Editor’s note: The interview was edited for length and content.
After 33 years as the executive director of the Eastern Plains Council of Governments, Leland Tillman is retiring.
The 58-year-old Quay County native started working for the council in 1974. The council is a publicly-funded association that aids local communities in planning and economic development, according to Tillman. Issues the council helps communities with include housing, workforce and infrastructure. EPCOG counties include Curry, Roosevelt, Quay, De Baca, Guadalupe, Harding and Union counties and the 21 incorporated communities.
Tillman answered questions from the Clovis News Journal about his thoughts on 33 years with the organization.
Q: What has been the most challenging aspect of your job?
A: Convincing local communities that the world is our competition, not each other. Even though a regional approach makes a lot of sense from an economic standpoint, local communities still think if their neighbor loses, they win, which isn’t actually true. The regional approach is always promoting a win-win situation for local jurisdictions.
The other big issue that made my job particularly difficult these past few months has been the workforce. While I’ve been blessed with some of the best staff anyone could ever wish for, I’ve also made some poor personnel decisions, which turned out to be big mistakes. A couple of the people I trusted were dishonest and some of those I had great confidence in turned out to be disingenuous. That turns out to be a big disappointment for me.
(Tillman would not elaborate on his comment about dishonest people).
Q: What has been the most satisfying part of your years in the position?
A: Working with some of the most dedicated, sincere and talented local government officials over many years. Local leadership can make all the difference in whether a community moves boldly into the future or gets robbed of its future based on what didn’t work in the past.
The other great part of the job has been tackling some of the big issues over many years such as the water issue and the development of the template for regional water plans. Our area produced the first regional water plan in the state and our local legislators pioneered some of the needed legislation such as the Water Trust Fund.
And finally, I’ve had the opportunity to serve as a presidential appointee as the federal representative and chairman of the Canadian River Compact Commission and was elected by my peers as president of the National Association of Development Organizations in l995-1996.
Q: What role will renewable energy play in the area economy?
A: The EPCOG has been promoting renewable energy projects for more than 25 years and we’re finally seeing wind energy, solar and biomass project play an increasingly important role in the energy mix in the area and throughout the country. No area is more suited for wind energy development than eastern New Mexico if we can get the transmission corridors built to evacuate the power to the population centers that need it. I believe there will be new breakthroughs in fuel cell technology and hydrogen-based transportation assets which will significantly mitigate our dependence on fossil fuels.
Q: What prompted your decision to retire?
A: Some of the challenges I mentioned earlier in the interview played a role, but the needs of my family finally moved to the top of my priority list. I missed a lot of quality time with my wife and kids because I thought the issues and meetings were more important at the time. I don’t want to miss the quality time I can now have with my grandchildren.
Q: What are your future plans?
A: I expect to be doing some consulting work in the wind industry and I expect to do some additional work with the private sector leadership related to workforce systems. I have had an ongoing interest in our family farming and ranching operations out near Wheatland.
Q: What are you taking away from your years with the organization?
A: The most important thing I’ve learned over the years is to have faith in God and trust that his plan is the plan we need to be working on. I’ve learned that local leadership is the best hope we have for our democracy and that even though the politicians in Washington, D.C. and Santa Fe think they are in charge, our system has survived every test because of the decisions that local leaders make in our city halls and county courthouses.
— Compiled by CNJ Staff Writer Gabriel Monte