What’s your assessment of the performance of the current mayor and council during the past two years?
“It’s a very difficult job to be an elected official nowadays. It takes a lot of courage, it takes a lot of passion, it takes thinking outside the box,” Montiel said.
“It’s been tough the last few months because of the COVID-19 pandemic, so I know that some tough decisions have been made,” she said. “I like to look for the positive in things and try to collaborate and look for some ideas and so forth and that’s why I’m running.”
Could you give specific examples of the good or bad actions that the council has taken?
“They’ve worked together to make some serious decisions about dealing with this COVID-19 pandemic,” she said, adding: “They’ve tentatively approved a budget and carefully analyzed it… I know that they have allocated some carry-forward monies and then with the CARES Act, allocated those monies to help some of the loss of sales taxes in the last few months.”
(In May, the City of Nogales was promised $2.3 million in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding by Gov. Doug Ducey.)
“So I think they try their best to try to collaborate. Can they do better? Of course they can do better, like find a city manager.”
What do you think you can do to improve that performance, and if you are elected, what are two or three issues that voters can expect to see you play an especially active role in?
“Should I be lucky to be voted in, one of my priorities is economic development – I realize it’s not easy – but it’s to rise the economy,” she said. “The city needs to have a proactive approach to attracting, retaining and helping local businesses and entrepreneurs.”
“We have to create a thriving local economy, where all the Nogalian people have the opportunity to make a decent living,” she said, insisting that all elected officials must be made accountable. “We have to see results. We have to revitalize the economy to benefit everybody and put our differences aside.”
What ideas do you have for mitigating the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on the city’s residents and economy?
“We need to start thinking ahead. We can’t manage by crisis. We need to have an economic development plan in place, you know, a longterm process of activities that improve the economy of Nogales to benefit all residents – not just the wealthy residents,” Montiel said. “And we need to work together in collaboration. We need to make sure that everybody, all the entities are involved. We have the potential. We’re a border city. We have the attitude to move in a positive way and forward.”
You worked as Mayor Arturo Garino’s executive assistant for a year. What did you learn about the workings of city government during that time, and why did you leave the job?
“I really had a great opportunity to see how our municipality works,” Montiel said, clarifying that she worked alongside Garino for 11 months. “I saw how city managers work in collaboration with the mayor and the city council… how budgets are approved, and how fees and charges are done. I saw the development of goals and major projects take place.”
“I found it being a very good opportunity for me to learn. I left because I needed to move on for personal reasons.”
Considering your previous working relationship with Garino, will you feel obligated to follow his lead if you’re elected to the council?
“No, I don’t,” she said. “I have no vested interests and I’m not beholden to anyone. I’ll remain committed if I’m elected. I’m not going to be complacent. I’m going to be working in collaboration with the city and mayor and the people of Nogales to make things happen.”
What’s your understanding of a city council’s role in a council-manager form of government?
“I think that the oversight of the day-to-day operations of the community should reside with the city manager, and I honestly believe that the manager is the buffer between elected officials and professional staff… You take politics away from it and it’s also less threatening for the people that work at the city, also. For me, the charter’s the driving document for the city as it is now, unless they want to change it.”
Former Manager Eddie Johnson wrote a memo to council members, complaining about Mayor Garino leading Public Works meetings, telling him about department heads who shouldn’t be in the positions, telling him to “undo” a hire, and getting involved in alleged workplace tensions. Do you think that these are appropriate actions by the mayor under a council-manager form of government, and do you think the council members have a responsibility to rein in a mayor or other council member who oversteps the boundaries?
“Like I said, I go back to the way the city runs and it’s right now running under council-manager form of government. It’s there and it’s been there for a long time,” she said. “I believe the city benefits from this type of government in a number of ways. Basically, it’s to allow people to do their job. There’s ways you can deal with people who aren’t doing their job, so that’s where I stand with that.”
What do the mayor and council need to do differently at this point to attract good city manager candidates?
“There’s a process that needs to be followed and needs to be respected,” Montiel said. “If it’s followed and it’s respected, and we aggressively recruit, and we have all the factors in place, and we sell ourselves, and we sell Nogales for the beautiful that Nogales is in terms of the potential it has, we can hire an effective city manager that makes a good fit for Nogales.”
You were let go as principal of Wade Carpenter Middle School in 2015 following a state investigation that found an unusually high number of wrong-to-right erasures on students’ standardized tests. What would you say to voters who might see this as an ethics red flag?
“It was a very difficult time in my life. An investigation was conducted – and a very thorough one – and there was no wrongdoing found in my part. This investigation is a matter of public record,” Montiel said. “I loved my job and worked many years with students and had good relationships with the parents and I did the best job I could. That was a matter of the discussion of the school board, and my evaluation was flawless and that’s basically what I can say about that.”
An independent investigator hired by NUSD concluded at the time that the cheating most likely came at the administrative level, and described your posture toward him as uncooperative. What’s your response to that?
“That is inaccurate. I was very, very positive. I was very forthcoming with my responses, very cooperative.”
Can you reassure voters that you have taken responsibility for these problems at WCMS, perhaps not as the perpetrator of the cheating, but as the principal who was ultimately responsible for the school?
“Yes, of course I took responsibility for all the allegations.”
Is there anything else you’d like readers to know about you or your candidacy?
“I have the energy and the ability to roll up my sleeves, if you will, and collaborate with the council and mayor,” she said. “I understand how politics work and I’m willing to work with all the stakeholders to get the job done in a respectful, meaningful and productive way.
“I can see the issues in a fair and open-minded way,” Montiel said, adding: “I’m always going to be looking for solutions to better the lives of Nogales in a team effort. I’m bold and I’m not afraid to ask the difficult questions. I’ve been kicked around long enough to know that nothing’s personal.”