Joshua Ray
Joshua Ray (Daily Times file photo)

AZTEC — For the last four years, city officials say they have pushed for greater interaction between city staff and citizens.

To further the cause, City Manager Joshua Ray will hold an informal meeting with anyone in the community who wants to ask a question, address an issue or inquire about the city's upcoming budget or development projects. Ray will be available from 6 to 7:30 p.m. on Monday at City Hall in the commission meeting room.

"We've tried to get greater interaction from people in the community," Ray said by phone on Thursday. "We've held a lot of community meetings, workshops, but, despite our trying, we've failed horribly. This meeting is one way I'm hoping to change that."

Last year, Ray, Aztec Mayor Sally Burbridge and city staff hosted 10 "vision sessions" to solicit ideas from residents to craft the Vision Plan, a 14-page document that describes the city's goals and priorities.

It was published in March on the city's website, and 3,500 copies have been printed in booklet form. About 1,000 to 1,2000 have been distributed, Ray said. Ray has asked commissioners to go door-to-door and hand out copies of the plan, hoping the exchange prompts deeper conversations about the direction of the city.

"We're talking about redesigning the utility bill envelopes so we can include a copy that way, but I still favor the face-to-face approach," he said.

At Tuesday's meeting, commissioners told Ray they had not started to hand out the booklets in earnest. Commissioner Katee McClure, who was elected in March, said the task was a challenge greater than her enthusiasm for the city.

"Really terrible," McClure said, when Ray asked how distribution was going. "You know, we can't put it in their mailbox by law. I love the idea, love the plan, but the distribution, maybe rethink it. It almost needs a one-on-one, but you can't do that with 3,500 people."

McClure said she has handed out some booklets to her neighbors along Church and Mesa Verde avenues, but she thinks the distribution wasn't well planned.

"Putting it in their utility bill, a lot of people might just throw that crap away. 'Just give me the bill,' you know?" McClure said on Thursday.

McClure said commissioners weren't given a deadline to distribute the plan but she set her own deadline of July 1.

"I'm going to hit the pavement, go to businesses because at least I know they'll be there during the day," she said.

Connecting with constituents is a work-in-progress and a source of consternation, Ray said. He voiced frustration over numerous attempts to meet with Gov. Susana Martinez. Since Ray was hired more than four years ago, he and Mayor Burbridge have failed to secure a single meeting with the governor, a sore spot that Ray says further compels him to make Aztec's officials and departments open and available.

"I am accessible. The governor of New Mexico is not," Ray said. "If a city tries for over three years to sit down with their governor and can't, that's not a small deal. We've tried numerous times, and every time we get a staffer, and staffers come and go. Give me 10 minutes to mention that we exist."

Mike Lonergan, a spokesman for the governor, said leaders from San Juan County are welcome to meet with the governor and her administration.

"Administration officials have worked closely with Aztec City Manager Ray and the City of Aztec on critical issues facing the community, particularly the Aztec Arterial road project, which is important for ensuring continuing economic development and improving road safety," Lonergan wrote in an email on Thursday. "This year alone, Aztec received more than $4 million for this important project. Governor Martinez and her administration look forward to continuing to work with local leaders like City Manager Ray throughout the state to continue to move New Mexico forward."

Ray is still optimistic about Monday's informal meeting.

"I'd prefer 6,763 people come in, but if only one does, it'll be a success," he said.

James Fenton covers Aztec and Bloomfield for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4621 and jfenton@daily-times.com. Follow him @fentondt on Twitter.