Melrose Mayor Lance Pyle, right, holds his 2-month-old niece Renise Hollaway as she wears a I love the mayor T-shirt as they have their pictures taken by Pyle's sister Saphronia Hollaway, left, after the swearing in ceremony. (Staff photo: Eric Kluth
Across from a small, square post office, Lance Pyle was sworn in Friday as the mayor of Melrose, a town of about 700 that occupies about a mile of land amid amber plains.
In the moments before the ceremony, Pyle deftly maneuvered the room, shaking hands, patting guests on the shoulder, stopping for a second to chat. It seemed he never became too engaged to notice when a new guest entered the room.
Her a back bent with age, an elderly woman shuffled across the floor, slowly, uncomfortably before slipping into one of the folding metal chairs lined in rows for the ceremony. Pyle bent down to hug her instead of shaking her extended hand, and told her he was happy she came.
This is Pyle's gift, something other politicians spend years cultivating, something that catapulted him from the halls of Melrose High School and into an elite circle of government officials. It marks him, at the age of 25, as the youngest mayor elected in New Mexico during this month’s municipal elections.
“I just want to be there to help people,” Pyle said in his new office, looking small behind a big chair in a room recently swept clear and wiped clean for whomever won the mayor’s seat.
That humanitarian impulse isn’t a political ploy, according to Ribble Holloman, Melrose resident and judge.
The judge has known Pyle “since birth, no, since before birth,” he said, grabbing a piece of cake after conducting the young mayor’s swearing-in.
“He exudes the characteristics of a good leader,” Holloman said. “He is always striving to acquaint himself with people.”
What seems political savvy is a genuine concern; his ability to lead, “natural,” according to Holloman.
When he was 17, Pyle began working for Curry County, filing paperwork and answering phones. He is now the assistant county manager.
“He is my right-hand man,” said Curry County Manager Dick Smith.
Indeed he is.
During county meetings, he is called upon many times, usually when others are stumped. He knows how much money is in county coffers, he can read maps of county buildings others cannot, he understands fancy computer programs. And he does so while balancing his other duties, among them running the county’s indigent health care program, which covers the medical bills of residents unable to do so themselves.
“I like it when people call me with a problem,” Pyle said, his hands folded in a stately manner on his desk. “I will find a solution for them.”
So it’s no conundrum: People in the town of Melrose are excited for him to begin his run as mayor. Ninety percent of voters chose him for the position, and although partisan lines have split the nation in two, Democrats and Republicans voted for Pyle, a Democrat, through and through.
“You treat everybody the same — how you want to be treated,” said Pyle, the son of a Clovis policeman. “In some politics, that hasn’t been the case. I treat a 10-year-old kid the same as an 80-year-old.”
Melrose Assistant Municipal Clerk Marcie Streetmoyer said Pyle is exactly what the town needs.
“He’s got passion that you don’t often see in people when they get older. It’s very refreshing. He has new ideas, he’s a fresh face, and we need that.”
Judy Burnett, a Melrose resident for 25 years, looks forward to the changes she said Pyle will bring to the town, which is home to a large population of retired men and women, yet sometimes loses sight of its younger residents.
“Our kids have to drive 30 minutes away to Clovis just for something to do,” Burnett said.
“We will really want to bring in something for the younger kids to do. Maybe a pool,” she said.
Though Melrose does have one, the pool didn’t pass inspection last summer. It seems a small request, but Pyle doesn’t approach it as such. He places it on the same plane as some of the town’s more pressing needs: The sewage lagoon isn’t lined properly, causing ire among environmentalists in Santa Fe. The budget is drained year after year because of a water tower bought in 1979, which, if things continue, won’t be paid off until 2018. Government committees created to gauge the will of the community aren’t staffed with citizens but with city councilors.
These are all things Pyle said he will tackle as the mayor. He recognizes his limitations, yet he doesn’t let them bog him down.
“What can you do when you are a small town and you’re locked in on your income?” asked Pyle, who will probably never be rid of his baby face, and stands inches below most men in a room but makes up for it, perennially in a suit and tie, and quick to smile.
He answered his own query moments after it was uttered.
“I've already spoken with senators about the problems we have, and hopefully the state can help get rid of this debt caused by the water tower. .... I want to really get people involved in the community. … I want at least one community member on my committees, but no more than three people because you can’t get anything accomplished if a committee gets too big."
Though Pyle has already developed ties with some of the biggest names in Curry County and state politics, he yearns to engage another sector.
“(My) being 25 and being the mayor, it seems to have really grabbed the attention of the youth. I really hope they will get involved in our community and give back to their families, their grandparents who built the community for us,” Pyle said.
“I want them to know,” he said, “that their voice does make a difference.”