It started out like any normal year but ended like no other. While national news was dominated by the election cycle and demonstrations in cities across the country, the emergence of the coronavirus pandemic affected all of our lives in the way we dined, shopped, socialized, learned and worshipped. “This is crazy’’ could well have been the most often heard expressions in Socorro over the last nine months, but the people in Socorro and Magdalena have adapted and El Defensor Chieftain has tried to cover not only the local COVID-19 stories, but also whatever or whomever is making the news in any particular week. In wrapping up this year of years, El Defensor Chieftain is looking back at the weekly headlines from 2020. This week, we’re reviewing January through June. Next week, July through December.
• Besides our 2019 Year In Review summation, we reported on the City of Socorro saying good-bye to two long-time employees. In the first City Council meeting of 2020, Mayor Ravi Bhasker recognized Jay Santillanes for 23 years serving in different departments and Grace Costillo for her 30 years with the Socorro Police Department.
• With the opening gavel of the 54th Legislative session looming, 49th District Representative Gail Armstrong laid out her hopes for a strong economic picture for NewMexico. She also talked about the need for rural healthcare, non-repeating infrastructure funding, and voiced her support for teacher salaries and vocational education.
• A priority for the Socorro City Council was the hiring of a lobbyist for the legislative session for $15,000. Other prime concerns for the session included funding for Bullock Avenue improvement and a broadband initiative.
• The Incredible Hulk sworn in as Socorro County Deputy Sheriff. Actor Lou Ferrigno was sworn in as a deputy sheriff by Sheriff William Armijo at a ceremony in Albuquerque. Armijo said, “It seems everyone in the entire county wants a job in Socorro.” He said Ferrigno planned on making visits to Socorro throughout the year.
• Steers win the M Mountain Tournament. The Magdalena High School basketball team clinched the boys tourney title by defeating Socorro, 62-43. The Lady Warriors defeated the Crownpoint Eagles, 38-32.
• Harvan Conrad becomes new Magdalena Village trustee. By a vote of 3-0 the Magdalena Village Board of Trustees approved Mayor Richard Rumpf’s nomination of Harvan Conrad to fill the Trustee position vacated in December by Linda Middleton. Rumpf said although Conrad was a relative newcomer to the village, her resume was the best he’d seen among all the applicants.
• In a January press release, the supplier of electric power to Socorro Electric Cooperative, Tri-State Generation and Transmission, announced that it is committed to be 50 percent renewable in five years. The cooperative of cooperatives says its Responsible Energy Plan is its most transformative change in its 67 year history.
• In the latest development in the conflict between Socorro Electric Cooperative and the City of Socorro, the City stood by its assertion that no permanent franchise agreement with SEC was in place by asking a judge to dismiss the co-op’s request for a declaratory judgment affirming the validity of the 1999 franchise agreement between Socorro Electric and the city. The filing said, “SEC’s complaint concerns the city’s recent efforts to create a municipality-owned electric utility …”
• A new coffee shop opened. Que Suave debuted with the slogan, “Serving Community and Youth One Cup at a Time.” The coffee shop was the result of owners Damien and Kathleen Ocampo’s vision to support youth activities and to provide jobs to young people.
• School board violates Open Meetings Act. The Socorro Consolidated School District Board of Education was charged with violating the New Mexico Open Meetings Act after it conducted its annual administrative retreat in July 2019 in Las Cruces. A complaint filed by Frank Marquez with the New Mexico Attorney General’s office alleged the board violated the OMA when it conducted its meeting in Las Cruces instead of Socorro, which was 150 miles from the district’s office and not held “in the community affected by decisions.” The second part of Marquez’ complaint stated the board failed to provide reasonable notice for its meeting as required by OMA.
• Co-op to vet trustee candidates; intervenes in Tri-State case. With two trustee positions up for election – Jim Nelson in District 2 and Luis Aguilar in District 3 – the board chose members of the Credentials and Election Committee. During the same regularly scheduled board meeting, General Manager Joseph Herrera discussed an issue concerning two of Tri-State’s cooperatives in Colorado; United Power and La Plata Electric Association, both of which plan to sever their relationship with the “cooperative of cooperatives.” Herrera said Tri-Sate was asking all of its New Mexico co-ops to intervene in the Colorado PUC case with La Plata and United Power.
• Answering the City of Socorro’s filing in district court, Socorro Electric amended its declaratory judgment filing. The cooperative, which supplies electricity to the city and the counties of Socorro and Catron, filed an amendment to its declaratory judgment stating the City of Socorro “by its actions will compromise SEC’s right and obligation to serve its customers.” In the complaint SEC asserted the franchise agreement between the two parties has not been removed and will continue to be in effect until at least 25 years from the date of execution, until at least 2024.
• Magdalena dominates during spring homecoming. The Magdalena Steers dominated during its annual spring semester homecoming matchup against its district rival Estancia Bears, taking home the victory 85-43 on February 6.
• EPA back in town testing for vapor intrusion. The Environmental Protection Agency was in Socorro continuing to investigate the potential for vapor intrusion due to groundwater contamination from the Eagle Picher Superfund Site, encompassing two large traces totaling about 55 acres located along Interstate 25, about two miles north of Socorro. Eagle Picher was designated a superfund site in 2012 after a full round of sampling of about 38 irrigation, private domestic, municipal and monitoring wells, conducted by the New Mexico Environmental Department in 2010.
• Magdalena extends superintendent’s contract. The 2019-2020 school year marked Glenn Haven’s third year as Magdalena Municipal Schools’ superintendent. In a statement at the beginning of this school year, Haven said the efforts and changes that have been implemented so far to improve the quality of education, “has been a very rewarding journey at this significant point in time.”
• Solaro Energy temporarily shuts down. Local manufacturer of solar products in Socorro, Solaro Energy, has shut its doors temporarily because it says some of its employees had “falsely reported” to three different government agencies alleged safety violations. Company president Dennis Grubb noted that none of the government agencies found any wrongdoing on behalf of Solaro Energy.
• Warriors battle at state championships. In his second season as head coach, Jared Marquez and his Warriors basketball team improved from eight games under .500 to an even 11-11 regular season record. The Lady Warriors had a six game improvement from its 2018-2019 campaign, going 21-5, ranking first in District 3 standings.
• Solaro reopens. After stopping production temporarily, Solaro’s solarpowered attic fan factory on Enterprise Road has resumed normal operations. Earlier in the week president of the company, Dennis Grubb, notified employees that they were to return to work on Wednesday. Grubb said that the action was taken to give him time to secure workman’s compensation insurance.
• Socorro eyeing increase to Gross Receipts Tax. Socorro City Council approved the first reading of the ordinance for publication only in El Defensor Chieftain to increase the city’s GRT by .25 percent, generating an additional $300,000 in revenue per year.
• Armstrong airs views about the closed 2020 legislative session. Representative Gail Armstrong conceded that you hardly ever get everything you want, or need, but school teachers are getting a four percent salary increase. The legislature also approved a bill to allow school boards to issue diplomas to veterans who left high school in the Vietnam War, and another that will allow some retired teachers to come back as substitutes without suspending their pension benefits. Armstrong said she was disappointed that the Social Security tax exemption was dropped.
• Governor’s signature nixes some local projects. The Governor nixed Senate Bill 232. The bill would have given the city $200,000 for Bullock Ave. reconstruction and an additional $100,000 for road improvements. If it had been approved, the city would have had until June 30, 2022, to use the funds.
• The novel coronavirus begins impacting schools, churches, businesses and more. Mayor Ravi Bhasker said there had been no confirmed cases of the COVID-19 in the city of Socorro and there has been no evidence of “community spread.” Nonetheless, the city had closed Finley Gym and the Socorro Public Library until further notice.
• New housing for animal shelter. A trucking company installed the new Socorro Animal Shelter in two halves. Director Lupe Tarango said the shelter had outgrown the previous building.
• Governor enacted further restrictions. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced additional restrictions to disrupt the spread of the COVID-19 virus in New Mexico and instructed New Mexicans to remain in their homes or places of residence except for outings absolutely necessary for health, safety and welfare. The order closes all non-essential businesses, requiring 100 percent of the state’s nonessential workforce to work from home.
• Tech biologists move to create hand sanitizer. Research scientists in New Mexico Tech’s Biology Department began producing hand sanitizers in bulk using a recipe from the World Health Organization. The sanitizer was ultimately distributed throughout the university and Socorro, and ultimately across New Mexico to the Navajo Reservation, as well as clinics, hospitals and public agencies.
• Co-op annual meeting postponed. The annual membership meeting of Socorro Electric Cooperative set for April 18 at Macey Center was postponed indefinitely. The main order of business for the annual membership meeting would’ve been the election of three trustees, but since all incumbents were unopposed, mail-in voting was canceled to save money.
• GRT public hearing to proceed on internet. In the web-only public hearing, Mayor Bhasker said the Gross Receipts Tax increase was needed first for overall economic development, second to be able to get a low interest loan to start the engineering and feasibility study for an electric utility, and third because it was unknown how much GRT revenue there will be in the present COVID-19 business climate.
• Ramos, Armstrong eye special session. The prospect that a special legislative session would be called sometime this year was not news to state Rep. Gail Armstrong and state Sen. Gabriel Ramos, but they said it wouldn’t happen until after the primaries. Armstrong believed the state had overspent in the January-February session and that in light of the pandemic economic downturn. She asserted that many capital outlay projects needed to be reevaluated
• Socorro approves GRT increase. Following a second online public hearing, the Socorro City Council approved an ordinance raising the municipal Gross Receipts Tax. The increase of .25 percent could bring the city $300,000 annually.
• Bhasker decrees face masks mandatory city-wide. Following a mayoral proclamation, all retail store personnel and customers are required to utilize face masks or face coverings when entering a business in the City of Socorro. Bhasker stipulated that the face covering could be a surgical mask, N95 mask, bandana, homemade cloth mask, scarf or any type of covering that covers the mouth.
• Farmers Market getting creative during COVID-19. Since the city government had put a temporary stop to gatherings on the Plaza, members of the civic group began a drive-through version in the parking lot of the old Smith’s building, following all of the state’s health guidelines.
• Socorro Electric Co-op to comply with PRC ruling. After delaying for six month to implement a new electricity rate structure dictated by the Public Regulation Commission, the co-op moved to adopt the new rates, while awaiting a decision by the New Mexico Supreme Court on the matter. New Mexico Tech benefits as a result of the 1.9 percent decrease in the large commercial rate and the economic development rate.
• Alamo Navajo hoops coach Marcus Pino dies from COVID-19. For the last seven years Pino had been the head boys basketball coach at Alamo Navajo High School. He was 42.
• Socorro General Hospital staying prepared through COVID-19 outbreak. As part of its emergency preparedness plans, the hospital erected a tent in its parking lot to address the possibility of a rise in cases, and additional beds were made available to provide sufficient isolation for the COVID-positive patients.
• Owen Olney signs with New Mexico Highlands University. Magdalena’s basketballer Owen Olney, who averaged more than 16 points, five rebounds and nearly three assists per game in 2019-2020, will play for New Mexico Highlands University in Las Vegas in the 2020-2021 season.
• Safe, gradual reopening ahead. In her weekly news conference Gov. Michelle Liujan Grisham offered New Mexico businesses a ray of hope by announcing that non-essential retailers can now operate via curbside pickup, grocers and other essential retail services must continue to operate at only 20 percent of their maximum capacity, and restaurants and dine-in outlets may provide only curbside and delivery service.
• Early voting protocol is established by Socorro County Clerk Betty Saavedera. The county announced that it would send out applications for absentee ballots to constituents who are legally registered with a major party – meaning Democrat, Republican or Independent. For those opting to vote inperson, Saavedra said her office monitors the number of people in the polling place at one time, a separate entrance and exit for voters, as well as six foot markings outside for people waiting in line.
• Socorro County Commission entreats governor to reopen. The commissioners approved a resolution to be submitted to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham that would allow a return to normal operating hours for businesses and county offices. The resolution, “Requesting implementation of a modified New Mexico Business Coalition Plan To Get New Mexicans Back To Work” asserts that the governor’s closure order is overly broad and should not apply to every area of the state, and should adopt a protocol based on the New Mexico Business Coalition.
• City of Socorro stays the course with current COVID-19 mandate. As the state gradually pushed forward with COVIDsafe protocols regarding the partial opening of many businesses, the city continues to comply with self-imposed mandates. Bhasker says that Socorro was the first municipality in New Mexico to establish mandatory mask guidelines. That was due in part to his medical background, Bhasker said.
• Governor says OK to retailers. The state lifts some restrictions for retailers and other businesses. The modifications going into effect would allow most retailers to return to some degree of normalcy, operating at 25 percent of occupancy as determined by fire codes. Other public health emergency changes included the requirement that all persons wear face coverings while in public places
• Alamo Navajo woman dies of COVID-19 weeks after son. Marie Pino is the second woman to die of COVID-19 on the reservation within a week. By the middle of May there had been four deaths related to the disease in the Navajo community of 2,000.
• Ranchers feel pinch from bottlenecks at packing plants. The health crisis affected packing plants across the country; some suffering shortages of workers, and some stopping meat processing completely. This results in losses for ranchers and shortages of meat for consumers. Rancher Randell Major suggested consumers buy beef directly from producers.
• High school seniors graduate remotely.
• Herrell, Correa Hemphill, Ronchetti win in primary. The stage was set for the November contests between Xochitl Torres Small vs. Yvette Herrell, Ben Ray Lujan vs, Mark Ronchetti and Siah Correa hemphill vs. Jimbo Williams and others at the state and local levels
Tech’s hand sanitizer
• Tech’s hand sanitizer used statewide. Scientists at New Mexico Tech’s Biology Department have produced 733 gallons of hand sanitizer, using a specific formula developed by the World Health Organization. The sanitizer is distributed across the state to healthcare agencies and local governments.
• Protesters rally at the Plaza for peace, equality. Named “A Breath for Peace, and a Wish for Domestic Tranquility,” at least 100 individuals ranging in all ages ascended on the historic park in a demonstration to voice their opinions through spoken word, signage and pure presence.
• Summer Farmers Market to return to the Plaza. After lining up in cars at the old Smith’s parking lot for the last two months, shoppers of locally grown produce and agricultural products made plans to be back at Socorro’s historic plaza. Organizers said the summer Farmers Market would return to its original location on June 20, after being asked by the owners of the parking lot to leave the private property.
• Roundhouse legislators face tough decision. A special closed-door session of New Mexico’s 54th Legislature began this week and was expected to last only three to four days. The governor’s agenda had not been released as of press time, but state Rep. Gail Armstrong said she has been conferencing with other legislators over the past couple of weeks and says the state’s shortfall is estimated to be somewhere in the neighborhood of $1.8 billion and $2.8 billion.
• Sports resume with COVID-19 stipulations. Per the NMAA, teams were allowed to commence with workouts, which are currently being carried out in three phases. Phase one was to let coaches and players practice minus any type of personal contact, no sharing of equipment and with no games or scrimmages.
• Magdalena school district mulls options. With a little over six and a half weeks to go, the Magdalena Schools administrators are having daily sessions and conference calls on how to plan for the beginning of the fall semester. Schools superintend awaited directions from the Public Education Department. The problem is, there is no way to tell how the COVID19 pandemic will look in August.
• Pie-O-Neer in Pie Town closes. Kathy Knapp of the Pie-O-Neer has been called, appropriately enough, The Pie Lady of Pie Town. Her announcement last week that she was closing the venerable Pie-O-Neer on Highway 60 came as a shock to her countless friends, fans, and hundreds, if not thousands, who would travel to tiny Pie Town for a slice of one of her pies.