Business, state and city leaders say Mayor Tom Swisstack’s decision not to seek re-election means Rio Rancho will lose a leader with a wealth of experience in all walks of government.
Swisstack made the announcement Thursday night and in an interview on Friday he said he wanted to give others who might be interested in the position a chance to prepare in advance of the March municipal election.
Deputy Mayor and Councilor Mark Scott said he valued the guidance Swisstack provided to the council based on his experience as a state legislator.
“I hate to see him retire from politics because he has a lot to offer,” Scott said.
Swisstack, who is 66, said he has no immediate plans to seek another elected office, though he didn’t rule out that possibility.
“I’ll leave the door open for opportunities that may exist,” Swisstack said.
He will continue in his other job as Bernalillo deputy manager for public safety. As mayor until March, Swisstack said his priorities will be the city’s road infrastructure, the Chamisa Hills Golf Course and Country Club, and finding more funding for public safety.
Far flung Rio Rancho has 619 miles of paved and dirt roads and residents complain many of them need repairs.
Rio Rancho saw a 15 percent increase in crime between 2011 and 2012. Police and fire department leaders say they need more staff to meet the city’s needs.
Chamisa Hills, the city’s only golf course, is in financial trouble and the current owner wants to unload it.
Swisstack’s career in public service covers 22 years, with stints as a Sandoval County Commissioner, Rio Rancho mayor from 1994 to 1998, State District 60 Representative from 2003 through 2008 and elected mayor again in 2008 when he completed the term of former Mayor Kevin Jackson who resigned. He was re-elected in 2010 and his term ends in 2014.
“Rio Rancho is losing a great leader. His breadth of knowledge made him the best advocate Rio Rancho has ever had,” said Sen. John Sapien, D-Corrales.
During Swisstack’s term, Rio Rancho gained two more seats in the state Legislature, giving it more clout in Santa Fe.
Noreen Scott, President of Rio Rancho Economic Development Corp., which recruits companies and jobs to the city and county, said Swisstack has been a strong advocate for local business.
“He has a wonderful gift for getting people to work together,” Scott said.
Swisstack, a Democrat, has faced challenges with the City Council since three Rio Rancho Tea Party-endorsed candidates were elected in March 2012.
Councilor Chuck Wilkins characterized his relationship with Swisstack as “adversarial.” “We were on different sides and didn’t agree on anything much,” Wilkins said on Friday.
Wilkins said Swisstack was too concerned about “fluff” like city parks rather than “core needs” like roads, water and sewer lines.
Wilkins and Swisstack publicly disagreed about the proposed A Park Above project to build a park suitable for disabled children. Park project organizers are planning a groundbreaking on land off Westside in October.
Swisstack said he has enjoyed working with city staff and the council. He viewed the challenges as a way to bring councilors together on common goals. Looking forward, he said, it is vital for the city to reach out to the county, state legislators and other regional jurisdictions.
“We’re part of a team, not just a community that operates in isolation,” Swisstack said.
Though still months away, three candidates have already declared their intention to run in Rio Rancho’s mayor’s race. Republicans Morgan Braden and Gregg Hull and Democrat Mike Williams.
The municipal race is nonpartisan but leaders of Sandoval County branches of the Democratic and Republican parties have said they will be involved in the Rio Rancho municipal elections to some degree.