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And the Survey Says…

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In a city that is either criticized or defended with staunch conviction, it’s clear what people want: A better life. This upcoming year and the years that follow are, in the eyes of its citizens, filled with potential.

In a July survey commissioned by the city of Pueblo through an organization called the ETC Institute, which gathers data to help communities plan for the future, 413 Pueblo citizens expressed their opinions on a variety of issues such as public safety, quality of life, recreation and the progress they would like to see Pueblo make within the next two years.

The survey, which is conducted every two years, has been administered by the city since 2010.

For the past four years, the questions have served as an indication of Puebloans’ priorities and hopes for improvement in the city.

In 2012, for example, citizens placed high priority on improving the maintenance of city streets and working toward better enforcement of city codes and ordinances. All of this, they hoped, would be completed by 2014.

According to citizens of Pueblo, not much got better within those two years.

Between 2012 and 2014, Pueblo’s overall satisfaction with the city’s effort to maintain streets dropped from 21 percent to 15 percent. That’s the lowest it has been in the survey’s four years of implementation.

At the time of this most recent survey, Puebloans still placed the most urgency on improving the maintenance of city streets.

The survey, known as the DirectionFinder, which is tailored to determining public opinion of community standards, has participants answer questions on a five-part scale, which ranges from categorizations of satisfied to dissatisfied.

Hundreds of other towns across the United States have participated in the DirectionFinder survey.

Of the Pueblo citizens who said street maintenance needed to be improved within the next two years, 64 percent gave the city’s effort the lowest possible ranking on the survey.

At the time of this most recent survey, Puebloans still placed the most urgency on improving the maintenance of city streets.

The citizens’ satisfaction with enforcement of city codes and ordinances also decreased significantly. In 2010, 37 percent of those surveyed were satisfied with the way the city handled tasks like removing graffiti. This year, only 25 percent were satisfied.

And it wasn’t only the high-priority categories that have been failing recently, according to Puebloans.

Every single other category related to services provided by the city saw decreases in citizen satisfaction.

So, what’s happening here?

It could be that many of the 413 people who decided to take the survey are strongly opinionated and took it as an opportunity to criticize the city. After all, completing the survey did not come with incentives and remained on a volunteer basis.

The ETC Institute is clear in the survey’s introduction that the document was sent out to 1,500 random households in the city. Half-hearted opinions could have belonged only to the 1,087 people who decided against completing it.

However, although there were decreases in every category, not all of them necessarily served as negative reviews.

For instance, satisfaction with the quality of emergency and medical services was at 81 percent, which is just a 3 percent decrease from 2010.

The two most popular factors that would determine the city’s retention of citizens were safety and security and employment opportunities.

If these results come from people who are not just aiming to criticize the city, several issues will need to be addressed in order for the survey to yield percentage increases in two years.

And those percentage increases could influence the future of Pueblo. 2015 could be the first step in changing life in the city.

Other categories, outside of city services, were also indicative of a trend of relative dissatisfaction with the city of Pueblo.

In a section that discussed perceptions of the city, 43 percent of people said the image of Pueblo was below average.

The section that discussed public safety displayed relative satisfaction with the fire department and dissatisfaction with the police department.

Only 27 percent of people were satisfied with Pueblo’s effort to prevent crime. This contributed to a downward trend over the four-year period, which includes a 15 percent decrease from 2010.

If the people who took the survey serve as a true indication of the rest of Pueblo, retaining and attracting citizens may become a problem.

The continual decrease in satisfaction that is becoming prevalent may influence whether or not people stay in Pueblo within the next 10 years.

The majority of people who took the survey (80 percent) have lived in Pueblo for more than 20 years. One section of the survey asked residents to choose three factors that would influence whether they stay in Pueblo within 10 years.

The two most popular factors that would determine the city’s retention of citizens were safety and security and employment opportunities.

Many people placed a high priority on employment opportunities, as they listed that as their top choice.

Twenty years is more than enough time to make a home in Pueblo. It’s also enough time to become familiar with the town’s real issues.

The Puebloans who took the time to complete a seven-page survey did not do so apathetically. These people, who have called Pueblo home for years, considered what it would take for them to leave. If the city does not utilize 2015’s full potential, they just might lose passionate people who care about improving the city.

And if Pueblo wants to attract new people, it has to compete with other, happier parts of the country.

The ETC Institute works to collect similar data from other random parts of the country, in the form of two surveys. Data found there is(are) compared with that(those) of other cities, including Pueblo.

According to the comparison, Pueblo is not as happy as the rest of the United States.

One DirectionFinder was administered to 416 other people in the Northwestern states, including Idaho, Colorado, Montana, Oregon, Utah, Washington, Nevada and Wyoming.

An additional survey was sent to 4,000 random United States citizens, in various parts of the country.

In nearly every category that was measured, Pueblo falls behind the rest of the country. In a section titled “satisfaction with issues that influence the perceptions of the city,” for example, Pueblo’s results were dismal.

According to citizens of Pueblo, not much got better within those two years.

In the Northwest, 70 percent of people are happy with the appearance of their cities. Sixty-eight percent of the random U.S. citizens throughout the country are happy with the appearance of their cities.

Only 32 percent of Puebloans are satisfied with the appearance of Pueblo.

The only category in which Puebloans are happier than the Northwest related to customer service in the city.

The rest of the United States yielded more satisfaction than Pueblo did, in every single category that was measured.

So attracting new citizens to Pueblo might be a difficult task to accomplish, especially when other parts of the country seem to be more content with their cities.

As 2015 starts another two years of improvement hopes, a New Year’s resolution for the city needs to focus on changing. If Pueblo wants to retain its current citizens, attract new ones and simply become better overall, it needs to take the potential Puebloans know 2015 has seriously.

A lot of people have made a home in Pueblo and their hopes could determine the future of the city. And, in the start of a new year, realizing the full potential of that future should start now.

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Push to legalize marijuana upends governor’s race in New Mexico

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jeff Apodaca on Thursday called for the expansion of New Mexico’s medical marijuana program and for legalization of recreational use, saying the poverty-stricken state is missing out on millions of dollars in tax revenues and jobs that could be spurred by the industry.

Apodaca released his plan solidifying his position as a supporter of legalization as the race for governor heats up.

Apodaca pointed to New Mexico’s history as the first state to allow for research and experimentation with marijuana as a therapeutic drug. It was his father, then-Gov. Jerry Apodaca, who signed that legislation in 1978.

The research program stalled and it wasn’t until 2008 that New Mexico rolled out its medical cannabis program.

“Why are we shooting for being the last to legalize cannabis for adult use?” Apodaca said.

The push for legalization comes as New Mexico’s medical marijuana program has grown exponentially in just the last two years. Producers licensed under the program reported record sales of more than $86 million in 2017 and the number of patients enrolled now tops 50,000.

“We know the medical benefits of it. And we also know the opportunities of legalization for adult use,” Apodaca said, suggesting expansion of the long-standing medical marijuana program along with legalization could result in an estimated $200 million of additional tax revenues for the state.

The state’s largest producer, Ultra Health, announced that it has acquired farmland in southern New Mexico and has plans for what the industry says could be the largest cultivation facility in North America.

The property spans nearly one-third of a square mile (81 hectares) in Otero County. It will include 20 acres (8 hectares) of indoor cultivation, 80 acres (32 hectares) of outdoor cannabis fields and another 100 acres (40 hectares) of outdoor hemp fields.

Ultra Health president and CEO Duke Rodriguez said the company is preparing for a future in which New Mexico stands to benefit from expanded medical use and possibly recreational use.

Apodaca’s plan calls for lifting the current limits on the number of plants producers can grow and reducing costly licensing fees.

Other Democratic candidates have been more cautious.

U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham said she would work with state lawmakers to ensure there are adequate health, safety and enforcement measures in place. She called for a “thorough analysis” of recreational pot programs in other states as part of that effort.

Lujan Grisham was in charge of the state Health Department when the medical marijuana program began. Aside from the legalization debate, she said supporting producers to create the latest medicines and methods to help patients would help create jobs and expand the industry.

State Sen. Joseph Cervantes, another Democratic candidate, has sponsored unsuccessful legislation to decriminalize possession of small quantities of pot but has said the state is lacking infrastructure and isn’t ready yet to legalize.

Cervantes recently lauded efforts at the local level by the state’s largest city — Albuquerque — to decriminalize possession of small amounts. He said he would do the same as governor and that it would mark a first step.

Republican congressman and gubernatorial candidate Steve Pearce expressed reservations about legalization at a forum earlier this month. He said it might create a stumbling block for people trying to climb out of poverty and addiction to other drugs.

“I just don’t see how it fits that we’re going to deal with addiction and yet we’re going to tell people, ‘This one is OK.’ I’ve watched it for a lifetime. I just am very nervous with recreational marijuana,” he said.

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‘For fun’ killing reveals vulnerability for homeless Native Americans in New Mexico

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The morning a homeless man was shot and killed in Albuquerque, police say surveillance videos showed him running down a street before sunrise, and then gunfire flash in the dark.

Native Americans make up only 4 percent of the population, but account for 44 percent of people living on the streets, raising the likelihood they will be victimized when there is an attack on the homeless.

Ronnie Ross, a 50-year-old from the Navajo Nation town of Shiprock, had been shot a dozen times, including once in the forehead and temple, and four times in the back, according to a criminal complaint. Police say the two teenage suspects charged with murder this week apparently shot him “for fun” as they came and went from a hotel party nearby.

The homicide marked the latest in a series of brazen killings and assaults of homeless Native Americans in the city. In Albuquerque, Native Americans make up only 4 percent of the population, but account for 44 percent of people living on the streets, raising the likelihood they will be victimized when there is an attack on the homeless.

A 2014 survey showed 75 percent of homeless Native Americans in Albuquerque had been physically assaulted.

“Just being harassed is part of everyday life, but it’s not as much harassment as it is overgrown bullying,” said Gordon Yawakia, who works at the Albuquerque Indian Center and was once homeless himself. “What do you do when people are against you and then the authorities are against you and you’ve got nobody, you know?”

In 2014, Allison Gorman and Kee Thompson, both Navajo, were beaten to death as they slept in a vacant lot. While authorities did not say the men were targeted because they were Native American, activists disagreed and the deaths spurred the creation of a city task force to address Native American homelessness that now-former Mayor Richard Berry said could set the stage for changes for the population across the Southwest.

Now, Ross’ death is underscoring how difficult it may be to protect and find solutions for the city’s Native American homeless population.

“When I hear a story like this it adds fuel to the fire,” said Dawn Begay, who is the city’s tribal liaison, and works with the homeless through a local nonprofit. “Where we’re headed is a good direction but it has to happen faster.”

Ross’ killing in March came three months after the body of Audra Willis was found decapitated in an area not far from the Sandia Mountains that line the city’s east side. The 39-year-old had come from To’hajiilee, a tiny Navajo community west of Albuquerque, and records show she had multiple addresses during her time in the city, including at the Albuquerque Indian Center.

Willis’ especially grisly death sent shockwaves through Albuquerque, just as the beatings of Thompson and Gorman had three years earlier.

The two men had been killed on a July 2014 night when authorities say three boys — ages 15, 16 and 18_returned home from a night of drinking and decided to attack them as they slept on a mattress. The men were beaten with a wooden table leg, cinder blocks, and other objects, police said. One young suspect later told authorities that the teens had beaten dozens of homeless people, though apparently none others fatally.

In Ross’ death, the complaint filed against the 15- and 17-year-old suspects does not identify a motive, but says the two teenagers bragged to friends about the shooting.

According to police, friends and acquaintances of the boys — whom The Associated Press is not naming because of their ages — said the suspects had been showing off a gun at the party, and had said to others that they had shot a man. At one point, the younger boy also said to a close friend at the party that he shot a “hobo” in the back.

The boys made one more stop at the scene to find Ross still alive, prompting the older boy to shoot him multiple times, according to the complaint.

“It’s completely disturbing,” said Officer Simon Drobik, an Albuquerque police spokesman, said Tuesday. “They just shot this guy for fun.”

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The Last Castro; Raul retires as Cuban president

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Raul Castro turned over Cuba’s presidency Thursday to a 57-year-old successor he said would hold power until 2031, a plan that would place the state the Castro brothers founded and ruled for 60 years in the hands of a Communist Party official little known to most on the island.

Castro’s 90-minute valedictory speech offered his first clear vision for the nation’s future power structure under new President Miguel Mario Diaz-Canel Bermudez. Castro said he foresees the white-haired electronics engineer serving two five-year terms as leader of the Cuban government, and taking the helm of the Communist Party, the country’s ultimate authority, when Castro leaves the powerful position in 2021.

“From that point on, I will be just another soldier defending this revolution,” Castro said. The 86-year-old general broke frequently from his prepared remarks to joke and banter with officials on the dais in the National Assembly, saying he looked forward to having more time to travel the country.

In his own half-hour speech to the nation, Diaz-Canel pledged to preserve Cuba’s communist system while gradually reforming the economy and making the government more responsive to the people.

“There’s no space here for a transition that ignores or destroys the legacy of so many years of struggle,” Diaz-Canel said. “For us, it’s totally clear that only the Communist Party of Cuba, the guiding force of society and the state, guarantees the unity of the nation of Cuba.”

Diaz-Canel said he would work to implement a long-term plan laid out by the National Assembly and communist party that would continue allowing the limited growth of private enterprises like restaurants and taxis, while leaving the economy’s most important sectors such as energy, mining, telecommunications, medical services and rum- and cigar-production in the hands of the state.

“The people have given this assembly the mandate to provide continuity to the Cuban Revolution during a crucial, historic moment that will be defined by all that we achieve in the advance of the modernization of our social and economic model,” Diaz-Canel said.

Cubans said they expected their new president to deliver improvements to the island’s economy, which remains stagnant and dominated by inefficient, unproductive state-run enterprises that are unable to provide salaries high enough to cover basic needs. The average monthly pay for state workers is roughly $30 a month, forcing many to steal from their workplaces and depend on remittances from relatives abroad.

“I hope that Diaz-Canel brings prosperity,” said Richard Perez, a souvenir salesman in Old Havana. “I want to see changes, above all economic changes allowing people to have their own businesses, without the state in charge of so many things.”

But in Miami, Cuban-Americans said they didn’t expect much from Diaz-Canel.

“It’s a cosmetic change,” said Wilfredo Allen, a 66-year-old lawyer who left Cuba two years after the Castros’ 1959 revolution. “The reality is that Raul Castro is still controlling the Communist Party. We are very far from having a democratic Cuba.”

After formally taking over from his older brother Fidel in 2008, Raul Castro launched a series of reforms that led to a rapid expansion of Cuba’s private sector and burgeoning use of cellphones and the internet. Cuba today has a vibrant real estate market and one of the world’s fastest-growing airports. Tourism numbers have more than doubled since Castro and President Barack Obama re-established diplomatic relations in 2015, making Cuba a destination for nearly 5 million visitors a year, despite a plunge in relations under the Trump administration.

Castro’s moves to open the economy even further have largely been frozen or reversed as soon as they began to generate conspicuous displays of wealth by the new entrepreneurial class in a country officially dedicated to equality among its citizens. Foreign investment remains anemic and the island’s infrastructure is falling deeper into disrepair. The election of President Donald Trump dashed dreams of detente with the U.S., and after two decades of getting Venezuelan subsidies totaling more than $6 billion a year, Cuba’s patron has collapsed economically, with no replacement in the wings.

Castro’s inability or unwillingness to fix Cuba’s structural problems with deep and wide-ranging reforms has many wondering how a successor without Castro’s founding-father credentials will manage the country over the next five or 10 years.

“I want the country to advance,” said Susel Calzado, a 61-year-old economics professor. “We already have a plan laid out.”

Most Cubans have known their new president as an uncharismatic figure who until recently maintained a public profile so low it was virtually nonexistent. Castro’s declaration Thursday that he saw Diaz-Canel in power for more than a decade was likely to resolve much of the uncertainty about the power the new president would wield inside the Cuban system.

“The same thing we’re doing with him, he’ll have to do with his successor,” Castro said. “When his 10 years of service as president of the Council of State and Council of Ministers are over, he’ll have three years as first secretary in order to facilitate the transition. This will help us avoid mistakes by his successor, until (Diaz-Canel) retires to take care of the grandchildren he will have then, if he doesn’t have them already, or his great-grandchildren.”

Cuban state media said Russian President Vladimir Putin congratulated Diaz-Canel and thanked Castro for the many years of cooperation between the two countries, while Chinese President Xi Jinping also reaffirmed his country’s friendship with Cuba and expressed interest in deeper ties.

At the U.S. State Department, spokeswoman Heather Nauert expressed disappointment at the handover, saying Cuban citizens “had no real power to affect the outcome” of what she called the “undemocratic transition” that brought Diaz-Canal to the presidency.

Vice President Mike Pence tweeted at Castro that the U.S. won’t rest until Cuba “has free & fair elections, political prisoners are released & the people of Cuba are finally free!”

Diaz-Canel said his government would be willing to talk with the United States but rejected all demands for changes in the Cuban system.

With Castro watching from the audience, Diaz-Canel made clear that for the moment he would defer to the man who founded the Cuban communist system along with his brother Fidel. He said he would retain Castro’s cabinet through at least July, when the National Assembly meets again.

“I confirm to this assembly that Raul Castro, as first secretary of the Communist Party, will lead the decisions about the future of the country,” Diaz-Canel said. “Cuba needs him, providing ideas and proposals for the revolutionary cause, orienting and alerting us about any error or deficiency, teaching us, and always ready to confront imperialism.”

Diaz-Canel first gained prominence in central Villa Clara province as the top Communist Party official, a post equivalent to governor. People there describe him as a hard-working, modest-living technocrat dedicated to improving public services. He became higher education minister in 2009 before moving into the vice presidency.

In a video of a Communist Party meeting that inexplicably leaked to the public last year, Diaz-Canel expressed a series of orthodox positions that included somberly pledging to shutter some independent media and labeling some European embassies as outposts of foreign subversion.

But he has also defended academics and bloggers who became targets of hard-liners, leading some to describe him a potential advocate for greater openness in a system intolerant of virtually any criticism or dissent. International observers and Cubans alike will be scrutinizing every move he makes in coming days and weeks.

As in Cuba’s legislative elections, all of the leaders selected Wednesday were picked by a government-appointed commission. Ballots offered only the option of approval or disapproval and candidates generally receive more than 95 percent of the votes in their favor. Diaz-Canel was approved by 604 votes in the 605-member assembly. It was unclear if he had abstained or someone else had declined to endorse him.

The assembly also approved another six vice presidents of the Council of State, Cuba’s highest government body. Only one, 85-year-old Ramiro Valdes, was among the revolutionaries who fought with the Castros in the late 1950s in the eastern Sierra Maestra mountains.

___

Associated Press writer Ben Fox contributed to this report.

 

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