CNJ staff photo: Tony Bullocks The audience at Thursday’s city commission meeting listens as one of the numerous speakers takes the podium at the city commission meeting.
In the first Clovis City Commission meeting following the March 6 municipal election, Clovis citizens and commissioners debated new Mayor David Lansford’s views on President Obama, and whether they matter for the city going forward.
Lansford, a former three-term mayor before stepping down in 2008, defeated incumbent Mayor Gayla Brumfield with 63 percent of the vote.
National attention focused on the election — and the Thursday night debate — centered on articles written by Lansford on the ATLAH Media Network in June and November, where Lansford called Obama an illegitimate president under the Constitution and “the carnal manifestation of evil” and said his election is part of a CIA conspiracy. Lansford said during the campaign that his views would not change, and they were his right.
The chairman of the city’s planning and zoning committee, Brent “Bud” DaBell, resigned Wednesday regarding the matter and said his time might be better spent pursuing a recall of Lansford.
District 3 Commissioner Bobby Sandoval noted the nationwide attention Clovis has received, and his support for a possible recall of Lansford, in comments that touched off an hour-long debate. He noted concerns that Lansford’s positions would hurt relationships with other communities and federal agencies.
“I am speaking from the podium because I’m speaking as a taxpayer and a citizen,” Sandoval said. “I’m embarrassed at what the city of Clovis is being put through. The people of Clovis do not use vile words against the commander-in-chief as Mayor Lansford does.”
Many in the large crowd spoke in support of Lansford, noting he was entitled to his opinions and they were public knowledge well before the election.
“It doesn’t make sense,” Bonnie Cook said, “and as Mayor Brumfield said, the city has voted.”
Many citizens said they feel the same way about the president.
“You are a man of convictions,” Jack Muse of Clovis said of Lansford, “and you stand by your convictions … and there are a lot of other people in this room who feel the same way.”
Muse added that if the city was punished by federal leaders for the personal views of its mayor, it would be a poorer reflection on the federal government than on Clovis.
Virginia Byrd of Clovis said she did not agree with Lansford about Obama, and she was concerned about the atmosphere of the city over the last few weeks.
“It may not be racism,” Byrd said, “but it feels like it; it tastes like it. We have to be better than this.”
District 2 Commissioner Len Vohs agreed that negativity wasn’t the way to go forward.
“I was born and raised in Clovis,” Vohs said. “If I didn’t live here, I’d move here. We had a tornado a few years ago, and everybody stepped up. That’s the town I’m proud of.
“I have a problem with a community that talks down to anybody. I don’t feel like you need to tear Gayla down to build David up. I don’t feel like you need to tear David down to build Gayla up.”
Early on, there was booing and heckling of numerous speakers, which R.L. “Rube” Render said was unacceptable.
“People who know me know I’m slightly to the right of Genghis Khan,” Render said. “I don’t care if they’re wrong. They have the right to express their opinion.”
What also upset Render was talk of a recall of Lansford. He noted that Lansford had not yet pounded a gavel as mayor, but a recall would happen on personal opinions.
“That’s what they do in China,” Render said. “That’s what they do in Cuba.”
Such an action would require 932 signatures from registered voters — 20 percent of the previous municipal election turnout, as required by the city charter. Render, who ran an unsuccessful campaign against Bryant in District 4, assured his former challenger he would not support a recall.
Bryant felt the same way about Lansford.
“I thought Gayla did a good job,” Bryant said. “But David was elected by a wide margin, and he is mayor. I would not support a recall.”
Following Bryant’s statement, Render asked commissioners if they would support a recall. Garza and Vohs said they would not.
District 3 Commissioner Fidel Madrid declined to answer.
“Recall me if you want,” Madrid said. “My business is my business.”
New District 2 Commissioner Sandra Taylor-Sawyer said during her campaign that she would consult with citizens and get all the necessary facts before making big decisions, and she said she has not had such an opportunity yet.
Lansford did not address individual comments, but noted that he has never had a problem based on race and that he had best friends in high school who were African-American.
“To construe any of my opinions as racist,” Lansford said, “is inappropriate. Evil has no color. I regret that my comments were construed as racist. I don’t think there’s evidence that I’m racist, and I will defend that to the death.”
Lansford thanked Sandoval for sharing his opinions, and said that he was always willing to work with him and other commissioners to move the city forward. Sandoval said the same, but noted he would not have used words like “manifestation of evil.”
Resident Margaret Fritz challenged Sandoval on his words, noting Sandoval was friends with her father, and “I remember that you’ve called a lot of people a lot of names.”
Sandoval responded that while he has drank and cursed, he has never called people a “manifestation of evil,” as Lansford had.
“People change,” Fritz said. “I don’t know your walk with God; I don’t know Mayor Lansford’s walk with God. In the end, we’re all going to stand before God alone.”