Officials sworn-in

With the arrival of the New Year, Sandoval County’s elected officials declared their primary focuses and were sworn-in at the county administrative building.

Many elected officials are focusing on education and the economic recovery.

Sworn-in by 13th Judicial Court Judge George P. Eichwald in 30-minute increments were County Clerk Anne Brady-Romero; County Treasurer Jennie Taylor; Chairman David Heil, District 4; Commissioner Jay Block, District 2; Commissioner Kenneth Eichwald, District 5; and Public Education Commissioner Rebekka Burt.

RRPS administrator retires

LaJuana Coleman

“It’s been a good run,” Rio Rancho Public Schools Executive Director of Secondary Curriculum LaJuana Coleman said, retiring after 15 years with the district.

And although she has formally retired from RRPS, at 59 years of age, she says, “I’m not done working. In some ways, I would like to do something different — educators have a lot of skill sets.

Around 2005, she recalled, Carl Leppelman, then the district’s associate superintendent of curriculum and instruction, created elementary and secondary positions for duties previously assigned to one K-12 job.

“I think one of the things I’ve heard from my colleagues that made me feel good is I would never shy from challenges, and move things forward,” she said. “It’s so important to me: The relationships I have built over the years will always remain important in my life; I have a lot of friends (in RRPS) that I am very thankful for.”

RRPD officer best in state detecting DWIs

The New Mexico DRE Committee selected Rio Rancho Police Officer Michael Hetes as the New Mexico Drug Recognition Expert of the Year for 2020.

Hetes’ enforcement evaluations accounted for more than 5 percent of the state’s total enforcement evaluations for 2020.

Hetes has served with RRPD for six years and has been assigned to the department’s DWI Unit since March 2016. He works as a standardized field sobriety testing/DWI instructor for RRPD and the State of New Mexico.

He joined the four-person DWI Unit, where most officers are asked to become DREs.

In 2020, Hetes volunteered his DWI expertise to help with NM DRE Program training.

He was recognized at the New Mexico DRE Committee meeting in March and invited to attend the 27th annual Conference on Drugs, Alcohol and Impaired Driving in Orlando, Fla.

FriendShop opens

A new bookstore opened in Rio Rancho, with money spent there benefits literacy programs throughout Sandoval County.

FriendShop, 4300 Ridgecrest Drive, Suite J, at the north end of the Target/Albertsons shopping center, is run by the newly chartered Friends of Libraries and Literacy Inc. It’s open Tuesdays-Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

If that sounds familiar to another book organization in the City of Vision, it’s because that group was previously known as Friends of Rio Rancho Libraries until the City of Rio Rancho severed the relationship between the city and nonprofit last summer.

They found a 2,300-square-foot space, repainted it and began moving what Friends President Joe Driear says are about 7,000 books inside.

School district miffed by shot clinic’s shutdown

The New Mexico Department of Health canceled a mass vaccination event for local educators less than 24 hours before its expected start time.

Several local entities, including Rio Rancho Public Schools, arranged the event, but DOH officials said the event didn’t adhere to the tiers for vaccination priority and wouldn’t have been fair.

“This is after (UNM) Sandoval Regional Medical Center, Sandoval County and Rio Rancho Public Schools received permission from the New Mexico Department of Health to move forward with the event, put in multiple hours/days planning the event and have worked with multiple agencies and volunteers to ensure the event would be a success,” lamented RRPS Superintendent Sue Cleveland in an email to staffers.

DOH Communications Director Matt Bieber wrote in an email to the Observer that the immunization event was canceled because the state isn’t vaccinating educators yet.

Later, Rio Rancho School Employees Union President Billie Helean, also a teacher at Stapleton Elementary, plus American Federation of Teachers New Mexico President Stephanie Ly and National Education Association-New Mexico President Mary Parr-Sanchez, agreed in a statement that “…the last-minute cancellation of distribution of vaccines to Rio Rancho Public School Employees is a cruel and short-sighted decision by the New Mexico Department of Health.”

Sandia Vista speller is latest Bee champion

Even a global pandemic couldn’t dampen one of the most cherished traditions in American education and in schools in Rio Rancho and Sandoval County — the spelling bee.

In a competition conducted entirely online through written tests, Sandia Vista Elementary fourth-grader Esha Shivashakar came out on top. She correctly spelled 37 of 40 words in the very challenging final round test to earn the Rio Rancho/Sandoval County District Spelling Bee (RRSCB) title. To win, Shivashanker — also a finalist in 2020 — had to spell twice the number of words as the winners of last year’s oral district bee.

Thirty-eight bee champions and runners-up qualified for the district/county level spelling bee.

City employees get pay bump

The City of Rio Rancho’s budget adjustment includes pay raises for more than 200 employees, plus training for police and equipment for firefighters, while maintaining a large cash reserve.

The Rio Rancho Governing Body unanimously approved the mid-fiscal-year adjustments at a virtual meeting in late January.

City Councilor Dan Stoddard thanked financial staff members and Acting City Manager Peter Wells for their hard work on the budget.

Wells said 70 percent of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union members would receive a pay adjustment. Some non-unionized city employees also get raises under the adjusted budget.

The raises were part of a plan to bring city salaries to within 5 percent of similar positions on the employment market over time, Wells said. They’ll cost a little more than $180,000 for the rest of this fiscal year, ending June 30, and about $375,000 a year in coming years, according to city information.

He also said the city would make further salary adjustments in future years.


Secondary schools open doors

Sixth-graders finally got to see their new classrooms, as did high school seniors, Feb. 22, when in-person learning resumed on a hybrid basis for some Rio Rancho Public Schools secondary students.

Seventh- and eighth-graders returned to the schools at a to-be-determined date, as did high school freshmen, sophomores and juniors.

Families who selected the virtual model of learning for the school year will continue with virtual learning. The school board’s decision only impacts the families who selected the hybrid model of learning.

Busing was made available to students who needed transportation.

Charter review committee tweaked

Rio Rancho Governing Body members will join a charter review committee for the first time in the city’s history.

The city charter requires a review of its provisions at least every six years. In the past, the review committee was made up entirely of appointed residents, who made recommendations to the governing body.

The governing body could decide whether to any put suggested changes on the ballot for voters to choose whether to institute them.

During a February virtual meeting, governing body members unanimously approved a second and final reading of an ordinance amendment that reforms the charter review committee to have four residents, two city councilors and the mayor as members. If less than two city councilors were willing to sit on the committee, more residents could take their place.

In March, the committee was named: Mayor Gregg Hull, District 1 resident Bob Cote, District 2 resident Bea Cruz, District 3 City Councilor Bob Tyler, District 4 resident Howard Balmer, District 5 resident NaSarah Bayet and District 6 City Councilor Dan Stoddard.

Deputy City Manager Steve Ruger said residents can attend meetings and make comments even if they’re not on the review committee.

Great news for athletes in RR high schools

On Feb. 18, Rio Rancho Public Schools learned that its “Spring 2021 Re-entry Plan” allowed students to participate in New Mexico Activities Association-sanctioned athletics and activities.

The plan, presented to the RRPS Board of Education on Feb. 8, phases in secondary hybrid students beginning with grades 6 and 12 on that Monday. Also, the plan provides for additional in-person academic support groups.

Initially, it was reported with the phased-in approach, RRPS would not be permitted to participate in athletics.

With Albuquerque Public Schools remaining in a virtual-learning mode only and not participating in athletics, Rio Rancho and Cleveland high schools will have to look elsewhere for competition.

Executive Director of Athletics Chavez said without APS, only Santa Fe and Farmington schools are in the same classification.

So long, Samon’s

Samon’s hardware store at NM 528 and Southern Boulevard is closing after 31 years. Amy Byres photo.

After 31 years, a hardware store in Rio Rancho said goodbye — for now.

Samon’s is a family-owned corporation that started in 1971 in Albuquerque. The company has about 11 locations across the state.

The supply store for plumbing, heating, cooling and more opened in Rio Rancho in 1990.

“The city of Rio Rancho is very important to us and always has been; there is just not a lot of locations for us to relocate to at this time,” said Samon’s President Jay Gotcher.

The company would like to eventually open a new location in Rio Rancho, he said.

The store next to O’Hare’s Grille & Pub off Southern Blvd. lost its lease at the plaza because the owners are demolishing the building for more parking, Gotcher said.

The plaza was among the first shopping centers in Rio Rancho.

Longtime politician, golfer Thomas passes

Jack and Patty Thomas

Jack Thomas, who served Sandoval County at various times as a Rio Rancho city councilor, Sandoval County commissioner and state representative, died Feb. 17 at the age of 78.

Following his loss in his bid for a second term as the District 60 state representative, Thomas — who seemingly always wore orange as a tribute to his beloved Cleveland Browns — said if anyone needed him, they could find him on the golf course.

He was born Oct. 26, 1942, in Dayton, Ohio, and worked as a lineman for electric companies. He and his wife of 57 years, Patty, and their daughter Karen, moved to Rio Rancho in 1977 — and never left.

His first run for public office was in 1997, when he was elected to the Rio Rancho City Council. In 2001, he was elected to his first term as county commissioner, and then won re-election to a second four-year term in 2005.

“I found county government to be real rewarding,” Thomas said. “We didn’t look at it as Democrat or Republican value — we worked together.”


Culbreath raring to go on council

Rio Rancho’s newest city councilor, Karissa Culbreath, appointed in December to represent District 5 after the resignation of Jennifer Flor, said her job isn’t to serve herself or her ideals, but as the “voice of the community.”

Culbreath said she’s working to set up COVID-safe listening sessions to find out what residents in her district want. She knows roads are a big issue and believes economic development is important.

Culbreath grew up in Albuquerque, and then left the state for college, where she met her husband. Although it wasn’t her initial plan, she said, the family came back to New Mexico eight years ago.

“Rio Rancho was just the natural fit for us,” she said. Culbreath and her husband have two children who attend Rio Rancho Public Schools and a pre-pandemic puppy.

One of her goals is to work with business owners to make sure reopening rules and other pandemic-related subjects are clear.

Westside story: Motorists will like roadway

Westside Boulevard’s two-lane roadway east of Golf Course no longer accommodates the amount of traffic the road hosts and is lacking pedestrian and bicyclist facilities. It becomes four lanes west of Golf Course, when it leaves the City of Albuquerque and enters City of Rio Rancho jurisdiction.

Estimates from the Mid-Region Council of Governments peg the number of vehicles there daily at just under 19,000. The improved roadway will be able to handle more than 30,000 vehicles when the project is completed.

By the late summer of 2022, there will be two lanes in both directions on the approximately mile-long stretch of Westside between NM 528 and Golf Course Road. The $9.3 million for the project comes from U.S. Highway Administration funds and City of Albuquerque general obligation bonds, with the assistance of the Mid-Region Council of Governments and the N.M. Department of Transportation.

Westside’s expansion will improve traffic flow, enhance drainage and add bicycle lanes in both directions. Improved ADA compliance, plus street lighting in the new medians and a multi-use trail on the north side promise equality of access, greener travel options and improved amenities for commuters.

Homicide: Teen found dead at old golf course

Rio Rancho Police confirmed the identity of a 15-year-old boy killed on the former golf course March 10.

Officers found Alexander Jackson dead, with multiple gunshot wounds after responding to a call of shots fired about 7 p.m. in the area most recently called Club Rio Rancho.
Detectives began investigating the event as a homicide.

Abbie Jackson, the mother of Alex Jackson, said her son turned 15 a week before he was killed.

“I know every parent probably thinks this about their kid, but every person that knew him loved him,” Jackson said of the Cibola High School student.

On March 26, 18-year-old Richard Martin Lee Cresap, 18, of Rio Rancho was charged in the death of Jackson.

Cresap reportedly told an acquaintance he didn’t realize until after the shooting that what the deceased had pointed at him was a BB gun, according to court documents. Cresap is charged with second-degree murder and felony tampering with evidence in the March 10 incident.

Several people told detectives Cresap owned a handgun and carried it with him.

Rio Ranchoans rally vs. lockdown

In a statewide rally called “No Lockdown, Yes Freedom,” people surrounded the intersection of Southern Boulevard and NM 528 on March 20.

Susana Vasquez helped organize the Rio Rancho demonstration and is a member of Concerned Citizens of New Mexico.

One of the main issues people were protesting was the mask mandate, she said.

“I believe in true science if they really look at it, masks are not that effective. Second is that vaccines, I think it is a choice for people to do that. I mean, look at what is happening in Doña Ana County: They are actually mandating the vaccines to first responders,” she said.

Vasquez said the heart of the problem is the freedom to make choices.


Duncan departs RRHS job after 16 years

Bill Duncan

His energy fading and his health starting to fail, longtime Rio Rancho High School Activities Director Bill Duncan decided it was time to retire.

He’d led the Associated Students since the 2005-06 school year.

Duncan’s last day on the job was June 30.

The New Jersey native once planned to keep the post till he was 60, but he retired at age 58.

Duncan said the last three years have been hard on him physically, mentally and emotionally. It’s getting harder for him to recover from major events. Enjoying retirement, which might include being an author, is next on his list, as well as traveling with Linda.

City manager candidates down to four

The City of Rio Rancho had four finalists for the city manager position, including the current economic development and business relations manager.
As per the city’s charter, the governing body screened 33 applications, interviewed six candidates and provided four names to the mayor for consideration, according to a city news release.

The finalists were Matt Geisel, Thomas Hutka, Shawn Hennessee and Frederick Gardiner.

Geisel, City of Rio Rancho economic development and business relations manager since 2019, was the eventual choice after a 5-1 vote by the governing body.

It had been a while since Rio Rancho had a city manager.

“The city manager search process was delayed and extended due to COVID considerations,” Mayor Gregg Hull said in the release.

Deputy City Manager Peter Wells served as acting city manager after former manager David Campbell resigned in March 2020. When appointed, Wells said he wouldn’t seek to become the permanent city manager.

National AFT president visits schools

It isn’t every day that a national president visits Rio Rancho, but such was the case April 9 when American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten came to town.

Former Rio Rancho Elementary teacher Stephanie Ly, the American Federation of Teachers New Mexico president, and Rio Rancho School Employees Union President Billie Helean, who took the day off from her first-grade teaching duties at Stapleton Elementary, accompanied her.

As Weingarten observed, the school year has been “crazy and challenging.

“The challenging part has really been to make swift changes all the time, to move from all-virtual to in-person without disruption to the kids,” Stapleton El Principal Cheryl Clark said.

Intel announced a $3.5 billion upgrade in May 2021.
Observer photo


Intel announces $3.5 billion, 700-job investment here

Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger appeared on “60 Minutes” May 2 to discuss the semiconductor crisis, confirming on the show that Intel’s Rio Rancho fabrication facility is due for a $3.5 billion upgrade.

The next morning, Keyvan Esfarjani, Intel senior vice president and general manager of manufacturing and operations, announced that huge investment — later termed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham as the largest private-sector investment in state history — would kick off a “new era of innovation.” Esfarjani said the investment would result in at least 700 high-tech jobs and 1,000 construction jobs, and support 3,500 jobs in the community.

Teens cleared for Pfizer vaccines

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on May 10 expanded the emergency-use authorization for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines to include 12- to 15-year-olds.

Then, the New Mexico governor’s office announced May 14 that the state had adopted the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s new guidance on mask-wearing.

Fully vaccinated people don’t need to wear a mask or physically distance during indoor or outdoor activities – large or small — federal health officials said.

Mayor opens time capsule

Two Rio Rancho Public Schools students placed into a time capsule in 2001 something about the city’s renowned school district. One of those former students, Megan Wood, was on hand on the third floor of City Hall the afternoon of May 14 to watch Mayor Gregg Hull reveal the capsule’s contents as part of the city’s 40th anniversary celebration.

Hull played the role of talk show host during the nearly hour-long ceremony. Most items in the capsule were of the ephemeral variety: documents from city offices 20 years ago, a campaign letter of former mayor Grover Nash, a water and wastewater fee schedule and a capital improvements plan.

Hull’s plan was to stock another time capsule with mementos from 2021.

State mostly Turquoise in virus restrictions

Thirty-two of the states 33 counties were mostly open for business, as the war on the COVID-19 front seemed winnable, after a New Mexico Department of Health announcement May 19.

Most businesses could operate at 75-100 percent of capacity. Bars, clubs and recreational facilities were still limited to 50 percent and 33 percent of capacity, respectively, in indoor spaces. Sandoval County had moved to Turquoise on May 5.

For the first time since the Red-Yellow-Green-Turquoise framework went into effect, there were no counties at the Red or Yellow levels. As of May 19, 52.9 percent of eligible New Mexicans were fully vaccinated.

Seniors graduate in person

Rio Rancho Public Schools high school seniors walked the stage in commencements the week of May 16.

The ASK Academy commencement was May 28.

Unlike in 2020, the ceremonies were fully in person, albeit outside and socially distanced.

RRPS keeps virtual-learning option

Although having an all-virtual format for students in the 2021-22 school year won’t be a money-maker, Rio Rancho Public Schools Superintendent Sue Cleveland told the board of education at the May 24 meeting that it’s still a benefit to the district.

“(There are) 182 families that are asking for this approach,” she said.

Board members voted unanimously to approve the virtual schools, headquartered at Joe Harris Elementary for grades K-5 and at Rio Rancho Cyber Academy for secondary students.

Students in all grades were allowed back in schools in person this school year if they didn’t choose the all-virtual option.


NM lifts COVID limits

The state took its best shot at getting 60 percent of its population aged 16 and older vaccinated, but when the June 17 deadline arrived, it was a bit short before that day’s shots were added.

But Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on June 18 confirmed New Mexico would retire its color-coded risk system and all COVID-19 health restrictions on commercial and day-to-day activities July 1, allowing for the thousands of vaccinations administered to take full effect, according to a news release from her office. Unvaccinated people were still required to wear masks.

Jury clears Hust of 1st-degree murder

A jury found Leland Hust not guilty of first-degree murder and deadlocked on two other felony charges in the 2018 rape and strangulation death of a 6-year-old girl in Rio Rancho.

Jurors deliberated for 17 hours over three days before telling a judge June 23 they were hopelessly deadlocked on the charges of child abuse resulting in death and criminal sexual penetration of a child.

Prosecutors said they planned to seek a new trial on those charges.

A retrial would take place in no sooner than six months, said Deputy District Attorney Jessica Martinez. Hust was to remain in custody in the meantime.

Second Presbyterian RMC building opens

Presbyterian Healthcare Services’ new building in Rio Rancho was expanding services and saving patients money, beginning June 29.

The three-story, 109,000-square-foot second Physician Office Building on the Presbyterian Rust Medical Center campus took $34.5 million and more than a year to construct, said Rust Chief Hospital Executive Angela Ward. It will allow consolidation of existing services, as well as a new ambulatory, or outpatient, surgery center.

Providers had been using the Rust operating room for both inpatient and outpatient surgeries. The efficiency of separate facilities creates the cost savings.

By the end of 2022, Ward said, the outpatient surgery clinic will have 45 new employees.

Lawsuits claim former guard groped boys

Lawsuits filed in state and federal courts allege that a security aide at Cleveland High School groped three students on the pretext of searching the boys for contraband.

The third suit was filed June 29.

The lawsuits, all filed against Rio Rancho Public Schools on behalf of three boys, allege that George Archuleta inappropriately touched each of the students on multiple occasions in 2019-21. Archuleta denied the allegations, according to a response to one of the lawsuits filed in U.S. District Court in Albuquerque.

The lawsuits are ongoing.


NTx bio-science company comes to Rio Rancho

Nature’s Toolbox bio-science company became an official Rio Rancho business with a ribbon-cutting ceremony July 1 at its new building on Innovation Way in Enchanted Hills.

NTx develops technology that creates biological medicine, such as insulin and mRNA vaccines, with non-biological processes that use smaller equipment and are faster and cleaner. It moved to Rio Rancho to accommodate its growth.

Company board member Charles McMillan, former director of Los Alamos National Laboratory, said the time has come for NTx’s technology.

“In my view, this is something that can change the world,” he said.

Actively hiring, Nature’s Toolbox had increased its staff from 12 people in December 2020 to more than 20 in July.

From left, Rio Rancho Mayor Gregg Hull, Nature’s Toolbox co-founders Alex Koglin and Michael Humbert, and NTx board member Nancy Rurkowski prepare to cut the ribbon at the company’s ceremony on Thursday, July 1, 2021. (Matt Hollinshead/Observer)

Thousands party like it’s 2019 at new park

The city’s new Campus Park didn’t actually open with a bang July 4, but it concluded its first outdoor concert there with a plethora of bangs from fireworks.

With the lifting of COVID restrictions on mass gatherings, the City of Rio Rancho hosted an Independence Day celebration at the park. The crowd was estimated to be as large as 5,000 people, scattered around the park.

Gov. taps RR deputy chief as public safety head

One Rio Rancho Police deputy chief is the next state Department of Public Safety cabinet secretary.

Jason Bowie, a 27-year veteran of RRPD, was set to relieve acting Secretary of Public Safety Timothy Q. Johnson.

“I’m honored to have the opportunity to serve my fellow New Mexicans in this role,” Bowie said. “I’ve been fortunate in my law enforcement career to have the experience of both an officer on the beat building relationships with the community and an administrator working to support those officers and uphold the mission to protect and serve.”

Cleveland enters N.M. hall of fame

Rio Rancho Public Schools Superintendent Sue Cleveland was inducted into the New Mexico Coalition of Educational Leaders Hall of Fame.

Cleveland accepted the award for her 2020 induction this summer. The ceremony was postponed due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Child dies after wreck

Four people were taken for medical care, including a 4-year-old who was airlifted and later died, after two vehicles crashed July 28 at NM 528 and Sara Road. Rio Rancho Police did not release the identity of the child, the people who were injured or the cause of the wreck.


Marcos Casaus of Cuba prepares to showcase his rooster, Oro, during the 4-H poultry show on Thursday, Aug. 5, 2021, at the Sandoval County Fairgrounds in Cuba.
(Matt Hollinshead/Observer)

The fair is back, for 4-Hers

The simple joy of seeing rabbits, birds, steers and other livestock in person provided that much-needed semblance of normalcy for youngsters converging on the Sandoval County Fairgrounds for the 2021 4-H Fair.

With 70.8 percent of eligible Sandoval County residents fully vaccinated as of Aug. 2, the 65 exhibitors — predominantly Sandoval County youth, with a few Rio Arriba County kids — were back in action Aug. 4-7.

The shows were virtual in 2020, and only 4-H competitions took place during 2021 due to lack of funds for other traditional events.

Mask-up inside – again

Calling it “a pivotal moment in the state,” Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Aug. 17 decreed that New Mexico would re-implement a statewide mask requirement that face masks be worn in all public indoor spaces, with only limited exceptions — regardless of vaccine status — to help stem the state’s rising tide of COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations.

The re-implemented mask requirement applies to everyone ages 2 and older in all indoor public settings — except when eating or drinking.

Lujan Grisham also announced that the state will issue a requirement for all workers in certain medical and close-contact congregate settings — including hospitals, nursing homes, juvenile justice facilities, rehabilitation facilities and state correctional facilities — to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Plus, the state issued a requirement that all workers at private, public and charter schools in New Mexico either be vaccinated against COVID-19 or submit to COVID testing weekly. This policy aligns with the rule for all state government personnel.

Ribbons cut at new schools

In delayed grand openings, dignitaries cut ribbons for Joe Harris Elementary on Aug. 5 and the new building of Shining Stars Preschool on Aug. 24. The new buildings opened last school year, but pandemic restrictions prevented gatherings for ribbon-cuttings before this summer.


RRPS hit by TikTok-fueled vandalisms

Like other schools across the country, Cleveland High School, Rio Rancho High School and two Rio Rancho middle schools fell victim to a nationwide trend where students would swipe items from schools and then brag about it via TikTok videos online.

Sal Maniaci, the district’s executive director of safety and security, told the Rio Rancho Public Schools board during a meeting that bathroom stall doors that were torn off at CHS and had to be replaced, while RRHS dealt with some intentionally clogged toilets.

RRPS offered a reward of up to $2,500 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those involved.

UNMH Grande Family Clinic opens in Rio Rancho

Darlenis Castillo, the Grande clinic practice manager, said the goal behind the clinic is to reach under-served sections of Rio Rancho and Sandoval County that may not have adequate telecommunication services.

She said the COVID-19 pandemic has made such services difficult for those afore-mentioned individuals, adding it in turn made it more difficult for them to obtain prescription medication and other forms of care.

The Grande Family Health Clinic held a ribbon cutting ceremony on Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2021, in Rio Rancho. UNM Health Sciences expanded family health care access to underserved sections of Rio Rancho and Albuquerque by launching the clinic, which is located at 1790 Grande Boulevard in south Rio Rancho. Matt Hollinshead/Observer


Pumpkin Patch returns

The month-long community event returned to the City of Vision after the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent restrictions forced owner Max Wade to cancel the occasion in 2020.

He said Galloping Goat opted to assist the City of Rio Rancho with a drive-thru “pick-your-pumpkin” activity at the Rio Rancho Events Center in 2020.

He also said the pandemic got everyone out of their normal routine during the holidays, so having the pumpkin patch back would help restore some normalcy for not only his livelihood, but also the community.

Galloping Goat Pumpkin Patch made its return in October 2021. (Matt Hollinshead/Observer)

Fall festival returns to RR

Hundreds of people from across the Albuquerque metro area enjoyed the autumn atmosphere and various activities during at City Center on Oct. 23.

The festival included live music, a pumpkin carving contest, carnival games, a cake walk and a “trunk-or-treat” event.

Corrales sees first homicide in 19 years

Joel Ray, 60, was charged with first-degree murder in the death of his roommate Spencer Komadina, 46. It was reportedly the first homicide in Corrales since 2002.

According to the statement of probable cause filed in Sandoval County Magistrate Court, the two men got into a fight on Oct. 30 inside the Corrales residence they shared before Ray allegedly shot and killed Komadina.

The statement also said the Corrales Police Department found Komadina lying on the floor near the front door and a silver handgun and two ammunition magazines on the nearby couch.

Komadina is the son of former state Sen. Steve Komadina.


Tripp wins seat on RRPS board

Former Rio Rancho High School principal Gary Tripp edged Patrick Monroe Brenner in the Nov. 2 election with 54.4 percent of the vote.

“I feel really good that the voters in District 1 believe in me — and I’m going to work as hard as I possibly can to support the students and staff of Rio Rancho Public Schools,” Tripp said.

It was a hotly contested race in the eyes of social media users, as Tripp replaces Wynne Coleman. Coleman decided not to run for re-election after four years.

In uncontested races, board member Jeffery Morgan will begin his second year on the board and Jessica Tyler replaces two-term board member Catherine Cullen, who opted not to run again.

Sparklight invests $6.5M to upgrade broadband in RR

Jane Shanley, general manager for Sparklight’s Rio Rancho branch, said the company’s working to increase Rio Rancho’s residential internet speed from one gigabit to 10 gigabits.

She said residents being stuck at home during the pandemic increased the amount of internet activity through the use of multiple devices, from computers to smartphones and tablets, which reinforced the need to shore up the infrastructure, increase the reliability and increase the bandwidth.

County fire dept. unveils new admin building

Sandoval County Fire and Rescue Chief Eric Masterson looked to improve his department’s command and administrative operations in multiple ways, from being centrally located to upgrading communication efforts and training spaces.

He checked those boxes with the department’s 7,500-square-foot facility, which was official unveiled to the public through a ribbon cutting ceremony on Nov. 19.

Sandoval County Fire and Rescue Chief Eric Masterson said his department’s new 7,500-square-foot facility was “a long time coming,” adding the building’s location and features will be particularly helpful when it comes to training or responding to calls. (Matt Hollinshead/Observer).

Masterson said the new building’s internet connection is much improved compared to other sites his department’s previously used. He also said the new location means it’ll be easier to hop on US 550 or I-25 when going out on calls that need a commander on scene.

Masterson said the department will also be able to open the training space to partnering agencies if they need to host future sessions. He said the extra space will help with get-togethers involving other groups the county’s involved with, whether the chief’s association, regional dispatch, EMS bureau or CNM’s advisory teams.

The facility includes a new training room, ambulance bill reception area, break room and perimeter fence, as well as an 800-square-foot garage for equipment storage.


New orthopedic center launches in RR

The UNM Center of Excellence for Orthopaedic Surgery and Rehabilitation started operations around mid-November and was officially unveiled to the public on Dec. 1.

The 50,000-square-foot teaching hospital, which is adjacent to UNM Sandoval Regional Medical Center, includes a research laboratory, X-rays, patient exam rooms, two bio-safety level 2 workstations, a cadaver lab and a high-tech HydroWorx pool for physical rehab.

“We’ve been dreaming about this for over 10 years… It made me tear up on the podium today. It’s so special,” Dr. Robert Schenck, the chairman of the UNM Health Sciences Orthopaedics Department, said.

County decides on redistricting Plan D

The Sandoval County Commission voted 3-2 to approve the latest map during a tense Dec. 9 meeting.

Under Plan D, put forth by former Republican legislator Rod Adair through his business New Mexico Demographic Research on Nov. 18, District 3 covers the northern part of Rio Rancho, rather than running along the eastern border as before. Additionally, Algodones moves from District 1 to District 5.

The Democratic Party of Sandoval County said in a November press release that Adair’s proposals “are a blatant, partisan attempt to create a majority of Republican districts, even though Democrats constitute a majority of registered Sandoval County voters.”

Rod Adair of New Mexico Demographic Research speaks to the County Commissioners on Thursday, Nov. 18, 2021, about his four plans in determining the next redistricting map. Plan D was approved with a 3-2 vote on Thursday, Dec. 9, 2021. (Matt Hollinshead/Observer).

Isaac Chavez said his original plan (which was later tweaked entering the Dec. 9 meeting with the help of, and was sponsored by, District 5 Commissioner F. Kenneth Eichwald) would’ve kept smaller communities like Bernalillo and Corrales whole and provide Rio Rancho with “adequate representation.”

Under Plan D, the District 3 Native American population would be 2.7 percent, while District 1’s Native population would drop 11.6 percentage points to 4.2 percent. The District 5 Native American population would increase 10.3 percentage points to 45.6 percent. The District 1 White population would increase to 51 percent.

During public comments on Dec. 9, Democrat state Rep. Derrick Lente, whose district includes Bernalillo and Sandia, Santa Ana, Santa Felipe and Zia pueblos, told the commission his constituents were upset about the process in which the initial maps were produced. He said they didn’t agree with Adair’s maps and would rather see fair representation he said the Eichwald-sponsored plan featured.

Heil said the deciding factor in voting for the original Plan D revolved around how Rio Rancho represents 69 percent of the county’s population. He also said the area where NM 528 and US 550 intersect, which is Precinct 74, contains parts of Rio Rancho and Bernalillo.