In Year Review: Failed BHSI venue spills into 2013

By Kevin Wilson

CNJ STAFF WRITER

kwilson@cnjonline.com

New laws on prairie dogs and synthetic marijuana, along with failed economic deals and terminated services, are part of the year in city government for Clovis.

Here are five key things to remember from 2013, with a few of the items spilling over into 2014.

Taking an ugly loss on cosmetics: On a snowy December day in 2011, a special meeting was held by the city commission. At that meeting, commissioners approved a 5-0 vote to pledge up to $3 million in city economic development dollars to Beauty Health and Science Innovations.

The company, a merging of two cosmetics companies in California and Minnesota, would relocate to Clovis, where it would set up shop at the Froz Fruit plant and create as many as 350 jobs.

A few months into operations, the economic picture wasn’t as pretty. The company defaulted on its obligations to the city, but not before it had spent $1.8 million of city money acquiring assets, and not before it had numerous local businesses do work for it only to see invoices unpaid.

The commission in July approved an investigation into what went wrong, following questions from citizens and statements from business owners who went under because they trusted that BHSI was a good investment.

A report created by the Underwood law firm in Amarillo laid much of the fault for the deal at the feet of the Economic Development Tax Advisory Board, and noted a credit report of CEO Brian Sperber revealed a credit report that would have made him a risk for a car loan, let alone $3 million for business.

Then-Mayor Gayla Brumfield has responded with a letter from her attorney, calling the report a witch hunt to grind a political ax.

Dog-gone mess: Landowners near Ned Houk Park asked the commission to do something about the large prairie dog population at Ned Houk Park. Complaints included injuries to animals who stepped in holes created by the rodents.

The city, over the protests of a animal rights group and correspondence across the nation, poisoned prairie dogs at the park, and later in the year created an ordinance adding the animals to the city’s public nuisance definition.

Reports of the animals are handled in the same manner as weeds or ponds of standing water to the city’s code enforcement department.

Citizens for Prairie Dogs has repeatedly offered to move prairie dogs from city-owned land at Ned Houk and Potter parks and the Goodwin Lake walking trail to another county. However, representatives of each county have contacted the city and said they are not interested in having the animals either.

Grounded: Great Lakes Aviation will soon end a nearly-nine-year relationship with the city at the end of March, the termination date for its flights between Clovis and Denver International Airport.

The company, which first worked with Clovis in 2005 on flights to and from Albuquerque, expressed a desire to leave Albuquerque Sunport. City commissioners and members of the Civil Aviation Board expressed a desire to move to Dallas-Fort Worth International, but felt Denver would be a good connection and could possibly build numbers to justify a Dallas flight.

The federally-subsidized flights did not catch on, and fewer than four passengers were on each flight on average. Great Lakes admitted poor strategy on its part by adding a stop in Santa Fe for security screening and the chance to pick up more passengers. The company has asked the Department of Transportation to seek new bids for Clovis with a focus on DFW.

Bids are expected to come in during the first half of January, at which point Airport Director Gene Bieker expects to see some Albuquerque and some Dallas offerings.

Great Lakes, under terms of Essential Air Service, must continue to serve Clovis until a new carrier is in place.

Synthetic marijuana: In one of the quickest procedures some commissioners remember, a citizens group went from a discussion item to a task force to an ordinance in a matter of weeks to outlaw the sale or transfer of synthetic marijuana inside city limits.

Citizens concerned about smoke shops selling synthetic marijuana, also known as K2 or spice, asked for and received an ordinance similar to those passed in other communities across the state.

The items are marked as “not for human consumption,” but members of the citizens group said they’re sold in a “wink, nudge” process.

City officials warned the citizens about what to expect from the city ordinance, given that maximum penalties included $500 fines and 90 days in jail. City Attorney David Richards said the focus should next go toward state action, which would allow for greater criminal penalties.

The final ordinance was passed Dec. 19, and the Clovis Police Department has asked the city commission to purchase equipment that can test substances for synthetic drugs.

Recall effort: Clovis citizen Jose Griego, claiming insufficient representation, has mounted a recall campaign against longtime District 3 City Commissioner Bobby Sandoval.

Griego needs 88 signatures from registered voters in District 3 to force the recall election, which would likely happen during the March 4 municipal election to cut costs.

The city has not had a successful recall that City Clerk LeighAnn Melancon can trace on city records that date back to 1992.

Attempts were made to recall Charlie Anderson in 1990 and John Schuller in 1999. Neither were successful.

At least five positions will be on the March 3 ballot, recall or not. Four commissioners — Juan Garza in District 1, Len Vohs in District 2, Fidel Madrid in District 3 and Dan Stoddard in District 4 — are up for re-election, along with Municipal Court Judge Jan Garrett.

All except Stoddard, who was still weighing the decision, have said they plan to run again.