Chasing the Commission

Six lined up for two open seats on the Santa Fe County Commission, including one incumbent and a city councilor

Campaigns are ramping up for the District 1 and District 3 Santa Fe County Commission primaries on June 7, and candidates are sharing their priorities for addressing the county’s most pressing issues.

Each race has drawn three hopefuls, all Democrats. There is no Republican on the ticket for either contest, meaning whoever wins the primary will take a seat on the five-member commission.

District 1 extends from the north central part of the City of Santa Fe to the southeastern section of Española. District 3, the largest of five, encompasses the southern part of the county and stretches upward to include La Cienaga and south of Airport Road.

On a $39,106 salary, commissioners have a broad set of responsibilities, such as overseeing the county budget, maintaining roads, guiding economic development, creating policy and much more.

District 1 candidates include: Justin Greene, an entrepreneur and urban planner; Jon Paul Romero, an engineer and former Pojoaque Valley School Board member; and Orlando Alfonso Romero, a former government and private business consultant.

Whoever emerges will replace Henry Roybal, who is running for the state House of Representatives.

Greene, 52, worked as an architect for private firms before helping develop the City of Santa Fe’s Railyard and Community Convention Center. The owner of Dashing Delivery, he has served on the Santa Fe Planning Commission, the Pueblo of Tesuque Development Committee and the Santa Fe Chamber of Commerce Economic Development Committee.

The No. 1 issue facing his district, Greene says, is the need for broadband services.

“That is a critical issue and over the next few years there will be a lot of federal and state money that will help build out networks,” he tells SFR. “My expertise will come in handy and help the county plan for a five- to 10-year buildout that will hopefully service 80 to 90% of the district.”

Greene wants to tackle housing by developing small clusters of homes for law enforcement, firefighters, nurses and teachers. He says that would also increase public safety because off-duty deputies would live in the areas they serve.

Jon Paul Romero, 54, has worked as an engineer for the City of Santa Fe and owns Southwest Design, a construction management company. He was a school board member for 13 years, served as the secretary treasurer of the National Hispanic Council and was chairman of the County Development Review Committee.

Economic development, affordable housing and water and land use are three of JP Romero’s top priorities.

“Since we’ve had this pandemic, there’s so many small mom and pop shops that have struggled to make it through the pandemic,” he says. “I want to be able to build opportunities for small businesses so that they can grow.”

Jon Paul Romero says he’s committed to quality of life issues, and he’ll work to provide health care options and good roads.

“Being an engineer, I know the public works side,” he says. “I know what it takes to run a county from the inside out—the processes and procedures that we have to follow.”

Orlando Alfonso Romero, 71, served as deputy secretary of the New Mexico General Services Department, deputy chief of staff for Gov. Bruce King, chief clerk for the New Mexico State Corporation, chief of staff for the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission and director of Pueblo of Pojoaque Realty.

Water is the most critical issue facing the District 1 community, says Alfonso Romero.

“We need potable water,” he says. “With climate change, it’s significant. I can remember when we had 10 to 14 feet of snow up at the ski basin and in those canyons. Today, we’re lucky if it’s 5 feet.”

Orlando Alfonso Romero wants to see the county, city and tribal governments consolidate resources, and he plans on securing federal funds to improve county infrastructure. He says his experience in government would help him navigate the bureaucracy that comes with it.

“If you’re going to dedicate yourself to this, it’s got to be full time and I can do that,” he says. “Everybody’s got good ideas. The question is: Who has the ability to take those from an idea to a project? It’s time consuming, but you’ve got to go through the process.”

The candidates for District 3 are: Rudy Garcia, the incumbent; Camilla Bustamante, longtime educator in environmental safety workforce development; and Chris Rivera, city councilor for Santa Fe’s District 3.

Garcia, 51, did not respond to multiple requests for an interview left with him, his assistant and the county spokeswoman until Friday afternoon. He agreed to an interview by SFR’s deadline, then stopped answering the phone.

Bustamante, 58, was dean for the School of Trades, Advanced Technologies, and Sustainability at Santa Fe Community College for seven years. Before that, she was dean of Community, Workforce, Career Technical Education at Northern New Mexico College. She also has over 20 years of experience in environmental science and health safety work.

The ability to grow food and have access to clean water are among Bustamante’s top concerns.

“We have to take into consideration future generations and their ability to grow food where we are,” she tells SFR. “We can’t overrun what fragile ecosystem we have with new construction and buildings in those areas where food can be grown.”

Bustamante says she would support activities to bring communities together.

“A lot of the planning and infrastructure has really separated people,” she says. “What do we do so that people see each other outside of weddings, funerals and on Sundays? When people are familiar with each other, people feel safer where they are.”

Rivera, 56, has been in public service his entire career, working as a paramedic firefighter and eventually serving as the Santa Fe Fire Department chief. He’s been a city councilor since 2012, and believes his experience can spur better cooperation between the city and county.

“It’s not just the City of Santa Fe and the county, but it’s also Edgewood, Stanley and those areas,” he says. “One of the big issues in the county is water, and the city and county having broader discussions on those areas where we have mutual concern I think is really important.”

Rivera wants to support the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Department by addressing staffing, equipment needs and other resources to fight violent crime. With experience in setting up Santa Fe’s Alternative Response Unit, he wants to expand the county’s program.

“There are some good studies that have been done on police officers responding to a tail light out and the violence that can happen because of that,” he says. “Being able to have those discussions with the sheriff and being in a position to create policy around that I think is a good thing.”

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