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Candidate forum fills info center

Posted: Thursday, Jun 5th, 2014

Candidates for public service in Rio Grande County (not necessarily in order) are: Brian Norton, Robert Fresquez, Jennifer Mondragon, William Lucero, Peggy Kern, Allen Wright, Michelle Medina, Stephen Hunzeker, Cindy Hill and Karla Shriver. Not pictured is Rusty Strohmayer. Photo by John McEvoy

MONTE VISTA – Political candidates for this month’s election in Rio Grande County drew a large crowd of listeners to the forum held in the San Luis Valley Information Center in the heart of Monte Vista on Monday, June 2.

Local radio personality and manager of KSLV Radio, Gerald Vigil, led the forum and kept time for the candidates ensuring that each got equal time to speak.


Vigil began the forum with candidates who were running for election unopposed.

Cindy Hill is running for RGC Clerk and Recorder. Hill started off by saying this would be her second term and that she had been in the Valley for 34 years.

“I have a bachelor’s in business administration with a minor in accounting from Adams State College,” said Hill.

Hill went on to say that she believed a person needed to be in office for at least three terms (or 12 years) to accomplish their goals. “The first term is to figure out what needs to be done,” said Hill. “The second, what you want to do and the third, get it done.”

Hill said the main thing she had wanted to do was get the office computerized and she has. License plates may be taken care of online; Hill said that records going back to 1874 have all been digitized for safekeeping. “If the courthouse burned down, I would still have those records,” said Hill.

Peggy Kern was next up and is running for treasurer. Kern said technology has created a lot of valuable changes and helps in how things are done. “I can remember back to 1995 when I took office and nobody trusted the computer,” said Kern. Now computers have become absolutely essential to her job as snail mail has dwindled and everything is done by email.

“People want the convenience of paying bills online and now they can,” said Kern. “We collect the money, invest it, distribute it to the school district, town, library, fire district and it is totally automated now and we don’t even write checks anymore.”


Running for RGC assessor are Michelle Medina, who was up first, and Jennifer “J.J.” Mondragon

Medina said she was born and raised in the Valley and graduated from Sargent High School and has worked at the assessor’s office for two years helping with all areas of the operation, and she feels there is a good computer system in place. “The website lists every single house we have,” said Medina. “We can make sure the property values are updated and listed accurately.”

Jennifer “J.J.” Mondragon is also running for assessor; she spoke of her family and said they had owned their home in Rio Grande County since 2003. “We know the pain and frustration a property owner has,” said Mondragon. “I have worked in the office for 16 years and have taken 190 hours of education.” Mondragon went on to list her numerous accomplishments not only education field for assessing property, but also what has been done while she has worked many years at the office.

“Our office has a good reputation and I hope to keep up with the technology as it becomes available,” said Mondragon. “We have a very knowledgeable staff and we will continue to be an asset to the county.”

Next up were the candidates for RGC commissioner.


Incumbent Karla Shriver was first to make a statement. “I have lived in the Valley for 28 years and farm 1,600 acres for my normal living in addition to being commissioner,” said Shriver. She went on to say she has a college education in agriculture and finance. While working as a commissioner, Shriver said her duties have been varied and one of proudest accomplishments has been working on a master plan for the Valley.

“This month we will have a master plan for SLV Trail System,” said Shriver. “It will be a magnificent document for the Valley and will go a long way for generating income in the future for all.”

Shriver also said she had done considerable work with the other commissioners in sculpting the rules and regulations for oil and gas exploration in the Valley with great attention to keeping the water and natural resources safe. Shriver said another thing she takes great pride is working with the Rio Grande Watershed Emergency Action Coordination Team (RWEACT) that was formed during the fire. Shriver is the leader of the economic recovery team.

Alan Wright is also running for county commissioner. Wright started off by stating he was a fourth generation farmer here in the Valley and a graduate from ASU in business administration and masters in practical ministry.

Wright served two terms on the Monte Vista School Board. During his second term, he served as board president and oversaw the building of the middle school gym and Bill Metz Elementary. He also served on the Colorado Certified Seed Board, the Potato Administrative Committee, the Centennial Ditch Board and the Lariat Ditch board. In addition, he has served in leadership positions in various Valley churches.

“I just completed the Water Leader’s Course in Alamosa,” said Wright. “It is to help people learn about water issues which are very important to the Valley.”

Wright said he feels he has a unique perspective on things, because of having to declare bankruptcy on his farm in 2005. Wright said what he realized from that is a person cannot stand still. “If you stand still, you end up going backwards,” said Wright. “I have learned from that experience and have come out on top by now having a successful window washing and construction business along with my wife.”


Next up was Stephen Hunzeker who is running for county coroner. Hunzeker said during his time working with mortuaries he has come to know that one of the most significant events in a person’s life is a death in the family. “I am running for this office, because it is near and dear to my heart,” said Hunzeker. “To be that person to help a family through a very difficult time is very, very important to me.”

Hunzeker said during his work with the funeral home he has the opportunity to work closely with the Alamosa County coroner and knows the importance of cooperation between all offices involved, especially law enforcement agencies, fire departments, paramedics and he has learned the processes that are in place.

Hunzeker said he has also continued to improve himself through educational opportunities in his field of work. “Above all, what is most important to me is that I will be a positive, professional and caring representative of Rio Grande County when called into service,” said Hunzeker.

Incumbent candidate for coroner Rusty Strohmayer was not present.


The three candidates for sheriff were up next.

First to make his statement was current sheriff Brian Norton who has been in that position since 2003. Norton said one of the first campaign promises he made was to fight the drug war any way he could. “We are now legalizing what used to be illegal, which is causing more complications in our investigations,” said Norton. “There are even more challenges with that now, because heroin is becoming a big problem, especially here in Monte Vista, the Valley and statewide.”

Norton said he has stood up for the constitutional right to bear arms as stated in the second amendment. “A drivers license is a privilege that can be suspended,” said Norton. “You cannot suspend the right to freedom of speech or the right to bear arms.” Norton also said his department continues to make concealed handgun permits available for free where other departments charge up to $100.

Norton said if voters looked at his history as sheriff they would see all the good that he has accomplished, such as the large cases, including homicides, that have been solved and the well organized fire response during the West Fork Fire Complex.

Current Police Chief of Del Norte Robert Fresquez then went before before the audience. Fresquez stated he had been with the Del Norte Police Department since 1987 and chief since 2003. Fresquez said he does not plan on doing anything else but law enforcement with his life, and it has been his lifelong career.

The policy he has always had is to work with youth as closely as possible, because this will instill a trust between them and the department. “The simple fact is, one day, young people will talk to you,” said Fresquez. “If you are honest with them and are there for them, they will do the same for you.”

Fresquez said he tries to get along with as many people as possible in his position and thinks he has earned the respect of the people in Del Norte.

Fresquez stated that he has two sons in the police force serving in Center and now that his youngest daughter has graduated high school, he is ready. “Many people have asked me to run for sheriff in past elections and have supported me, but I did not feel ready to do so until now,” said Fresquez. “I am ready now and with my experience and performance as chief it is time to be a candidate.”

Current Center Chief of Police William Lucero was the next candidate to speak to the crowd. Lucero said he was a Rio Grande County native, born and raised in Monte Vista. Lucero joined the Marines right out of high school and is proud of service as a Lance Corporal. He served 10 years with Tribal Law Enforcement as for the sovereign nation of the Southern Ute Tribe and was second in command by the time he left. Lucero said he had also been a part of organizing and policing the sixth largest motorcycle rally in the nation during his time with the tribe.

“I did all the logistics, made sure we had enough personnel by coordinating with local county sheriff’s offices and help from New Mexico departments to lend a hand,” said Lucero. “I oversaw dispatch and investigative teams, so I am well rounded in how police departments work and in cooperating with other agencies.”

Lucero said he is a firm believer in using technology to help in law enforcement. “I started my officers using body cameras and our complaints have gone down and I would do the same for the county,” said Lucero. “I have the skills and experience for this position and I thank you for your support.”

For the complete article see the 06-05-2014 issue.

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