Election 2021: Incumbent Linda Rodgers, challenger Michael Bulloch paired in District 1 City Council race
Candidates have different perspectives on Farmington's direction, city manager
- Incumbent Linda Rodgers is the chief financial officer at the Process Equipment & Service Co. Inc.
- Michael Bulloch is the former downtown coordinator for the City of Farmington, an accomplished painter and a downtown property owner.
- The general election is set for Tuesday, Nov. 2.
FARMINGTON — The race for the District 1 seat on the Farmington City Council features two candidates who know each other well and profess a high regard for one another, but who differ markedly on whether the city is moving in the right direction.
Incumbent Linda Rodgers, who serves as the chief financial officer at the Process Equipment & Service Co. Inc., was appointed to the seat by then-Mayor Tommy Roberts in 2015 and was elected to a full term in 2016. Her challenger, Michael Bulloch, is the former downtown coordinator for the City of Farmington, an accomplished painter and a downtown property owner.
Rodgers said she has enjoyed her six-plus years on the council and is eager to continue serving. She cited a long list of items the council has dealt with during her tenure as evidence that the city has made substantial progress in that time.
One of her priorities is public service, Rodgers said, pointing to the creation of the park safety unit, which provides regular police patrols of the river corridors and downtown, as an example of one such improvement.
"Having that element has helped a lot," she said. "People feel safer."
Another is the creation of the police department's alternative response unit, which pairs a firefighter with EMT training with a police officer to respond to reports of a down subject. Before the unit existed, she said, a Farmington Fire Department ladder truck and crew often had to be dispatched to handle those calls, tying up valuable resources and manpower.
"That's saved a lot of money," Rodgers said, explaining that many of the subjects aided by the ARU simply need to be escorted to the city's Sobering Center or require minor assistance getting back on their feet.
Rodgers said the opening of the Bisti Bay at Brookside Park water park has been a major addition to the city's lineup of amenities, and she looks forward to the opening of an all-abilities park at the site of the former Tibbets Middle School.
"We've been putting money back into our community," she said, adding that miles of new water lines also have been installed in recent years and many streets have been repaved. She also listed the downtown Complete Streets project and the Farmington Civic Center renovation as examples of projects that have improved the quality of life in Farmington.
But more work needs to be done, Rodgers said, explaining that the Piñon Hills Golf Course is 35 years old and is in need of renovation.
The problems presented by the COVID-19 pandemic certainly made it a challenge to keep some of those projects moving forward in the last 18 months, she said. But Rodgers credited the city's department heads and other leaders with maintaining that momentum, especially as the city grapples with two of its largest economic development initiatives — building a significant outdoor recreation-based economy in Farmington and keeping the San Juan Generating Station open past its planned closure date in 2022.
Rodgers acknowledged that many people have second guessed the city's decision to enter into a partnership with Enchant Energy to try to retrofit the power plant with carbon-capture technology and keep it operating. But she pointed out its continued operation would mean saving 1,500 well-paying jobs, along with several hundred more throughout the county because of the ripple effect.
Even though carbon-capture technology is considered a dubious proposition by some observers, Rodgers said it has been proven to work in other locations. She said she believes that carbon can be shipped via pipeline to locations where there is a market for it as a byproduct.
"Only time will tell if it was a good decision or not a good decision, but I think we had to try it," she said.
Rodgers' opponent, Bulloch, does not agree. He said the city has poured $4 million in the plan to keep the power plant open, and it has no guarantee of receiving a return on that investment.
"I am more and more skeptical of that happening," he said.
Bulloch said he understands the argument that the city should do what it can to save the jobs the power plant provides, but he said at a certain point, Farmington officials need to acknowledge that the time has come to pivot to another strategy.
"We can't solve our problems by using the same ideas over and over again," he said.
Bulloch also criticized the approach the city has taken to applying a standby solar rider fee to its electric utility customers who have solar power in their homes. The rider has been described by some as a solar tax, and Bulloch said it is simply unfair.
"It makes it very difficult for people who have solar to save money," he said. "Nobody else in the state does that, and we shouldn't be doing that."
Bulloch said he was not pleased that the City Council has awarded two raises to City Manager Rob Mayes in recent years at a time when many vacant city positions have gone unfilled and other city employees have not seen salary increases.
He said Mayes has received $40,000 in raises over the past few years while the Farmington Museum at Gateway Park has been unable to fill its vacant curator, exhibits manager and collections manager positions, and the Farmington Public Library has 20 open positions.
"In my book, that's unethical, and I don't like it," he said. "If nobody's getting raises, then nobody should get raises. The city has much better things to spend (money on) than what he's doing."
Bulloch said the city also needs to make its downtown coordinator a full-time position instead of a part-time position. But he said the better move would be for the Downtown Farmington program to be removed from the city's economic development department and operate solely under the New Mexico Main Street Program. He claimed Farmington is the only community in the state that operates its downtown project in that fashion.
Given his experience as the city's former downtown coordinator and his ownership of commercial property in the district, Bulloch acknowledged he has a keen interest in its development. But he said he said the rest of the city deserves just as much attention.
He also said that even though Farmington professes to be a business-friendly city, it is not.
"We need a culture change within the entire city," he said.
As an example, Bulloch cited the example of the efforts by the owners of the Three Rivers Brewery several years ago to try to open the first "brewstillery" in the state, an operation that would enable them to begin distilling their own liquor. Bulloch said Three Rivers owners invested a great deal of money in first-rate equipment, education and architectural plans, only to be stymied by the city at every turn.
It took two years for Three Rivers to finally gain the necessary approval for the project from the city, he said, and by that point, several other distilleries already had opened in New Mexico.
"They lost that distinction," Bulloch said. "And it alienated Three Rivers from being a good community partner."
Bulloch said he thinks a great deal of Rodgers as a person, but he questioned whether she really listens to her constituents or does her own research on issues.
"I think she votes the way the city manager wants her to vote," he said.
Rodgers said she has worked with Bulloch over the years and likes him, as well, but she rejected the notion that she takes her political cues from Mayes.
"To say I'm aligned with Rob, it's almost implying that I would go along to get along," she said. "That is not the case."
She said she often debates issues with Mayes and never fails to vote her conscience.
"I don't know that Michael's beef is with the city manager, and it's none of my business," she said. "But he needs to find a way to work comfortably with people despite his differences. … I'm surprised he has continued to beat that drum."
Bulloch said a more-inclusive atmosphere needs to be encouraged throughout city government as Farmington grows more diverse.
"That's my hope, for more and more people to feel like they can be involved in city government and not have to one of the good ol' boys just to have an interest in serving their community," he said.
Voters will head to the polls on Tuesday, Nov. 2 to cast their ballots for a variety of positions. Early voting is going on at six sites throughout San Juan County.
Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Support local journalism with a digital subscription.