Feb 25

Wastewater Lab

Posted on February 25, 2021 at 1:29 PM by Public Affairs

Testing and otherwise analyzing Roswell’s wastewater on a constant basis to make sure it is safe to be disposed of – and even used for farm irrigation – is the task of the Wastewater Laboratory at the City of Roswell’s Wastewater Treatment Plant on East College Boulevard at the city’s eastern edge.

The Wastewater Lab monitors the wastewater going through and leaving the treatment plant seven days a week. The three employees of the lab conduct tests to measure contaminants and organic material in the wastewater, as well as the pH level, making certain the amounts and levels of these things meet the standards set by the New Mexico Environment Department. The treatment plant and lab are also governed by regulations from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

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Wastewater Laboratory Technician Sarah Torrez conducts a pH test.

Wastewater samples from various locations within the plant are collected and brought to the lab for analysis. The staff conducts various tests on the samples to check for contaminants and make sure pH levels are appropriate. The analyses also allow these experts on staff to monitor biochemical oxygen demand, which is a factor in the number of active microorganisms in wastewater. Among other tests are those checking the amount of total suspended solids and total dissolved solids. The lab also does some testing for drinking water. Monthly reports for that water and wastewater are submitted to the New Mexico Environment Department.

Most of the testing is conducted at the lab by two lab technician assistants, who also head out to other locations to perform field analysis at designated points along drinking water distribution systems, at the city’s well sites, at residences and at commercial water customers’ locations, such as restaurants. The third member of the lab staff is the lab technician, who does some of the testing while overseeing the overall operation of the facility, ensuring quality control, submitting required reports to the state, and billing outside entities – water districts and restaurants, for example, that must meet water-quality standards – that use the Roswell lab to test their samples. The lab draws that outside business because it is a state-certified microbiological laboratory and one of only a few in New Mexico that conducts water bacteriological tests for state and non-state entities.

Through the years, the lab has maintained and upgraded all of its equipment to comply with governmental regulation-agency standards. Operation of the lab itself is a requirement since the Wastewater Treatment Plant must adhere to self-monitoring standards set by the oversight agencies. That constant monitoring ensures the wastewater is safe to be discharged into the Hondo River, where it is further diluted as it travels downstream, or to be supplied to local farmers who use it to irrigate crops during the growing season. All the wastewater that is discharged from the treatment plant must meet federal standards requiring it to be safe enough to be “fishable and swimmable.”

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Wastewater Laboratory Technician Sarah Torrez examines a wastewater sample that will be used to check oxygen depletion. 

One of the main functions of the processes used to treat the wastewater is to break down and remove many organic solids from the water. People may not realize chemicals are not used to do this. The organic matter is removed by systems at the treatment plant that use gravity and naturally occurring microorganisms, which eat the organic solids. And the lab makes sure those things are doing their jobs adequately. From the time wastewater enters the treatment plant to when it is discharged, at least 98 percent of the solid contaminants have been removed.

In addition to ensuring the treatment plant is producing properly treated wastewater, the lab assists other city departments when needed. For example, when new water lines are being installed or lines are being repaired within the city’s drinking water transmission system, the lab is called on to use its resources and expertise to conduct bacterial tests to make sure the new or repaired lines are not a source of contaminates.

A video about the Wastewater Lab is also available. 

Jan 27

Office of Emergency Management

Posted on January 27, 2021 at 3:24 PM by Public Affairs

Planning for the unexpected or unknown, such as natural or manmade disasters or other emergencies, is a challenging task. If the community and its citizens do get plunged into an emergency situation, it is critically important to have a well-thought-out and organized plan. Effective emergency management protects communities by coordinating and integrating all activities needed to mitigate against, prepare for, respond to and recover from emergencies that can be natural disasters, acts of terrorism or public health emergencies such as a pandemic.

This is the task that faces Roswell/Chaves County Emergency Manager Karen Sanders each day as she operates the one-person Office of Emergency Management shared by five governmental jurisdictions: City of Roswell, Chaves County, Town of Dexter, Town of Hagerman and Town of Lake Arthur.

“One of my most important roles is to keep city and county government officials, as well as community partners, up to date,” Sanders explains. “During COVID, this has included daily conference calls with the State Emergency Operations Center, weekly meetings with community partners such as hospitals, public health (agencies), schools and government officials, and daily texts with COVID case information to many agencies throughout Chaves County. We are currently working with hospitals and public health officials on COVID vaccine planning and having a flexible plan in place as COVID vaccines become available.”

Karen Sanders (Jan 2021)

Roswell/Chaves County Emergency Manager Karen Sanders

Sanders, who has been emergency manager since November 2012, notes COVID response has been ongoing since the pandemic began impacting New Mexico around March 2020. Some of her typical COVID-related duties have included revising and updating plans, helping with test sites, placing resource requests and tracking costs.

Sanders’ job functions have been greatly impacted by the pandemic.

“Normally, an incident happens, like a flood or tornado, and you spend a short amount of time in response, before moving into recovery and getting back to normal,” she explains. “COVID is unusual in that we have been in response mode for 10 months now. The majority of my time for the last 10 months has been spent dealing with and responding to COVID.”

Before COVID interrupted everyone’s life, a day in the Office of Emergency Management might include working on emergency plans, scheduling meetings and trainings, coordinating an exercise, or researching grant opportunities. Of course, all that is subject to change if an emergency takes place, during which Sanders’ role switches to one of support and coordination efforts.

Sanders is a Certified Emergency Manager in New Mexico, which is achieved by a certification process through the New Mexico Association of Emergency Management Professionals. She has been honored by the New Mexico Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, which selected Sanders as 2019 Emergency Manager of the Year.

Sanders is responsible for overseeing all functions related to a disaster.

“Emergency management is an ongoing process to prevent, prepare for, respond to and recover from an incident,” she says, describing each step as follows:

Prevention focuses on things done before an incident to reduce the chance of an emergency happening or reduce the impact of unavoidable emergencies. Examples are conducting threat and vulnerability assessments, and establishing building codes.

Preparedness includes plans or preparations made to save lives and help response and rescue operations. Examples include creating evacuation plans or disaster plans and then practicing carrying out those plans through drills or exercises. Another example would be installing outdoor warning sirens and doing public education so citizens know what to do when they hear them.

Response involves activating the preparedness plans during a disaster or other emergency. Examples include opening a shelter or ordering resources such as equipment. During COVID, this has included requesting personal protective equipment and other equipment for healthcare agencies, public health entities, hospitals, schools, long-term care facilities and correctional facilities.

Recovery is getting back to normal after an incident. This usually takes place after an emergency and could include seeking financial assistance to help cover costs of an incident.

Sanders emphasizes “work is being done on a continuous basis to ensure the safety and security of citizens in Chaves County,” and she urges citizens to take action by doing the following:

Stay informed: Know what types of disasters can happen and how to get additional information. Citizens can sign up for CivicReady, the local mass-notification system found on the websites of the City of Roswell (roswell-nm.gov) and Chaves County (chavescounty.gov). Citizens can also purchase a NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) weather radio (around $20) to receive emergency weather alerts.  

Build a kit: Have an emergency kit consisting of enough food, water and other supplies to last 72 hours in the event of an emergency.

For more information about emergency preparedness, Sanders can be reached at (575) 624-6740. Information from the Roswell/Chaves County Office of Emergency Management can also be found on Facebook, as well as the City of Roswell website.

Dec 17

Roswell Municipal Court

Posted on December 17, 2020 at 2:25 PM by Public Affairs

The Municipal Court represents the City of Roswell’s judicial branch of government. Similar to the structure at the state and federal levels of government, the city’s judicial branch joins the legislative (City Council) and executive (mayor and city manager) branches to complete this governmental trio. However, the Municipal Court operates independently from the other branches of government.

The Municipal Judge, an elected official, has responsibility for all aspects of the court and its operational needs. As a separate branch of government, the judge has decision-making authority on behalf of the court comparable to that held by the city manager regarding administrative decisions for the city. The Municipal Judge administers the court’s policies and procedures, as well as overseeing the court’s budget and employees. While the court is independent, it does rely on many other city departments to support its operations.

The court’s guidance comes from the U.S. Constitution and the State of New Mexico Constitution and it must follow specific rules and procedures set by the New Mexico Supreme Court.

“The Municipal Court can be relied on as a place where citizens can have their matter or dispute addressed by a fair and impartial process,” says Municipal Judge Joseph Seskey. “The court has many purposes, including ensuring all persons have access to a fair and impartial forum in which to resolve their legal dispute and to ensure each individual’s rights under the law are preserved. It is paramount that the court conduct business in a manner that promotes efficiency, transparency and a timely disposition to all cases filed.

“The Municipal Court is committed to ensuring that we are operating and employing best practices in accordance with the Constitution and laws of the United States and the State of New Mexico and that we are further committed to being a fair and impartial and independent judiciary.”

Municipal Court in courtroom

Deputy Court Clerk Dina Coffing, Judge Joseph Seskey and Bailiff Ron Garcia. 

The usual court day begins with arraignments of individuals incarcerated at the Chaves County Detention Center. These defendants are seen remotely by video connection. Once video arraignments are completed with the jail, arraignments begin for defendants who are not in jail, but have been cited to appear in court to answer charges to violations of traffic or criminal ordinances. Arraignments are a process in which a person is formally advised of the charge and the maximum penalty the court could impose. The defendant is also advised of his or her rights and asked to enter a plea. The court day then transitions to pre-trial status hearings with attorneys and prosecutors who appear before the judge to provide an update on the status of cases moving through the court system. Afternoons are reserved for all trial matters.  

While the order of things remains fairly standard, each day in Municipal Court is unique and varied because of the constant rotation of different cases initiated and filed into the court for adjudication. The Municipal Court hears misdemeanor violations of Roswell’s city ordinances. Cases may be initiated and filed for prosecution from the Police Department, Code Enforcement, Zoning, and Animal Services.

The Municipal Court handles all this with a staff 10 people: the municipal judge, a court administrator, four deputy court clerks, one court bailiff, two court compliance officers and an alternate judge.

The Municipal Judge is an elected position and serves four-year terms. Judge Joseph Seskey was hired as an Alternate Judge in 2016 and was appointed the full-time Municipal Judge in 2019 when the City Council approved the mayor’s recommendation. He was then elected in March 2020.

Court Administrator Belinda Franco is the court’s longest continuously serving employee. She has been with the court for more than 15 years. Bailiff Ron Garcia had previously served in various city departments since 2001 and joined Municipal Court in 2017. Jim Huebner, Court Compliance Officer, had previous city employment totaling 29 years before joining the court in 2015. Dina Coffing has served in her position as Deputy Court Clerk since 2013. Lea Ross has served as Deputy Court Clerk since 2015. Compliance Officer Maria Ordonez has been with the court since 2018. Deputy Court Clerks Christina Sedillo and Sonia Ramirez were hired in 2020. Retired Roswell Municipal Judge Lou Mallion currently serves as an Alternate Judge. In addition to serving as bailiff, Ron Garcia is also an Alternate Judge.

Employees handle a variety of assignments each day. Court Clerks and the Bailiff are cross-trained to know each others’ job and can step in and fill any assignment as needed. On any given day, Court Clerks may be assigned to the customer-service window assisting users of the court, taking payments for fines and conducting data entry. On a daily basis, they prepare warrants and summonses for signature by the judge, prepare subpoenas and court orders, assist the judge in the courtroom while court is in session, complete scheduling of hearings and prepare cases for trial, receive and process motions and pleadings from defendants, attorneys and prosecutors, and process license suspensions through the state Division of Motor Vehicles.

The Court Administrator reports to the Municipal Judge and directly supervises the Court Clerks, the Bailiff and the Court Compliance Officers. The Court Administrator has responsibility for the day-to-day operations of the court and also handles matters related to human resources, court payroll, budget and requisition, billing and invoices, finance and court records.  

Court Compliance Officers meet daily with defendants and monitor their completion of community-service hours and defendants’ conditions of home confinement, meet with defendants with pre-trial reporting requirements and supervise defendants serving conditions of probation imposed by the court.

Each employee’s assignment is crucial to the overall success of the court. Court employees are fluent in court operations and the complex legal requirements for court processes, ensuring the entire team is operating at a high level of efficiency and expertise. The use of court software helps the court manage and track cases. Accuracy is of extreme importance and clerks often double- and triple-check their work.

Municipal Judges and any Alternate Judges attend yearly training and certification programs sponsored by the New Mexico Administrative Office of the Courts and the UNM School of Law. Court Clerks and Bailiffs attend yearly training sponsored by the Municipal Court Clerks Association. Court Administrator Belinda Franco serves on the New Mexico Court Clerks Education Planning Committee. Compliance Officer Maria Ordonez is currently obtaining her certification as a Spanish Language Court Interpreter through a program administered by the New Mexico Supreme Court. Court translators and interpreters must be state-certified to work in the courts. This certification will allow Ordonez to provide translation services in any New Mexico court.

Municipal Court outside

The Municipal Court team enjoys working together to make the court the best it can be. The staff also enjoys other endeavors that bring them together, such as promoting wellness initiatives to encourage reducing stress and living a healthier lifestyle. The court staff has had weight-loss competitions and took on other dietary challenges.

“Some of us ate only salad or soup for an entire month,” Judge Seskey explains. “We tried drinking a gallon of water a day for two weeks, which we found is not that easy.” Judge Seskey adds, “We are trying to walk as a group for a minimum of 15 minutes per day as the weather permits.”

Meanwhile, the staff engages in team-building exercises that test their brains and ability to think on their feet.

An additional aspect of operating Municipal Court these days relates to COVID-19. The court receives guidance on COVID policies from the New Mexico Supreme Court. Where possible, all courts in New Mexico are required to offer defendants and other users of the court all means necessary to have their matter addressed by remote means. The Roswell Municipal Court is able to conduct most business through GoToMeeting video and telephonic appearances. The court remains open to the public, but must limit the number of people allowed in the courtroom to a total of 11 at a given time. Phone or video options are made available to additional people wanting to view any proceedings. Those entering the facility at 420 N. Richardson Ave. must wear a mask and are required to answer a COVID screening questionnaire and have their temperature taken. If they are permitted to enter the courtroom, they must sign in and are directed to an assigned seat. Cleaning and sanitizing is done multiple times each day and the frequency of a company cleaning the entire building has been increased.