give these guys who are putting their lives on the line every single time they come to work — tired as hell — (a moment of recognition).”

Farnum noted many employees would rather just quit their jobs, than bring an issue to light in fear of retaliation from commissioners.

“The employees of our city are, frankly, afraid to come speak to you for fear they will be targeted. I’m willing to be their voice. It’s disheartening to me that I spend so much of my time at work trying to build morale and convince people why they should stay and work in our city for a commission who does not appear to appreciate them. So now, I would like to ask each of you one more time, what are you — as the known definitive authority of our entire city — going to do to help fix our problems and keep our infrastructure afloat?”

Applause erupted from residents in the gallery.

Lovington Mayor David Trujillo tried to address some of Farnum’s comments, choosing to focus on the financial side of recent budget problems.

“I want to let everybody know the city is in good shape financially,” said Trujillo. “We’re continuing to restructure as we move forward. Sometimes I like to be more open about everything, but it seems like many things are changing. Our GRTs are very low. Even with the major budget cuts that we did do, for this fiscal year, we barely met them for the last two months from the GRTs that came in — the gross receipts tax that came in. I know a lot of people feel like, ‘what’s going on?’ but, and I know Schylar mentioned COVID, but recall all the businesses were shutdown here in Lovington. And we didn’t receive any — if not very little — money last year. And we’re a little over $2 million short, up to probably when they started opening back up their doors in June. We’re already $1 million, coming into this year, short. So, you’re looking at about $3 million in GRT lost. So we have to make up for that GRT.

“Schylar had good point. I feel it was managed poorly up to that point. I seen it,” Trujillo continued. “I spend three to four hours here a week with the city — I mean per day here at the city — talking to staff, trying to find ways how we can operate until we get where we need to be. I know they have been short staffed … but I have to look to the direction of the treasurer (Anthony Dobbs) and I have to take his advice when he says, ‘GRTs are low, David, I think we can only add one here or one there.’ But if you notice, we’ve been adding, probably monthly, from that cutback and I discussed with the board prioritizing our moves forward.”

He also said a report of the first fiscal quarter would be available by mid-October and would show Lovington doesn’t have the perceived budget problems that caused the commission to layoff workers and cause a hiring freeze across all departments.

“I will release to the public, next month before the 15th, the board will release a financial statement,” he said. “I know you’ll have a better understanding, a better feeling, once our board releases that first quarter balance sheet of our new fiscal year. Our new fiscal year started July 1, so you will see the first quarter report. … We’re in the black, we’re not in the red. We’re doing good financially. Our cuts are doing good. We saved over $1.5 million since we did our new budgeting.”

Trujillo hinted there would not be an interim city manager named at the meeting, and that he would continue serving in that capacity as well.

“Until this economy takes off like it’s supposed to, until we start seeing GRTs above $600,000 a month, it’s still going to be pretty tight, but the way we’re managing it, and I appreciate the employees, like I said I talk to them. I’m not just coming here and going home. I’m here every day trying to figure out ways we can continue until we overcome this. … Once you see that balance statement I think you’ll feel more comfortable.”

Trujillo did not mention the city has a bond payment of around $700,000 due in November.

Paul Campos, the only other commissioner to address the comments, said he is sympathetic to the concerns.

“I want applaud you for coming up here and having the courage to address the commission,” said Campos. “My heart breaks along with yours and everyone else’s here. We are in dire straits. I’ve never seen the city of Lovington in such bad shape. I for one accept responsibility for that.”

He also said he would follow up personally with city staff to find out why they are leaving, and what can be done to fix the problem.

After Trujillo’s comments, Lovington resident and business owner Dee Ann Kimbro addressed the commission, echoing much of what Farnum had presented.

“Today I was approached by another city employee. From what I understand … just about all of them are ready to walk off,” said Kimbro. “We’ve got to let them know we can’t run without them. … They have to have good leadership. But we as a community, they have to know we are all behind them as well. Because, we can’t have water, we won’t have anything without them.

“There’s a lot of reasons for moral to be low, but I think we’re getting ready to loose a lot of the employees,” she continued. “It’s scary to me as a person who has to have water, and trash, and with all the water leaks in town, it’s scary for us.”

“I think the public sometimes scrutinizes them when there’s a water leak, and they hammer them on social media,” Trujillo interrupted. “They can attack me any day they like, but when I get social media and they attack fellow employees family members, it’s tough on them. I think, as a community, if they would show restraint and support, and applaud them when they’re out there instead of slamming them, I think that would go a long ways. I think us as board members, we need to do the same as well.”

“I’m not sure that’s all it’s going to take. They’re going to need a lot more than just that. They’re going to have to feel appreciated,” Kim-bro responded. “From what she’s (Farnum) saying, moral is not just money. That’s what I heard today too. I think we’re in trouble. I think you’re in a lot more trouble than you realize, as far as employees and them walking off.”

With no further comments, commissioners retreated into a closed session of more than an hour to discuss personnel appointments within the city. After being called back into open session, with most of the crowd still in attendance, a motion was quickly made to promote Miranda to the interim Police Chief position — and note he would be named the permanent replacement soon.

“I make a motion to appoint David Miranda as interim chief of police, with the additional assignment of liaison who will report to the city commission during city commission meetings, with the understanding we will anticipate appointing Mr. Miranda as permanent chief of police at the next city commission (regular) meeting (Oct. 11) and this is to be immediate,” Campos said.

“I would like to point out the fact that it was such short notice, we had to make a decision,” said commissioner Scott Gandy. “This is a very hasty decision made very quickly.”

The vote was unanimous 4-0 in favor.

With no mention of naming an interim city manager or public works director, the commission also named the promotion of three other city employees to various department head positions, including Ron Wood to oversee water and wastewater, Bernard Gutierrez over Parks, Recreation, and Streets, and Shannon Lester to oversee the cemetery.

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