Council Rejects Mayor’s Nominee For Director Of Public Safety
By Arin McKenna
Valley Daily Post
By a three to five vote, the Española City Council voted against Mayor Javier Sanchez’ nominee for Director of Public Safety, Deputy Police Chief Roger Jimenez. Councilors John Ricci, Robert Seeds and Justin Salazar-Torrez were the only councilors to vote in favor of the appointment.
The debate over the appointment began with public comment, when Rio Arriba County Sheriff James Lujan addressed council as a citizen of the City of Española to speak against the appointment. Lujan was concerned with Jimenez’ lack of experience. He also expressed his belief that the position should have been opened up for applications to “see if we can get the most qualified person for the police department.
Also during public comment, Planning & Land Use Director Alison Gillette spoke in favor of Jimenez’ appointment.
“In all my time with the planning department, I have not had anyone as responsive to the needs of the department…He has been quick. He has been efficient and completely responsive to all our concerns,” Gillette said.
Jimenez joined the department as deputy police chief nine months ago. Several councilors asked Jimenez about whether he had management experience. He responded, “Right now, I do not, but I will learn.”
When asked why he chose Española, Jimenez responded, “I made a commitment when I came here as the deputy chief of police, and I very well could have gone back to my prior agency or another agency. But I’m loyal, sir, and I started a commitment and I plan to keep that commitment by staying here as long as I can or as long as you all will have me.”
Councilor Denise Benavidez challenged statement, based on a question she had put to him in a private meeting. According to Benavidez, she had asked Jimenez if he would stay with the department if someone else was appointed chief, and he had responded, “Absolutely not.”
Under questioning, Jimenez stated that whether he remained would depend on how well he was able to work with whomever was appointed as chief.
Jimenez was asked to elaborate on how he would work with other agencies. He responded, “I have great relationships with the surrounding agencies.” He pointed to 10 letters of support he had received, including from the FBI, New Mexico State Police, Rio Arriba Sheriff’s Office, Taos County Sheriff’s Office, City of Santa Fe Police Department, New Mexico Mounted Patrol and Santa Clara Pueblo.
Mayor Pro Tem Peggy Sue Martinez questioned Jimenez’ characterization of those recommendations.
“You’re sitting here saying that Rio Arriba sheriff’s office recommended you for this job via letter,” Martinez said. “The Rio Arriba Sheriff’s Office did not recommend you. One person in the office recommended you. There’s a difference.”
Martinez also questioned Jimenez about his idea to pay for increased staffing and better officer pay by offering paid training to other agencies. Jimenez repeatedly stressed the need for more officers and more competitive pay, noting that the department was down from 42 officers 10 years ago to 25 currently serving.
Martinez agreed that the department was understaffed, and that because of that, Jimenez’ proposal to offer training to other agencies “doesn’t even make sense.”
“We are short officers. We need officers on the street. People need to see you guys. They need to feel safe. When they call 911, you need to respond,” Martinez said. “How can we be a training place when we don’t even have the staff to cover our basic public safety needs?”
One of Martinez’ greatest concerns was a Letter of Reprimand Jimenez received just two weeks ago.
“We’re actually being asked to promote somebody who has a current Letter of Reprimand in his file,” Martinez said. “Would you promote somebody in your department who had a current letter of reprimand in their file?”
Jimenez responded that it would depend on the circumstances, such as whether the officer had taken responsibility for their actions and made an effort to change and make amends. Jimenez told council he had taken all of those actions after the incident that led to the reprimand.
Martinez then addressed the mayor directly.
“I think that when you take an oath and you promise to protect this community, part of that is being diligent in filling the positions with the best, most qualified available,” Martinez said. “And when we don’t open the position to find out who that is, we do a huge disservice to this community…I think the constituents deserve you to throw the biggest net you can possibly throw to find the most qualified person for this position.”
Martinez also questioned Acting Director of Public Safety David Osuna’s appearance before council on April 23 to recommend that Jimenez be promoted to the position.
“I think that Mr. Osuna was brought into this meeting by you to tell us what his recommendation was,” Martinez said. “Because I had a meeting with him five days before that and he told me that he was not recommending Mr. Jimenez. Not once – twice, because I asked the question twice.
“So when he comes in and says that to me, then makes a recommendation in public – if you want to call that a recommendation – I just feel that this whole thing has been set up from the get-go. It reeks of old-time politics, and this community deserves so much more than that.”
Councilor John Ramon Vigil asked Jimenez to address his greatest concern.
“My concern is that people do not feel safe in my community. and I’m not going to say constituents, I’m going to say residents. Ten-year-old children are afraid to walk the streets of this town,” Vigil said. “I am tired of people not feeing safe going to Walmart, going CVS and Walgreens. I am tired of hearing people afraid to walk down the streets of this town because in their minds this is a lawless town. I am tired of that atmosphere.”
Jimenez responded, “I’m doing everything I can, working myself to the bone to try to keep that presence on the street.” He added that he often worked late to assist other officers and again stressed the need for more officers and better pay. In responding to a similar concern from Martinez, Jimenez had said he would “take one bite of the elephant at a time.”
Sanchez opened his closing remarks by asking Jimenez if he had the support of several officers present in the council chamber. Jimenez responded that he believed he did.
Sanchez addressed that response in his remarks.
“There are people where with boots on the ground that are here to support you. Those are the people I listen to,” Sanchez said.
Sanchez said, “First and foremost, as we sit here on this dais, it starts with us, and it starts with one chance. If we have but one opportunity to take this department to the next level, I say we take it. There will always be challenges. There will always be naysayers. There will always be something that makes us uncomfortable.
“But we are not here to be comfortable. We are here to make change. We have an opportunity to create that change.
“We will never be certain of the next opportunity. We will never be certain of the next person. We will never be certain of tomorrow, because it’s not ours. All we have is this one chance.”
Sanchez noted that when he took his role as mayor, he believed he was prepared, but learned otherwise.
“Nothing prepares you for the decision-making process that has to happen at the highest level,” Sanchez said. “So we don’t have anybody even out there that has that possibility, because making decisions at that level takes time. It takes determination, it takes making mistakes, its tales trying and it takes gumption.”
Sanchez stressed that if Jimenez were confirmed there would be a “very stringent’ six-month review process.
During the roll call vote, Councilor Manny Martinez elaborated on why he would not support the appointment.
“I truly believe in promoting from within, giving that opportunity to our officers to be promoted,” Martinez said. “But I also believe in the application process. And I would really have liked to have seen this go to the application process, to the interview process, and perhaps you would still come out our top candidate through this process. But because of this, at this time I have to vote no.”