BELEN — Even though there are already several city-owned properties named for people, the Belen City Council approved a new ordinance outlining the process of naming public buildings, parks and monuments.

By a 3-1 vote, with Councilor Ronnie Torres voting against approving the ordinance, the city now has a formal application process, a set of criteria and the creation of a permanent register of the names.

According to the ordinance, applications, which can be submitted by individuals or organizations, must contain identification of the building, park or monument, proposed name and justification for the proposed name, including all available histories, biographies, documents and any other relevant information.

The naming criteria the city has imposed include the proposed person or family shall have a demonstrated connection to Belen, such as having been born in the Hub City, lived in the city or owned property or a business.

If the proposed name includes the name of a specific person, that person shall be deceased. That person would have good standing in Belen, “specifically having not been convicted of a felony or removed from charitable service or public office due to malfeasance.”

Once the application is received by the city clerk, who will verify its compliance with the ordinance, a records search for verification of existing names of the property and of the proposed person’s background will be conducted.

The city clerk will then request consideration of the name in a public hearing before the city council within 60 days of the applicant’s submission. Two weeks later, the council will consider the request.

If the name is approved, the city will then create a proclamation, and the name will be added to the register, and a plaque or sign designating the name will be placed.

The ordinance states the name can be removed only if there is evidence brought before the council of substantial proof of malfeasance by the named individual.

Before the council voted, Steven Tomita, Belen’s planning and economic development manager, reminded the governing body of the history of the then-proposed ordinance.

“This was initiated by Councilor (Frank) Ortega and former city manager Leona Vigil, who wrote the ordinance,” Tomita said. “It was tabled, I believe to try to determine the merits of an individual’s name, and the concern if that individual fell out of favor, what the procedure would be to remove a name. That didn’t get resolved or readdressed.”

Ortega suggested the provision of removing a name be taken out of the ordinance, saying it would be a dishonor to the person.

“I would hate to have the names of Anna Becker Park or other (properties) such as Alexander Airport, Vivian Fields or the RSVP Park removed,” Ortega said. “It’s part of our history. If they’re deceased, how can they defend themselves?”

Several years ago, Ortega brought forth the name of Army Spc. Henry Byrd III to the council for naming the Veterans Visitors Center at Eagle Park. The council unanimously voted in favor, although some people voiced their opposition.

Byrd died on June 24, 2007, from heatstroke while serving with his unit, the 1st Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, in Iraq. He was 20 years old when he died.

Torres, who voted with the council to name the visitors center after Byrd, was the sole dissenter on the council when voting on the ordinance. He reminded his fellow councilors that ordinances are “living documents” and can by modified by future councils.

“No matter what the verbiage, if someone wants to re do it, they can,” Torres said. “That’s why I don’t like things named after someone.”

Torres reminded the council that about 15 years ago, while a member of the Belen City Council, he was again the only councilor to vote against renaming Sosimo Padilla Boulevard to Camino del Llano.

“A resident came in and wanted to change it,” Torres said. “This person didn’t like (Sosimo Padilla), and that council voted to change the name.

“I don’t want someone to come in later and ask to change it,” he added. “I think we can come in and put a nice plaque in memory of someone, and that should always stay there for that person.”

Councilors Bernal, Ortega and Noblin voted to approve the ordinance, with Torres voting no.

Belen Naming Ordinance 2021

Belen Naming Ordinance

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Clara Garcia is the editor and publisher of the Valencia County News-Bulletin, as well as the executive editor of El Defensor Chieftain, the News-Bulletin's sister paper in Socorro.
Clara is a native of the city of Belen, beginning her journalism career at the News-Bulletin in 1998 as the crime and courts reporter. During her time at the paper, Clara has won numerous awards for her writing, photography and typography and design both from the National Newspaper Association and the New Mexico Press Association.