RIO RANCHO, N.M. — A past manager for the City of Rio Rancho, Ralph “Bud” Bentley, 69, passed away June 10 after losing his battle with cancer.
Bentley served the city from Jan. 30, 1989, replacing Bill Snell, until his “surprising” resignation in mid-December 1992, which followed an ongoing squabble with then-Mayor Pat D’Arco. Prior to taking the job here, Bentley had been the assistant city manager since March 1986 in West Palm Beach, Fla.
When he took the position, he told the Observer, “My first priority is the internal structure and organization of the city,” realizing even then, “There is never enough money to meet all the requests for services.”
Bentley hired Stan Ford to be the director of parks and recreation in 1989, and Ford held the position until 1996.
“No doubt, I am biased, but I believe Bud is still legendary to those who knew him — at least they still tell me that,” Ford said. “It was the ‘golden age’ for the city; he raised the bar and did some great things.”
Prior to Bentley’s arrival here, Ford recalled, “The city had just been named the fastest-growing city in the U.S. He was so progressive; he came from a fresh, eye-opening perspective. … He would take a bullet for the team; he had their backs, and they respected him for that.”
The sensitive side was revealed in July 1989, when a 13-year-old boy drowned in the Haynes Park pool.
“He said we need to focus on aquatics,” which meant a directive to Ford. “He took that hard.”
Roy Slezak, a city councilor during Bentley’s time as city administrator, recalled Bentley as a hard worker who was always on top of things.
“I remember when he picked me up to drive around Vista Hills when we had a flood in the 1990s,” Slezak said. “This was a Sunday, his day off.”
In Rio Rancho, Bentley became friends with Tom Swisstack, who was a county commissioner at the time and later became mayor.
“I (remember) how professional he was; he demonstrated his kindness and how willing he was to work with the county,” Swisstack said. “He had a positive attitude — he was good about trying to make things work, as long as they were legal. He looked for solutions that were not in the traditional way of dealing with government.
“He was a caring, sensitive person,” Swisstack continued. “Don’t get me wrong — he also had the ability (to fight back); if he thought he was right, he’d take a stand. I was sad when he left…
He could talk with anybody and not make them feel insecure or that they didn’t know what they were talking about.”
Genie Ryan, back then a staff writer for the Observer, said “(Bentley) brought a great deal of knowledge and a level of professionalism to the city at a time when it was greatly needed. He also served during a time when we were faced with a lot of controversies, and it was difficult for him. However, with Kim (Bentley, Bud’s wife) running the chamber and Bud the city, they certainly had an impact.”
In January 1990, Bentley received a contract set to expire Dec. 31, 1992. It was later ruled by District Judge Kenneth Brown that contract was illegal; the contract was amended and finalized through arbitration.
D’Arco’s relationship with Bentley was less than friendly. In a July 9, 1992, memo to the city council, D’Arco said Bentley “will be leaving Rio Rancho” when his contract expired at the end of 1992. At the time, Bentley said no.
Former city councilor Joe Cordova, who won a special election for a city council seat in 1992, remembers those heated days.
“Little did I know that I would be walking into a civil war between Bud and D’Arco,” he recalled. “This feud put the city councilors in the middle of the crosshairs of Mayor D’Arco’s supporters and Bud’s supporters.
“Being the new, young and naive kid on the council, I mistakenly tried to get the two to bury their differences and work together for the good of the city. Boy, talk about baptism by fire, I got a quick lesson in city politics,” Cordova said. “There was no common ground for either of them, and so lawsuits and counter lawsuits were part of my young political indoctrination. Throughout this whole war, Bud was always professional and rose above the dirty political games.
“In the end, Bud was supported by the council and was on secure ground. … Had he remained, he would have been working with Mayor Tom Swisstack, who succeeded Mayor D’Arco. I felt that the two of them, working together, would have made a very positive and dynamic Rio Rancho.”
Bentley’s wife of 31 years, Kim, is among his survivors.