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Meet the Candidates

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Answering big questions at politico form

The Municipal Officer Election is right around the corner, and Gallup residents will cast their vote to elect two City Councilors, the next Municipal Judge, and the next Mayor of Gallup.

Residents got to meet those candidates at a forum held Feb. 12 at the Gallup-McKinley County Chamber of Commerce at a meeting room that was filled to capacity. The event was sponsored by both the Gallup-McKinley County Chamber of Commerce and Gallup Sun.


The three candidates for the position are:

  • Jackie McKinney, current Mayor of Gallup

  • Janell L. Griego, Magistrate judge with 20 years of judicial experience

  • Earl Andrew Yearley, former police officer and municipal court worker for over 25 years

After making their introductory statements, each candidate was then asked three questions by the moderator.

  1. How will you see your role as Municipal Judge in dealing with the chronic problem of first-time DUI offenders in our community?

“I feel it’s very important to hold people accountable,” McKinney said. “People who get arrested for DWI know they’re committing a crime. I think the law is straightforward on the first offense with a penalty assessment and jail time, so we can hold these people accountable and get them off the streets.”

McKinney added the community is tired of being victimized by these offenders.

Griego said her plan is to separate the sentencing from the finding of guilt.

“We’re going to use an in-depth alcohol assessment and tell you what your needs are,” she said. “We have to treat them based on what their particular needs are. We can’t just keep putting people in jail and expecting them to change.”

Griego said the available resources are in place to help those people with what they need.

Then, Yearley said he and Griego have similar ideas to dealing with this issue.

“They’re not going to get off scot-free, because what will those people learn without minimal jail-time or a fee?” he said. “We do need to sit down with them, talk with them, listen to them, give them the encouragement to where they move forward to where they can become a productive citizen.”

2. What would be your stance when sentencing for panhandling and vagrancy, especially for repeat offenders?

Griego said this is another issue where just putting the perpetrator in jail is not enough, but looking for the root of the problem with the person.

“We’re going to deal with them in a regular track than a fine or a day in jail. Let’s actually find out what the issue was with them,” Griego said. “Let’s give them the tools to change.”

Yearley said he is willing to sit down and talk with the perpetrators, but the individual is going to have to do their part.

“These repeat offenders that come before my court, it seems like a lot of them are getting a slap on the hand,” he said. “I will be strict, stern, but I will be fair with repeat offenders.”

McKinney said the city, unfortunately, has their hands tied when it comes to dealing with these issues because of state law, which is why that is where the efforts should be targeted.

“We need to lobby our legislators and we need some laws changed if we need the quality of life in Gallup and other communities in the state to change,” he said. “We have to quit enabling these people.”

3. What would be the factors you would consider in sentencing someone found guilty of petty misdemeanor?

“They’re going to pay whatever mandatory minimum I can give them,” Yearley said. “If it’s a repeat offender, I’m going to have to sit down and talk with them, see if there is an alcohol or drug issue. They need to understand they can’t keep doing this, because it’s costing business owners and citizens money.”

McKinney also spoke about being firm on repeat offenders, and they should be able to hand out jail time to perpetrators as deemed necessary.

“We should never not incarcerate someone because we feel it’s too expensive to hold them. We need to hold them accountable,” he said.

Griego closed out the round by emphasizing her stance on repeat offenders as well, including giving them mandatory community service.

“We’re dealing with a different type of people. We have to treat them a different way,” she said. “I would like for these people to get out there, start picking up trash. We have the ability to make them do that. If they want to shoplift, let’s get them out there and clean up the community.”


The candidates for Dist. 4 Councilor are:

  • Francisca “Fran” Palochak, current Dist. 4 City Councilor
  • Levi F. Saucedo, write-in candidate

And the candidates for Dist. 2 Councilor are:

  • Roger Allan Landavazo, current Dist. 2 City Councilor

  • Michael Schaaf, current Secretary of Gallup-McKinley County Schools Board of Education

Each councilor candidate was also given three questions to answer.

1. Name two of the biggest challenges in your district, and outline how you plan to face those challenges if you are elected?

Schaaf first spoke to the east side challenge of road infrastructure, along with the number of vagrants who trespass in the local neighborhoods.

“Come up with a plan, find the funding for the infrastructure,” Schaaf said. “As for the vagrants, work with the police chief, get some more patrols in the area.”

Landavazo mentioned continued support of the IHS program, along with water issues in the community.

“If we are able to gain the support and get the [IHS] property built, it would mean a lot more new houses and new jobs for Gallup,” he said. “The council that is seated should get the support to get these projects done.”

As for west side challenges, Palochak said new businesses should be a high priority.

“We need something that will draw people to the west side,” she said.

Palochak also spoke about the need for more housing, given the current price and availability of housing in Gallup.

Saucedo highlighted the infrastructure of the west side, along with increasing public safety by hiring more and training more officers.

“We need to give our police officers their training and competitive pay they need, so they stay here in Gallup,” he said.

2.With exits off I-40 on the east and wide sides, what ideas would you implement to attract businesses to develop in your district?

“I’d like to see a future council work on the entrances to Gallup, and make it look like a more inviting place,” Landavazo said.

Schaaf then spoke about having the city update its building codes to draw more businesses.

“It will also help the businesses that are here to expand,” he said.

Palochak cited the amount of speeding vehicles that are seen on the west side, which is why she thinks increasing the law enforcement presence would help make those areas more attractive to potential businesses.

“I would encourage our chief to institute a traffic division,” she said.

Saucedo spoke about the possibility of creating an activity center, which could then open the floodgates to more businesses and restaurants because of the increased traffic and people traveling to that center.

3. What is your stance on increasing the Gross Receipts Tax rate, knowing we already have one of the highest GRT rates in the state?

All four candidates are unanimously in favor of not raising the GRT rate. Each candidate also voiced making changes to the city’s infrastructure a priority.

“We have to fix the roads, we have to fix our infrastructure,” Palochak said. “I want us to become proactive, not reactive.”


Lastly, the five candidates for mayor took the stage. They are:

  • Jayson M. Gomez

  • Charles W. Van Drunen

  • Yolanda E. Ahasteen-Azua

  • Louis O. Bonaguidi

  • Sammy Chioda

Each mayoral candidate had four questions to answer.

1. Would you be opposed or in favor of enacting the authority to increase the GRT rate up to 3/8ths without voter approval?

Van Drunen was given the stage first, and he said he would not be opposed to raising the tax because of the loss of hold harmless, or funds compensated by the state for GRT received on food and prescriptions.

He also highlighted the limited options there are to increase the tax base.

“We’re either going to have to get creative with the budget, get rid of some services, or raise taxes,” Van Drunen said. “If we can get [tourists] to have a good experience in Gallup, we can increase our tax base.”

Chioda was quick to say he is opposed to raising the tax rate. He spoke about using business tactics to boost the economy, such as cuts in other areas that may not be necessary.

“We lose our economic power to be able to buy merchandise and things we need [because we raise taxes],” he said. “We have to look at all aspects of the budget and see what needs to be trimmed back.”

Chioda emphasized shopping local as part of this plan, an aspect that was also highlighted by Ahasteen-Azua.

“I see a lot of younger people looking for interesting ways to spend their money,” she said. “Let’s keep that money here. Like the Chamber of Commerce say, ‘buy, believe, then build.’ Shop Gallup.”

Both Bonaguidi and Gomez also spoke in favor of not raising the GRT, and they also spoke about bolstering local businesses instead of traveling to other cities like Albuquerque and Farmington for shopping that could be done in Gallup.

2. How would you work to improve the quality of place in Gallup, specifically the curb appeal?

Chioda said he thinks quality of life is something Gallup does well because they’re a resilient community.

“I think [it’s important] to nurture youth football, baseball,” he said. “We’ve seen with the TDFL games, It’s okay to have tournaments in Gallup.”

Hosting more local events like this would also help spur the local economy, Chioda said. This idea was also supported by Ahasteen-Azua.

“We have good accomodations, we have hotels, we have eateries,” she said. “Gallup is beautiful. We can do it.”

Both Bonaguidi and Gomez voiced their support of more local tournaments, but they also spoke about connecting with local businesses to enhance their establishments.

“What do you want with your property? Help us so we get a scope of we can do with the building,” Gomez said.

Van Drunen rounded out the discussion by saying local businesses like Red Rock Park and the Cultural Center could be better utilized to draw in crowds, which in turn will draw in more revenue to Gallup.

3. What changes would you propose to bring balance between planning and zoning regulations placed on the business community and their enforcement?

Enhancing business opportunities across Gallup was a common theme for many of the candidates.

“We need to help business owners to expand their property,” Ahasteen-Azua said. “It’s crucial to work on economic development as a whole.”

Part of enhancing the business opportunities includes having to work more closely with local businesses and make it easier for them to do their work, which Bonaguidi emphasized during his turn to speak.

“The city should not consider itself separate from the people it serves,” Bonaguidi said.

Bonaguidi added the high number of requirements from the city for local property and business owners to get projects started makes it difficult for them to get even smaller projects done.

“A project that should cost $10,000 now all of a sudden is $60,000,” he said.

Bonaguidi mentioned the GRT rate once more, saying the increased requirements from the city for these projects will not cause the rate to get higher, but rather lower.

“It’s easier for them to move to Grants, anywhere else but Gallup,” he said.

Bonaguidi closed his statement on the matter by speaking about how the city’s development standards are handled by an outside firm across the country in New Jersey, and the city should be looking to local developers and contractors for those duties.

“What we have here in Gallup is unique, and yet we’re getting rules set up by the [outside firm],” he said.

This is also an avenue where several candidates pointed out the public has to comment, and there are a number of chances each month to do so with the city and county’s numerous meetings.

“We have to work [the issues] out, we have to get people involved,” Gomez said. “When we have the city council meetings each month, [the public] has to come and voice what they want to say..”

4. What one crime or social issue bothers you the most, and do you have any fresh approaches to handling that one specific issue?

A common theme with the candidates was looking at the amount of crimes being perpetrated, from vandalism and vagrancy to being intoxicated, as well as the aftermath of those crimes.

“The issues we have are not new,” Bonaguidi said. “They’ve been in place for the past 30, 40 years. Alcohol, vagrancy, panhandling, we’ve been faced for it for a matter of years.”

Help from the New Mexico Municipal League, a nonprofit, nonpartisan association representing and serving New Mexico’s cities, towns and villages, is on the table for Bonaguidi’s potential solutions.

He added this proposal could have traction because if someone goes to Albuquerque or other cities in New Mexico, they will see those other cities also have issues with panhandling and vandalism.

“The problem is not new any of us, but we could do something if we combine our thought with other communities,” he said.

Other candidates suggested a closer look at the problems and the people with them.

“I think we need to look at the root cause, look what’s driving homelessness, look what’s driving addiction,” Van Drunen said. “We need to look at ourselves as a community, and ask ‘What is underneath this?’”

Chioda said both the people who live in Gallup and pay taxes, and visitors who come to town to spend money each week all deserve to be protected.

“Everybody needs to get on board. We have to change the culture of how we do things,” Chioda said. “If there’s wrongdoing, there has to be circumstances. We must reclaim Gallup.”

The Municipal Officer Election is slated for March 3.

Story by Cody Begaye
Sun Correspondent
Photos by Cable Hoover