BELEN — Five Belen residents have thrown their hats into the ring to become the next city councilor.

Belen Mayor Robert Noblin asked residents to send him letters of interest to fill the vacant seat on the city council after the death Councilor Yvette Padilla in December.

Noblin had appointed Padilla last January to fill the remainder of his seat on the council after he was elected mayor.

The person selected will serve until Dec. 31, 2023, unless elected to the seat in November.

Each candidate will have the opportunity to address the city council and mayor at a special meeting at 6 p.m., Thursday, Jan. 19, in the council chambers at Belen City Hall. The council will also be able to pose questions to them.

The residents who will be considered include:

  • Tracy D. Armijo, who has operated a small farm in Belen since 2005, has more than 20 years of experience as a litigation paralegal, and has been employed at Sandia National Laboratories for 17 years. She also owns Fat Kat Krafts.

She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in criminal justice as well as a Master of Science degree in homeland security.

“I would greatly appreciate the opportunity to serve my community as a member of the Belen City Council,” Armijo wrote.

  • Rudy Espinoza, the pastor at Christian Faith Chapel, submitted his interest, saying his experience and training are “a credible asset to any organization. I am confident I can lend my skills, talents, and experience to work with other council members.”

According to his resume, Espinoza has been the regional security officer for Wells Fargo Bank since 1993, and is a U.S. Army veteran.

“As a citizen of Belen, I have grown up here, married my high school sweetheart, raised three children in our community, and have been a powerful advocate and supporter of our fine community,” Espinoza wrote. “As a pastor, I have spent most of my life as a servant in the military …

“I have served on many boards and organizations, including the Pastoral Alliance and Follow the Star, assisted with Covid operations, and supported those who needed help getting out to shop or assistance at home or getting a ride. In addition, I spent countless hours working with the Greater Belen Chamber of Commerce in hosting the Rio Abajo Becker Street Festival and other functions in support of our local merchants.”

Espinoza is the husband of Rhona Espinoza, the executive director of chamber.

  • Megan Malcom-Morgan, who unsuccessfully ran for a position on the council in 2021, is also seeking the seat. She was most recently the executive director of Through the Flower, a nonprofit organization in Belen founded by Judy Chicago.

“I know I would be a suitable candidate for consideration, and I would work hard for the city of Belen, as I truly believe in my community and the success of the city,” Malcom-Morgan wrote. “If you were to appoint me, my rapport with business owners and local citizens, along with my lifelong experience of working, living and serving the community, would make me an asset to the council. I will work hard for you and the city.

“We may not always agree, but I respect you and I am an independent thinker who can make decisions based on logic and reason. I would be there to support you and make the decisions that are necessary for the citizens and the city of Belen.”

  • Lawrence Padilla, the brother of Yvette Padilla, is hoping to fill his sister’s shoes on the city council.

He writes his family, including his father, Eloy, and sister have been involved in public service for many years.

“I was born and raised in Belen 48 years ago and I am passionate about what is and what is not happening in our great community,” Padilla wrote. “Our citizens are of utmost importance to me along with our neighborhoods, streets, parks and schools to name a few. I would love the opportunity to help make decisions and voice my opinion in what would make our community an even better community.

“If you know me, you know I am one that will not just agree or disagree with every proposal brought to the council, but I will thoroughly think about the pros and cons and talk to our fellow citizens before I make my recommendations. Our governing body is very diverse and diversity is the key in bringing great ideas to the table.”

Padilla is the general manager at The Range Cafe in Los Lunas, and was previously employed with Sandia Resort and Casino.

“I am also currently working with some members of the Valencia County Hispano Chamber of Commerce along with my family in creating a memorial scholarship fund in Yvette’s name that will pay out $1,000 for a deserving student for the next four years,” he wrote.

  • Philip N. Sublett, owner of Phil’s Son Signs in Rio Communities, is also interested in the position.

“… I look forward to standing before the Belen City Council … to speak and answer any questions that may be directed towards me,” Sublett wrote.

In his resume sent to the mayor, Sublett says his objective is to bring “lifelong resident’s, home and land owner’s, and business owner’s perspective, to the City of Belen; in order to facilitate the proper growth and functionally of, present day and future, municipal infrastructure while maintaining safe and sustainable leadership/responsibility to community standards.”

Sublett is a Belen High School graduate, attended the University of New Mexico,  U.S. Army veteran, and volunteered with the Rio Grande Estates Volunteer Fire Department.

Three other residents had  also submitted letters of interest but have withdrawn their names for consideration.

Former Belen mayor Jerah Cordova submitted a letter of interest for the council seat but rescinded it Saturday after numerous Valencia County residents complained of a noxious odor Friday evening.

“In light of last night’s significant failure by the City of Belen to effectively respond to the environmental and health emergency that occurred, I’m rescinding my letter of interest,” Cordova wrote to Noblin. “My expectations of an accountable government are too high for me to be the kind of team player the city needs as it reflects on its failure. I’m not only diasppointed (sic) but abhorrently so.”

In his initial letter to Noblin, Cordova wrote, “I bring to this position ample experience in city matters. As an added benefit, I have no future political aspirations. I would serve dutifully, look to bridge the needs of the city ahead of the next election, and be on my way back into retirement on Jan. 1, 2024.”

Mark Scherer, the general manager of the Travelodge and Penny’s Diner, had also expressed interest having grown up in Belen and has lived in the Hub City on and off since 1980.

On Monday, Sherer rescinded his letter, writing to Noblin, “I will need to respectfully withdraw my name, my job just announced changes that will take me away from Belen. This will not allow me to have the flexibility to be available for meetings and other functions. Thank you for the consideration, I hope we find an amazing candidate.”

On Tuesday, retired fire chief Manny Garcia also wrote to the mayor, saying he was no longer interested in the appointment.

“After much thought, I have decided to remove my name for consideration for the vacant city council position and focus on ventures I currently have in place,” Garcia wrote to the mayor.

In his letter of interest, Garcia wrote, in part, “My 20+ years of experience within city government as an employee, supervisor, and appointed official provides me with the requisite knowledge and understanding for serving within city government.”

Noblin told the News-Bulletin he also received another letter from a person living in Rio Communities, who cannot serve on the council because they live in another municipality.

In a letter sent to all those who expressed interest in the position, Noblin informed them following their presentation to the council on Thursday, the councilors and mayor will ask  them two questions.

Once all presentations are heard, the governing body will discuss them publicly and the mayor will then state his nomination.

The nomination will be followed by a motion, a second and then a vote by the council. If a motion is not followed by a second, the motion is considered as having “died” and they will move on to the next name for the appointment.

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Clara Garcia is the editor and publisher of the Valencia County News-Bulletin.
She 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.