BELEN—The criteria and process of naming a city-owned building, monument or park in the city of Belen is still being mulled over after a proposed ordinance was declined by the governing body last week.

Belen Mayor Jerah Cordova broke a tie vote when the council was split over whether to adopt the ordinance as presented. Councilors Frank Ortega and Wayne Gallegos voted to approve it, while Councilors David Carter and Ronnie Torres voted against it.

Ortega made the motion to approve the ordinance, saying “It’s a living document, and we can come back and amend it.”

Both Carter and Torres said they want to see the proposed changes first before making a decision.

The proposed ordinance says any individual or organization could submit an application request to the city clerk to name a public building, monument or park. The application would contain: 1. Name and address of requestor; 2. Facility to be named; 3. Individual to be honored; 4. Criteria verification and; 5. Brief biography of individual to be honored

The criteria for the nominee would include: 1. Resident or origin of Belen; 2. Deceased; 3. Citizen in good standing and; 4. Be of noble character.

After the clerk receives the nomination, they would conduct a records search for verification of any prior formal name of the nominee, the governing body would then hold a public hearing, and then vote on the request.

If the facility has been formally named and adopted by the governing body, the name “shall not be removed and is prohibited from being re-named.”

The ordinance proposed says a city-owned building, monument or park that currently has an existing name will remain and be grand-fathered in.

Steven Tomita, the city’s planning and economic development manager, presented the ordinance to the council last week. He said he, Ortega and City Manager Leona Vigil went through two other drafts of the ordinance before finally coming to a consensus on the one presented to the council.

When asked what “Be of noble character” means, Tomita said the person should be “honorable, having had a good reputation and nothing to be ashamed of.”

Gallegos said the ordinance should also contain a definition section to clear up what each process and criteria means.

“The language has to be tweaked,” Gallegos said.

Torres said he was concerned that the ordinance says the clerk would conduct a records search for verification of any prior formal name, but later it states any existing name on a facility would remain and be grandfathered in.

“There’s no need to verify the existing name if it’s going to be grandfathered in,” Torres said.

Mayor Jerah Cordova suggested the ordinance have an appendix of properties already named for people, such as Anna Becker Park and Vivian Fields.

Tomita agreed, saying 10 or 15 years from now, people might lose track of the names, but if it’s in the ordinance, they will know who the property is named after.

“There should be a little more teeth to (the ordinance),” Torres said. “Because if you have three families of good standing and they all want to name it after someone different, it could be a huge thing. What gives us the right to determine one family is better than someone else?”

Torres said he doesn’t want what happened to the Sosimo Padilla Boulevard/Camino del Llano name change happen again.

“I don’t want someone who left and comes back 40 years later saying they want to change the name of something because they didn’t like the person,” Torres said. “It puts pressure on the council to change it. Been there, done that — it wasn’t pretty.”

It was also suggested the criteria of naming a city-owned building, monument or park should have, in some way, contributed to the property, whether it be working or volunteering at the site.

Vigil said while considering the other two drafts of the ordinance, she didn’t want to include a financial contribution clause because it would discriminate against those without financial means.

Resident Robert Noblin, who was elected to the council the next day and owns and operated Noblin Funeral Services, asked why the person had to be deceased in order to be recognized.

“There has to be some real stringent criteria,” Noblin said. “As a funeral director, if you read the obituaries, everyone who dies goes to heaven and they’re a wonderful, noble person. I’ve never done a funeral for a bad person in the last 26 years.”

The proposed ordinance was drafted after questions arose about naming the Veterans Information Center after Ortega’s nephew, 20-year-old Spc. Henry Byrd III, who died in 2007 from heatstroke while serving in Iraq.

In June, the city councilors unanimously voted to name the new Veterans Visitor Center after Byrd, although they were not required to take action because the city has never adopted a policy or approved an ordinance pertaining to naming a city-owned facility.

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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.