The Sierra County Sentinel, owned and edited by Truth or Consequences City Commissioner Frances Luna, revealed information from the city commission executive session held today, publishing online the names of applicants for the city manager position an hour after the session let out this morning.
The Sun submitted an Inspection of Public Records Act request for the city manager applications on March 12—the application deadline—and was told by the city clerk those documents would not be available until March 25.
Luna shared her privileged information with the Sentinel’s government reporter, Chuck Wentworth, who announced the names of the five candidates who applied for the position: Sierra County Manager Bruce Swingle; Elephant Butte City Manager Vicki Ballinger; Julian Jay Ruybalid, the former acting city manager of Sunland Park, New Mexico; Erica DeLad-Medina; and Mark Payne.
Swingle said in an interview with the Sun this afternoon that he is applying for the job because “I think I can help. Things are going very well at the county [where he has been county manager for six and a half years], and I have a history of going to places that are having trouble. I want the challenge. I’m excited at the possibility of the opportunity.”
Ballinger could not be reached by press time. In 2018 she applied to be T or C city manager during a search that resulted in the hiring of Morris Madrid.
Ruybalid, according to various news articles, was hired as the interim town manager of Dolores, Colorado, on June 27, 2018, having recently been the acting city manager for Sunland Park. He was city manager of Belen, New Mexico, from 2014 to 2016.
No information on DeLad-Medina or Payne was found in an online search.
City Clerk Angela Torres, in response to a question from the Sun, declared that no action was taken in the open session that followed this morning’s executive session. The Sentinel reported, however, that a special commission meeting had been scheduled for Tuesday, March 23, at which the five candidates will be interviewed. According to the Sentinel, an executive session will be held after the regular city commission meeting on Wednesday, March 24, presumably with the purpose of selecting select a city manager.
Executive sessions are not open to the public, but neither Clerk Torres or Acting City Manager Traci Alvarez were available to answer the Sun’s question about whether the March 23 interview session will be open to the public. The Sun has called for the public to have input into the hiring of the city manager, but that appears unlikely.
Luna was highly critical of T or C’s previous city manager, Morris Madrid, whose resignation took effect March 5. Madrid gave no reason for his resignation.
Before Luna “termed out” of her position as Sierra County Commissioner on Jan. 1, she worked with Bruce Swingle during much of her two four-year terms.
Luna was appointed by fellow T or C commissioners to assume the city commission seat vacated by Brendan Tolley, who resigned in August 2020. She held both the county commissioner and city commissioner seats for three months.
Last week the Sun emailed each of the city commissioners, asking them how the public was to be informed if action was taken on the city manager position following the March 15 executive session. None responded.
Under the state’s Government Conduct Act, government officials are not supposed to use their positions of authority for their own financial benefit. In the case of Commissioner/Publisher Luna, activities that run afoul of the act might include preventing a competing publication from accessing public information on a timely basis or using insider information from her government work to enhance the competitive edge of her newspaper.
The pertinent section of the Government Conduct Act is 10-16-6, captioned “Confidential Information.” It states: “No legislator or public officer or employee shall use or disclose confidential information acquired by virtue of the legislator’s or public officer’s or employee’s position with a state agency or local government agency for the legislator’s, public officer’s or employee’s or another’s private gain.”