'Dysfunctional' NM border city under fire

September 29, 2011 • State News

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The mayor of a small New Mexico border city admits he was drunk when he signed a $1 million city contract. Councilors levy insults and charges of impropriety at each other during meetings. The mayor and the mayor pro-tem get face to face as others urge them to fight.

Welcome to the Sunland Park, a city of about 14,000 people located just west of El Paso. One state lawmaker says is so dysfunctional it needs the state take it over.

In what is the latest in a series of embarrassing episodes, a heated city council meeting Monday nearly came to blows between Mayor Martin Resendiz and Mayor Pro-Tem Daniel Salinas after another council member questioned why Resendiz has been absent at recent meetings. Councilors also questioned why the mayor had signed off on a $47,000 buyout for a city manager without council approval, and they said they wanted information on the infamous $1 million contract.

According to councilors, Resendiz began yelling in response to repeated [auth] questions until Salinas urged him to calm down.

“The next thing you know, he was in my face,” Salinas said. “I said: ‘Calm down. What do you want? A kiss’?”

Salinas said the men backed away from each other and tried to resume business.

But the angry meeting took another turn when another council member, Carmen Rodriguez, went down the line and cited a list of each councilor’s alleged improprieties. She was quieted when a colleague accused her of using a city cellphone for personal use.

“It’s dysfunctional. I’m at the point where that’s it for me,” said Christian Lira, 28, a first-term councilor. “I’m demoralized.”

The meeting pushed state Rep. Mary Helen Garcia, D-Las Cruces, to call for a state takeover and for some residents to say a change of leadership is needed.

“This was volatile and outrageous. I have never seen anything like this,” Garcia told the Las Cruces Sun-News after she walked out of Sunland Park City Hall late Monday. “This is outrageous behavior from our elected officials. For the benefit of the city of Sunland Park, the state needs to come in and take over.”

Resendiz did not respond to messages The Associated Press left at City Hall and through his Facebook page Wednesday. His city voicemail box was full and he has no phone number listed at his address.

Sunland Park’s recent woes began in August when Resendiz admitted he was drunk when he signed contracts with an architectural design firm for $1 million worth of work. In a lawsuit, the California company said the mayor then asked for a donation when it came calling for payment.

Resendiz, a former El Paso, Texas, police officer and Sunland Park municipal judge, has been mayor since March 2008. He is up for re-election next year.

The mayor has turned down repeated request from reporters to comment on the contract and the lawsuit. And residents and councilors say they’ve hardly seen him around town since news of the controversy broke.

In fact, Lira said city councilors have yet to see the $1 million contract in question. “We don’t know anything about it,” he said. “How can we move forward?”

They didn’t get any details Monday at the special meeting called to decide a number of issues, including a proposed tax increase and proposed changes to the membership of a county-city utility authority.

But during the meeting, Salinas said, Resendiz struggled to get through the agenda and was acting erratically in front of a crowd of around 75 people packed in City Hall.

“His eyes were glossy and his breath smelled like alcohol,” Salinas said. “I even told him not to drive home.”

Daisy Lira, the owner of two day care centers in the city and Christian Lira’s sister, said residents are disappointed with the mayor and all the recent news coming out of the city.

“I own two businesses and I pay my taxes,” said Daisy Lira, 29. “For what? For it to be wasted like this?”

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