Marfa mayoral candidates discuss city issues at public forum
By JOHN DANIEL GARCIA
MARFA – Marfa mayoral candidates Genevieve Prieto Bassham, Lineaus Hooper Lorette, and Ann Marie Nafziger addressed a full house of around 120 residents at Tuesday night’s candidate forum, stating their cases as to why they should lead the city the next two years.
Each candidate was given a three-minute opening statement and a chance to answer a series of six questions culled from citizen submissions and from a consensus of the three organizers of the event, Gretel Enck, Trey Gerfers, and Robert Halpern.
Candidates for all offices in the upcoming elections, school board and city council, also introduced themselves and gave statements, but were not asked questions regarding issues surrounding their prospective offices.
Bassham, a current city council member, kicked things off – switching between English and Spanish – touting her experience in business and as a public servant.
According to the candidate, she has lived in Marfa for many years, 14 of which she has run a business and six of which she served as mayor.
“I have lived in Marfa for 44 years and found it to be a very unique place to live and a good place to raise children. I’ve seen it change over the years from a cattle town, a small city town struggling with rising cost of living, and a very important center of the town,” she said in her opening statement. “I am experienced with services to the City of Marfa. All my life, I have supported and participated in public events with the school and especially with the church, I have owned a business for the past 14 years, I have years as a council member, and I was mayor of the City of Marfa for six years.”
Nafziger, who was next to speak, noted her 15 years as a Marfa resident and the importance of collaboration between the city and members of the community.
“I know that all of the tourism and outside attention, sometimes it distracts me and I think it distracts all of us a bit from something I care deeply about and I know all of you here tonight care about, and that’s our local community,” she said. “Of course, the community is made up of ranchers and local business owners and artists, families who have been here for generations and folks who maybe came in last week. But the thing that unites all of us is that we’re all here together in this tiny town in a very remote place in beautiful, beautiful Far West Texas.”
For Nafziger, the fact that the city’s population is under 2,000 people is an important factor in how the diverse community works together.
“I have always been so inspired by how much people have given to make this community better and to make this community just a little bit stronger,” she said.
Lorette, following Nafziger, outlined his plan for the city, which includes bringing the structure of how the city administration is run, back to “having a strong, strong city manager with a ceremonial mayor” and stating the reason for his candidacy is to fix the city’s failing streets.
“The reason I’m running for mayor is to right the ship,” he said, adding that the city’s streets will be the top priority for his office should he be elected mayor. “I read a book about fixing streets, and to fix streets, you have to have a plan. You can’t go all willy-nilly like a chicken running with its head cut off, you got to have a plan – a comprehensive plan.”
Lorette’s experience as a certified public accountant, he said, qualifies him to run the financial aspects of the city. He’s a graduate of the Southwest School of Municipal Finance and has run the books for two cities and the Catholic Diocese of Austin, among other for profit and non-profit entities.
Lorette also wants to open the door to the mayor’s office for more public input and institute a city website for more transparency. He also wants to re-fund the Marfa and Presidio County Museum, he said.
The first question from moderator Halpern that the candidates tackled was in regard to complaints on parking, particularly in the downtown area.
“I know it’s a problem and we are fixing that problem,” said Bassham, referencing an upcoming public hearing to hear recommendations from the city’s parking committee. “[Parking] is a problem everywhere in Marfa, not just at the Post Office. We need to do something about the problem and hopefully we can do something about it soon.”
Bassham also generated laughs from the audience when describing the hassle of post office parking. “We all have go around the block two or three times and sometimes make an illegal u-turn.”
Nafziger came out in support of a city ordinance to reserve parking for residents in front of the post office and city hall, identifying the growth of Marfa as a factor problem.
“For those of us who live and work in Marfa, it’s difficult to go about our daily business,” she said after praising the work done by the parking committee.
Said Lorette: “We’ve done a lot for Chinati and Chinati hasn’t done a lot for the city,” adding that the city could “bulldoze” the stool field in front of the John Chamberlain building across the street from the post office and use that space for parking.
Lorette’s answer elicited a loud boo from Chinati Foundation Associate Director Rob Weiner, as well as grumbling and murmurs from others in the audience.
Another site for a parking lot, Lorette said, could be found at Sunset Park behind the post office.
In the next line of questioning, which was in regard to the city’s contract with the Presidio County Sheriff’s Office, Lorette stated his support of the sheriff’s version of the contract that has currently expired and is being re-negotiated.
“I object to the thought that the police have been unfair,” he said, stating that “Danny didn’t change. The city changed.”
Lorette also claimed that the only people who have complained about the department were “hipsters” who had been ticketed.
Nafziger told the audience that since the sheriff didn’t seem to want to negotiate with the city but dictate the terms, the city should look into other options for policing the town and supported the city’s version of the contract, which would provide more transparency and more city control of the deputies assigned to patrol Marfa.
Community policing, she added, “doesn’t seem to be something the county and sheriff can or are willing to supply.”
Some community members, she claims, have told her that they “feel intimidated” to even call the sheriff’s office when a situation arises.
“Why are we paying for a service that [Marfa citizens] don’t even use?” she asked.
Bassham declined to answer the question, saying she is a part of the city’s negotiating team.
She did, however, support a public hearing regarding the contract for more citizen input.
When asked about the proposed city treasurer position, each candidate’s answer differed wildly, with Bassham supporting the re-creation of the position, Lorette vehemently opposing the position, and Nafziger saying the city should research the position a little more and consider all options.
Regarding personnel at the Marfa Nutrition / Senior Center and the program’s future, Bassham and Nafziger, both of whom have past ties to the center (Bassham oversaw operations during her time as mayor and Nafziger has volunteered) agreed that a revamp on the program is necessary to keep the center going.
The fact that the center feeds senior citizens balanced meals while giving them a social outlet, both candidates said, makes the program a priority.
Lorette said he was unfamiliar with issues surrounding the nutrition / senior center.
Candidates were then asked about affordable housing, as rent has inflated, which has led to teachers and other workers living in neighboring cities.
For Nafziger, a creative approach will be necessary to provide affordable housing, stating the city should hear from the many Marfa “architects and builders” to find a solution to the housing problem in the city.
Bassham stated the city could be eligible for grants that would allow the construction of affordable housing on property owned by the city.
Lorette’s solution included rescinding the city’s need for a special use permit to allow mobile homes to be put on properties anywhere in town.
“What I’m going to do is revisit the zoning ordinance,” he said. “If you own a lot, you can put a mobile home on it.”
Lorette also noted the need for better wages. “How do you live on $20,000 a year?”
Finally, the candidates were asked for their plans to fix the city’s streets and pot holes, which has been a central issue in Lorette’s candidacy.
He called for the city to develop a street repair master plan, purchase the needed equipment, inventory the streets by priority of need, and have city workers do the work.
The city, Nafziger said following Lorette, has already been presented an inventory of the streets and have approved the purchase of equipment that would allow the city to chip-seal the streets, a method Lorette also referenced.
Nafziger also noted the city is the recipient of some public works grant funds to fix the streets in areas where residents of low to moderate incomes qualify the city for grants.
Bassham also spoke of the efforts the city has made in working on the streets since her election into the council.
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