San Juan College board newcomer has full agenda

Hoskie Benally Jr., John Thompson roll to victory in Tuesday's election, which featured light turnout

Mike Easterling
Hoskie Benally Jr.
  • Hoskie Benally Jr. has expressed concerns about San Juan College's funding and enrollment.
  • Benally defeated incumbent Matthew Tso in the race for the District 1 seat on the college board.
  • Incumbent John Thompson was re-elected by a wide margin and begins his second term on April 1.

FARMINGTON — Citing funding, enrollment and a recent no-confidence vote by a school faculty group as his primary areas of concern, the newest member of the San Juan College Board of Trustees says he is looking forward to beginning his six-year term in April.

Hoskie Benally Jr. was elected to the board's District 1 seat Tuesday. Benally's 131 votes exceeded the total for incumbent Matthew Tso (54) and challenger Eva Stokely (46), according to unofficial results posted on the San Juan County Clerk's Office website.

In the other board race, incumbent John Thompson won another term, earning 214 votes to challenger Richard Hoerner's 120.

Benally said he wasn't surprised by his victory. He said the first thing he plans to do is examine how education money is spent in New Mexico and determine how that impacts the college.

"I want to make sure that doesn't adversely impact our students — not only those in degree programs, but certificate programs," he said. "How do we deal with that?"

Benally said he is worried about reports of declining enrollment.

"How did that happen, and how are we going to increase that back to where it should be?" he asked.

He also said the no-confidence votes that members of the San Juan College Faculty Association approved regarding President Toni Pendergrass and the Board of Trustees are a concern.

Benally said he's curious to learn how the board is addressing those votes. He said he has heard from several students and college employees that while their input is often sought by the board, their responses don't seem to be taken into account when decisions are made.

"Low employee morale results in employees leaving," he said. "The other thing is, word gets around, and then people don't want to work for San Juan College. It's a domino effect."

Tso congratulated Benally on his victory and said the new board member is always welcome to call him and ask for help.

"I trust he'll do what's in the best interest of the college," Tso said, adding that it was an honor to serve on the board and expressing gratitude to his supporters.

Stokely said she hopes Benally can raise the profile of the college in District 1, which takes up western and northwestern portions of the county, including Shiprock.

"San Juan College needs to be more visible in District 1," she said. "I hope the new person makes sure all the information is visible in District 1.

John Thompson

Thompson, the board vice president, will begin his second term on April 1. He said he appreciates the support he received and cited the school's financial situation as his top concern.

"I think everybody's priority is going to be dealing with the budget crisis and keeping things going while that gets sorted out," he said.

He congratulated his opponent, Hoerner, for running, and said he respects anyone who demonstrates a willingness to run for public office.

"I hope he stays engaged with the college," Thompson said.

Hoerner said he hopes the board is more willing to listen to the concerns of faculty members, staff members and students in the future.

"That's kind of my pet issue," he said. "I think that's what the vote of no-confidence was about. A lot of times, they just believe they're left out."

Hoerner, a retired teacher, said he ran after making a pledge to do so to his family and some of his students.

"Democracy means we have to have options," he said. "Even when it doesn't work great for me, that conversation needs to happen more in our community."

Both Thompson and Hoerner expressed disappointment in the turnout for the election. Only 2.5 percent of the 22,448 registered voters who were eligible to take part in the election cast a ballot.

Mike Easterling covers education, health and the environment for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4610.