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Chávez naming proposals withdrawn; City Council drops issue on precipice of votes

March 1, 2016 • Local News

City Councilor Elena Velasquez speaks about the legacy of civil rights icon César Chávez, pictured with her father in a framed photo, during Monday night’s City Council meeting. Also shown is City Councilor Juan Oropesa. The City Council, at the suggestion of Velasquez, agreed unanimously to remove two proposed items from Monday’s agenda to honor Chávez. Velasquez said the community has failed to come together on a proposal to honor Chávez locally, after more than year of public discussions. (Jeff Tucker Photo)

After months of passionate public discussions in person and on the Internet, the City Council voted unanimously Monday night to indefinitely delay proposals to name a facility or property in honor of civil rights icon César Chávez.
City Councilor Elena Velasquez, who has been the driving force behind the initiative to honor Chávez in Roswell for more than a year, asked that two resolutions on Monday’s agenda both be removed to quiet murmurs of “no” and “both of them?” The City Council voted unanimously by voice vote to do so.
“We need to put our efforts into educating our community,” Velasquez said. “It would be better to bring this back when hopefully a more united city can come to an agreement on finding a way to honor César Chávez in such a way that is befitting such an American icon and also that the Roswell Hispanic community deserves. And when it does happen, it should be a time of celebration for all of Roswell.”
One of the proposed resolutions on Monday’s agenda would have named a proposed new recreation center after Chávez. The other proposal, which just emerged last week, would have immediately renamed the square block at 500 S. Richardson Ave on which the current Yucca Recreation Center sits as César Chávez Park.
One city councilor, speaking on background, said the votes simply were not there Monday on the 10-member City Council to pass either resolution.
“I have seen Roswell go through all sorts of things,” Velasquez said. “And it saddens me today, that after a year, a year mind you, that we were not able to come together on such a simple, simple thing. Hopefully, this does not die here.”
Velasquez, who is retiring from the City Council and who attended her last meeting as a city councilor Monday night, said she appreciated the last-minute efforts of her colleagues to reach a compromise on the Chávez naming issue before her term expires today.
Velasquez said both naming proposals “are not quite ready yet” in terms of public support. But she said she hopes the City Council in the future will reconsider a method of honoring Chávez.
“But this is something that is too monumental and too important to Roswell’s Hispanic community to just settle” she said. “Let’s take the time to pause and give our community some time to heal for now.”
Mayor Dennis Kintigh praised Velasquez for her recent efforts with City Councilor Caleb Grant to reach a compromise on the naming issue.
“Councilor Velasquez has had a passion and an intensity for this project that is noble and respected by everyone on this council and by myself,” Kintigh said. “Councilor, you have raised the bar for all of us that will continue to be here. Your efforts to reach out and to communicate and to share, I think, are noble and decent and good, and I appreciate them more than you can imagine.”
After both naming proposals were removed from Monday’s agenda, Velasquez spoke again, this time sitting on the dais a picture of her father, a migrant farm worker, pictured with Chávez.
“My father knew César Chávez. My father was a farm worker. It was a very harsh life. But my father was a very proud man, a hard worker,” Velasquez said. “There were horrible conditions that many, many people would work under. Came one man who was able to bring people together, who was able to bring the problems and find solutions and there were many changes made back then on better wages for people and so forth.”
Not all those in attendance Monday were so magnanimous. Twelve of the 50-some people in attendance spoke during public comments at the end of Monday’s 56-minute meeting, with several of them saying they wish the City Council would have decided the naming issue.
Since the start of the year, one City Council committee deadlocked on the naming issue, a different City Council committee voted 3-1 to recommend naming the proposed new recreation center after Chávez, and the Parks and Recreation Commission voted unanimously to adopt the Chávez name for the proposed new recreation center that is projected to cost $7 million to $9 million and be completed in August of 2018 at the earliest.
Larry Connolly told the city councilors they had “kicked the can down the street.”
“I have to tell you I’m very disappointed you withdrew the items,” Connolly said. “This has been up for a whole year. We should have had a result. If you can’t resolve it, go find some people who can meet privately and come up with a solution that all you can be happy with. I’m very disappointed we can’t have it settled.”
Richard Garcia applauded Velasquez’s efforts to name something in Roswell after Chávez.
“We’re not the enemy and our culture will never die. It will never die,” Garcia said. “We’re going to continue. There will be another day.
“We played by the rules but they just kept moving the goal posts. Again, we aren’t giving up in this.”
Eloy Ortega said Chávez and Martin Luther King Jr. were followers of Jesus Christ who fought for human rights.
“They knew what it was to love people, to help people,” Ortega said. “And that’s what César Chávez did.”
Helen Bertrand said it is premature to name a new recreation center, considering its site has not yet been chosen.
Sergio S. Gonzalez said he worked as a farm worker with his mother after his parents split up when he was a young child.
“It just hurts my heart that the city couldn’t come together to a make a simple decision,” Gonzalez said.
Kerry D. Moore said the naming issue became unnecessarily divisive when the proposal was to rename South Main Street after Chávez.
“But when it was moved to South Main Street and the business owners and the property owners were not involved in the discussion, it took an ugly, ugly turn,” Moore said, encouraging more public input next time the City Council considers a name change.
Senior Writer Jeff Tucker may be contacted at 575-622-7710, ext. 303, or at reporter01@rdrnews.com.

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