Former San Juan County party leaders square off in District 2 Farmington City Council race

Incumbent Sean Sharer faces challenger Henry Silentman

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times
  • Incumbent Sean Sharer serves as the chief operations officer for CBF Services and is the former chairman of the San Juan County Republican Party.
  • His opponent, Henry Silentman, is an economic development specialist for the Navajo Nation and is the former chairman of the San Juan County Democratic Party.
  • Voters will head to the polls on Tuesday, Nov. 2 to cast their ballots for a variety of positions.

FARMINGTON — The campaign for the District 2 Farmington City Council seat is a nonpartisan race, but it features two candidates who are familiar to each other for having worked on opposite sides of the political fence.

Incumbent Sean Sharer, who serves as the chief operations officer for CBF Services, a firm owned by his family, is the former chairman of the San Juan County Republican Party. His opponent, Henry Silentman, is an economic development specialist for the Navajo Nation and is the former chairman of the San Juan County Democratic Party.

Sharer was elected to the District 2 seat in 2016 when he defeated incumbent Mary Fischer. He said serving on the council has been an eye-opening experience for him, explaining that there is a steep learning curve that comes with serving on the council.

"It takes a well-oiled machine to keep the city running," he said.

Sean Sharer

Sharer said it took him a little time to decide if he was interested in seeking re-election. But after talking it over with his wife and family and praying about it, he said he came to the realization that it was the right decision.

"I want to keep the city moving in a good direction," he said.

Sharer said he is most pleased about the fact that the council and the city staff have managed to meet the challenge of keeping the city's budget balanced at a time when revenue has been dwindling.

"We keep doing more with less," he said. "We've cut all the fat. We've even cut into the meat at certain places."

But that hasn't prevented the city from initiating new public safety programs, he said, including adding police department's park rangers and the fire department's alternative response unit, which pairs a firefighter with EMT training with a police officer to respond to reports of a down subject, who is possibly intoxicated.

"Even though we don't have lots and lots of money, we've been able to produce well for citizens," Sharer said.

He said the city also is committed to diversifying its economy, citing the creation of an economic development office at the municipal level to work with Four Corners Economic Development.

"We're doubling down on this," he said, noting the city's efforts to make Farmington an outdoor recreation destination.

But Sharer said it would be a mistake to characterize that effort as solely about increasing tourism.

"This is not just a place to play, have fun activities," he said. "It needs to recruit bigger businesses to come here."

Given the prominence of the petrochemicals industry here, Sharer said he believes Farmington is well positioned to attract manufacturers of outdoors equipment, many of whom rely heavily on plastics in their products.

He said he knows the lack of a railroad spur in San Juan County is a big obstacle in making that happen.

"We're kind of an island," he said, acknowledging the lack of options available here for the transport of such goods.

But Sharer rejects the notion that the county can't attract manufacturers without that option.

"If there was a railroad, it would be huge," he said. "But can we do it without rail? Absolutely."

He expressed the same degree of optimism in regard to the city's efforts to retrofit the San Juan Generating Station with carbon-capture technology and keep it operating past its 2022 retirement date planned by its current majority owner, the Public Service Company of New Mexico.

"We're going to save that plant," he said. "We are. I'm pretty confident we're going to save those 1,600 jobs."

Sharer said he ran for the District 2 seat the first time on a platform of transparency and being available to his constituents. He said he believes he has made good on that promise, but he said being a city councilor isn't always easy.

"It's more than a part-time job, even though it's considered part time," he said. "I probably spend more time on city business than I do on my real job. I'm always talking to my constituents in District 2. I try to be a very active councilor. I always try to respond to what the people of District 2 want."

Henry Silentman

Silentman to challenge incumbent

Silentman, the challenger for the District 2 seat, is making his first bid for elected office, but he is no stranger to public service, having served in a variety of civic and economic development organizations over the years, most notably as a member of the board of Leadership San Juan for seven years.

One of his priorities as a city councilor would be to help facilitate the spread of high-speed Internet throughout the city, he said. The need to have high-speed Internet widely available became apparent during the COVID-19 pandemic, he said, when so many folks were forced to work or attend school from home.

He acknowledged some public officials believe it is only the job of the private sector to ensure the spread of that service.

"I'm all for that, but not when the private sector fails us," he said.

Silentman said he believes the Farmington Electric Utility System can fill that void.

"It's not a luxury anymore," he said of high-speed Internet access. "It's a necessity. There are folks who don't have it and are being left out of the process."

Silentman said there are other infrastructure issues the city needs to address, as well, including helping grow the number of Farmington residents who have access to natural gas in their homes. He said it is the cleanest, cheapest way for people to heat their homes, and natural gas production is a big part of the local economy.

He was more circumspect in his assessment of the city's decision to invest in keeping the San Juan Generating Station open. Silentman said he lacks the technological know-how to determine if the carbon-capture plan is feasible, and he declined to specifically endorse or reject the course of action the city has taken. But he did say, "I support any way to keep those jobs."

Silentman said one of the reasons he chose to run for the City Council was because he believes Farmington's leadership needs to reflect the city's diversity — something it has done a poor job of in the past, he said.

He noted that when he was involved with Leadership San Juan, the organization brought in author Rodney Barker in 2020 to discuss his true-crime book "The Broken Circle: A True Story of Murder and Magic in Indian Country," which chronicled the 1974 murder of three Navajo men by a trio of white Farmington High School students.

Silentman said Leadership San Juan officials were interested in Barker's thoughts on how the community had evolved since that ugly incident, which was accompanied by a good deal of social upheaval. He said the takeaway from that visit was that a sense of complacency has gripped the community.

"The leaders of the community don't reflect the community they serve," he said.

As an economic development professional, Silentman said he believes he could bring a good deal of expertise to Farmington's efforts to rebrand itself economically, especially with his network of contacts and his understanding of data collection.

He said the American Rescue Plan Act — commonly known as the stimulus plan passed by Congress earlier this year — provides unprecedented financial support for economic development projects. He wants to see Farmington take full advantage of that.

"This is once-in-a-lifetime funding," he said. "There has never been so much money available for economic development. With my experience, I can help Farmington get a piece of that pie."

Silentman described himself as a down-to-earth, authentic candidate, and he said his strong support of small businesses and entrepreneurs reflect that.

"This experience will definitely help the city and its strategic planning," 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 Support local journalism with a digital subscription.