Hatch residents confront village officials about worries, concerns

LAS CRUCES, N.M. - It was a heated community in meeting in Hatch, N.M., on Tuesday.

Residents said they're fed up with recent decisions by village officials.

People were angry. They were frustrated. They were disappointed in their village officials.

More than 100 people packed the Hatch Community Center.

Many criticized the board of trustees for firing Police Chief Mike Vega.

That was just the beginning of their concerns.

Some residents who live in the small towns surrounding Hatch argued their concerns are just as important as those of Hatch residents. They said Hatch is where they shop, work and send their children to school.

Only two people spoke in favor of the board. The crowd interrupted their comments, ridiculing and jeering at the supporters.

Mayor Andy Nunez struggled to get the crowd under control.

People did not hold back, even yelling at the board at times.

"How is it we can treat one of our own with total disregard for their well-being on the day after their son is born?" Cindy Hernandez said, referring to the way Mike Vega was fired.

"I don't believe we should be roasting (the trustees). I believe we should have a confidence in them and know they're well-qualified and care about this community because they're lifelong residents of this community," one man said.

One man who received a lot of criticism and accusations was Village Clerk Jim Schoonover.

"Why have you handed the keys to the village over to Mr. Schoonover? Like many of us, he is not a resident of Hatch, but unlike us he has no vested interest in our community," said Mark Thompson, a resident of the Hatch Valley area.

Many residents feel Schoonover has too much power in the community, especially because he lives in Las Cruces.

Under Hatch's style of government, Schoonover manages many duties in the village.

Many residents blame him for Vega's firing and the termination of a few other village employees. Some claim Schoonover has created a hostile work environment.

Few defended Schoonover.

"I am here to thank the board for your hard work. I believe Mr. Schoonover, the clerk, has done a lot of good things for the village of Hatch," said Robert Spence, the assistant chief for the Hatch Fire Department.

Residents said their frustrations have been building. They said the police chief firing was the incident that pushed them over the edge.

Schoonover told ABC-7 he thinks residents are getting caught up in false rumors.

"I do own land here in the village of Hatch so I am vested in the village. I care about the village. I do care very much about my job and how I do my job," Schoonover said.

Village trustee Kathie Franzoy said she stands by Schoonover and his work.

"We make decisions based on what's good for the village of Hatch and we can't tell the people why people are fired. Some of the things we were accused of were false," Franzoy said.

Last week, residents made a petition asking Schoonover and the board to step down.

Schoonover said he will continue to do his best as the village clerk.

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