Home Local News Hobbs changes how it decorates for Christmas; residents ask why?

Hobbs changes how it decorates for Christmas; residents ask why?

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ANDY BROSIG/NEWS-SUN

Christmas looks a little different this year in Hobbs.

The decorations that for decades have festooned utility poles along the main thoroughfares in the city are gone, replaced on the ground by lighted reindeer, snowmen and more, interspersed with strings of bright white lights wrapped around the trunks of trees.

“I don’t understand,” said Dwayne Penick, District 5 representative to the Hobbs City Commission. “Hobbs has (hung decorations from the utility poles) since I was a kid. That makes Christmas, Christmasy.”

And residents have taken to social media to also question the absence of the traditional decorations, with speculation for the absence ranging from staffing shortages at the city due to COVID-19, to the perceived “war on Christmas.”

There’s even been talk that Xcel Energy, the company providing electrical power to the community and, consequently, owns the utility poles, suddenly decided to not allow Christmas decorations to be hung from their poles this year.

“We have our current franchise agreement with Xcel. It’s a ‘no attachments’ agreement,” said Manny Gomez, Hobbs city manager. “They won’t allow us to place anything on those poles.”

Christmas decorations in years past “was pretty much a common practice,” Gomez said. “It was a tradition that had just been done.”

But Xcel spokesperson Wes Reeves,

SEE DECORATIONS, Page 7 from PAGE 1 in a text message statement responding to questions from the News-Sun, explained the company “works with its communities to allow attachments to street light poles but does not accept liability for damage to the structures caused by heavier attachments such as holiday lighting.”

In discussions with the city, Reeves went on to say, Hobbs administrators were reticent to agree to accept that liability.

Installing decorations on utility poles in years past has essentially been done because it was tradition, Reeves and Gomez said. But a review of the agreement by city staff changed that thinking, Hobbs Mayor Sam Cobb said.

In past years, “Xcel has not been a problem about (mounting decorations on poles),” Cobb told the News-Sun. “But as we were looking at (the franchise agreement between the city and the company), we felt we’d kind of been taking advantage of them.”

The reasons for the change is actually three-fold, Cobb said, dealing with safety of city employees, allocation of assets, and the liability question.

“In order to (hang Christmas decorations), we’ve got to take personnel and put them out in bucket trucks, which decreases worker safety,” Cobb said. “And the bucket trucks, their primary function is to make sure our utilities department, our road department, our traffic signals, all those things are our priority.

“When there is a demand for (bucket trucks), it creates an inventory shortage of those pieces of equipment and those things are very expensive,” Cobb said. “We can’t afford to go buy one just to use it once a year.”

The review of the franchise agreement by city staff highlighted the fact the city wasn’t supposed to be hanging decorations on utility poles, regardless of long-standing tradition, said Cobb.

So, city staff began looking at ways to comply with that stipulation of the agreement while still providing Hobbs residents with the sights of the holiday they’d come to look forward to, he said.

“City staff said — I wasn’t involved in the decision, but I support them completely — city staff said how can we do this, still try to provide the same effect and repurpose some of these ornaments?” Cobb said.

Crews decided to use the ornaments the city already owned, buy more decorations, and find new places to install them that hadn’t had decorations in the past.

“Affecting Christmas definitely wasn’t our intent,” Gomez said. “We repurposed a lot of the decorations, but we probably spent about $6,000 on new decorations.”

This year, for example, some of the decorations can be seen at Harry McAdams Park north of town. More can be views at Green Meadows Park on the Lovington Highway. And, instead of high in the air over Turner Street, decorations and lights line the west side of the thoroughfare.

“This was completely an internal city decision,” Cobb said. “Anybody who’s put out (social media) posts, anything, the Xcel precipitated this, that is simply not the case.

“As we looked at the overall situation, our green space folks said we’ve got people in neighborhoods who aren’t part of our arterial roads system asking, ‘Where are our Christmas decorations?’

“We said, ‘ok, let’s see what we can do to repurpose those decorations so a broader part of the community gets the benefit of it, not just those people who are driving on Turner (Street) or Bender (Boulevard).”

Gomez agreed: “With the changes, we’ve been more creative in placing them. The change has been good — it’s affected more parts of our community than we’ve been accustomed to with just the major thoroughfares decorated.

“We have more decorations at more locations this year than we’ve ever had.”

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