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Residents also expressed their frustration over the abrupt closure of the city's Fitness Center

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BLOOMFIELD — Bloomfield residents filled the City Council Chambers at tonight's meeting  to voice support for the Ten Commandments monument outside City Hall and to share their disapproval of the city's decision to close the Fitness Center.

Mayor Scott Eckstein said the crowd was one of the largest to ever attend a City Council meeting. Residents lined up along the walls of the room and stood in the hallway of City Hall to hear the meeting.

Last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit upheld the decision of Senior U.S. District Judge James A. Parker that the Ten Commandments monument outside City Hall violates the U.S. Constitution. According to the appeals court, the monument could be seen as a religious endorsement.

Bloomfield City Attorney Ryan Lane updated the crowd on the status of the lawsuit. He said there were three possible options: ask for another hearing with the appeals court, drop the case or appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The council will consult with the Alliance Defending Freedom, the nonprofit Christian organization out of Scottsdale, Ariz., that is representing the city in the lawsuit, before voting at a future meeting on how to proceed.

Nearly a dozen people spoke during the meeting's public comment period, all in support of the city’s fight to keep the monument on the grounds of City Hall. No one spoke in opposition of the monument and the lawsuit.

Bloomfield resident Jeannie Griffith told councilors she started a community fund to provide support for the monument. The account, called "Four Corners Historical Monuments Project Fund," is set up at Citizens Bank.

Griffith said if there are additional costs involved in the lawsuit, residents can help cover some of those expenses.

"I’m very proud of how it looks on our city lawn," Griffith said about the monument. "I am a Christian. I am supporting the document itself and what it stands for."

Residents also spent about 45 minutes talking about the recent closing of the city’s Fitness Center.

During a special meeting Nov. 2, councilors approved a $180,000 cut to the general fund budget that eliminated six full-time and two part-time positions.

City Manager Eric Strahl said the approved cuts included closing the Fitness Center.

The cuts were in response to a large drop in gross receipts tax revenue. The city reduced its general fund budget from about $6.8 million to $6 million for the current fiscal year due to the loss of tax revenue.

The city made a number of budget cuts earlier in the year, including canceling the Red Apple Transit bus service, enacting a 3.46 percent pay cut for all city employees and reducing hours of operation for the Bloomfield Aquatic Center.

Residents tonight asked if the council and city administrators tried to make cuts at the Bloomfield Public Library and the Aquatic Center. Some residents said the Fitness Center's closure was abrupt, saying they learned the news from a sign at the entrance.

Also tonight, councilors approved renaming one of the city’s fire stations after former Fire Chief George Duncan.

Bloomfield Fire Department Station No. 1 will now be known as the George T. Duncan Fire Station. Duncan retired from the department last month after nearly 45 years of service.

Councilor Curtis Lynch read the resolution during the meeting, saying Duncan's work made the department one of the most respected in New Mexico and across the nation.

Eckstein presented George with a crystal statue, inscribed with a message thanking him for his service to the city.

Joshua Kellogg covers education for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627 and jkellogg@daily-times.com.

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