Mayor, city council have nearly 40 years in combined elected city government service
Written by Mike Cook
From Mayor Ken Miyagishima’s 2018 state of the city address (March 28, 2018):
“Even as we strive for excellence in customer service, I know that the people of this community are much more than passive consumers. We are the owners, custodians, and guiding force of this complex human endeavor called the City of Las Cruces. We are the ones charged with creating this reality we inhabit, and ultimately responsible for what it becomes.”
Mayor Ken Miyagishima was born in Biloxi, Mississippi. He and his family moved to Las Cruces in 1971. Ken attended Conley Elementary School and Lynn Junior High and graduated from Las Cruces High School. He earned degrees in finance and real estate from New Mexico State University and opened his own insurance agency, Farmers Insurance. He is also a district manager for Farmers.
After a narrow loss for state representative in 1990, Ken won his first term on the Dona Ana County Commission in 1992 at age 29, becoming the state’s first American of Japanese descent to be elected to public office. He was re-elected four years later. Ken was elected to represent district six on the Las Cruces City Council in 2001, and made his first bid for mayor in 2003, losing to incumbent Bill Mattiace. He was re-elected to the council without opposition in 2005 and defeated Mattiace in a mayoral rematch in 2007. Ken was re-elected mayor with more than 50 percent of the vote in 2011 and 2015. He has been mayor of Las Cruces for almost 11 years, second only in years of elected service as mayor to Ruben Smith.
Ken and his wife, Rosie, have four children.
Mayor Pro Tem Gill Sorg was elected to city council in 2009, representing district five, and re-elected in 2013 and 2017. The council chose Gill as mayor pro-tem in November 2017. He serves on the Metropolitan Planning Organization and the city’s Utilities Board, Infrastructure/Capital Improvement Plan, Economic Development and Transportation policy review committees, International Boundary and Water Commission, New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, and Friends of Organ Mountains- Desert Peaks.
“Having a safe, people-friendly city with better life for all,” is important Gill says, with “better meaning a higher standard of living; a city where neighborhoods are engaged with each other at neighborhood parks or other public places; a city designed first for life, then for spaces, then for buildings.”
A native of Hastings, Minnesota, Gill received a bachelor’s degree in biology from Winona State University and a master’s in biology from the University of North Dakota. He served two years with the Peace Corps, teaching in Ghana. He later worked on his family’s ranch in Montana, was a pesticide specialist for the Montana Department of Agriculture, and a member of the McCone County (Montana) school board.
Gill, his wife, Christine, and two children moved to Las Cruces in 1988. In 2008, he became a staff scientist for Zia Engineering and Environmental Consultants.
Councilor Kasandra Gandara represents district one on the city council. She was elected in a close, three-way race in November 2015 and is serving her first term. Kasandra is a native of Silver City, New Mexico. She received a bachelor’s degree in social work from NMSU and began her employment as a social worker in 1989. She worked for more than 27 years with the state departments of Health and Children, Youth and Families before retiring in 2016. During her employment, Kasandra earned a graduate degree in social work from NMSU. She is a member of the city Health, Housing and Quality of Life/Education policy review committees, the Ad Hoc Committee on Historic Preservation, the Animal Care Task Force, and the board of directors of the Animal Services Center of the Mesilla Valley.
Kasandra says she sees her role on city council as that of public servant. “I care about the quality of life of all people,” she says. “Not some, but all. I try to bring a different perspective to the table, always keeping children and families at the center.” Her focus also has been on the impoverished and “people who don’t have voices.”
Kasandra has two children.
Greg Smith was elected to represent district two on the council in 2011 and re-elected in 2015. Smith is a member of the Animal Services Center of the Mesilla Valley board, Mesilla Valley Regional Dispatch Authority board, South Central Council of Governments, NMSU Campus Planning Committee, NMSU Town & Gown Commission, Historic Preservation Ad Hoc Committee, New Mexico Municipal League budget and resolutions committees, White Sands Missile Range Civilian/Military Committee, and chairs the city Infrastructure/Capital Improvements Plan and Transportation policy review committees.
An El Paso native, Greg has a bachelor’s degree in environmental design from Texas A&M and a masters in curriculum and instruction from UT Austin. He was an elementary-school teacher for 20 years before moving to Las Cruces in 1972.
Greg says his role as councilor “is to be visionary about what we will be. Las Cruces, if we are successful in our efforts on the council, will stand on its own, not to be confused with anywhere else. I see my role on the council as, yes, somewhat architectural, but also as interactive with our humanity.”
Greg and his wife, Allison, don’t have any children. “but I’ve got about two decades worth of former students, some of whom still keep up with me,” he says.
Jack Eakman was elected to represent district four on the council in 2015. He is a member of the city’s Metropolitan Planning Organization policy committee, the Animal Services Center of the Mesilla Valley board, and the city’s policy review committees on finance, economic development, communications, and health.
Jack is president of Dimension 3 Associates, a professional business management consulting practice in Las Cruces. He was an administrator with St. Alexius Medical Center in Bismarck, North Dakota from 1969 to 1998, dealing with operations, strategic planning, process improvement, governance relationships, and rural development.
Jack is “a proud graduate” of the University of Mary in Bismarck, North Dakota, with a bachelor of arts degree in business administration, where he was the first recipient of the outstanding alumnus award. “The Benedictines took in a preacher’s kid working at their hospital, St. Alexius Medical Center,” he says. “I ended up with a minor in theology.”
He also has a master of public administration from the University of North Dakota; has engaged in post-graduate study at Duke University, Durham, North Carolina; and is a certified facilitator, trained through the Ernst and Young Corporate Education Institute.
Jack and his wife, Delilah, have three sons.
Gabe Vasquez was elected to represent district three in November 2017. He was endorsed by and succeeded the late Olga Pedroza. Gabe is a member of the city’s Mesilla Valley Metropolitan Planning Organization policy committee and Utilities Board, South Central Solid Waste Authority. and Friends of the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks, along with the city’s communications, housing, infrastructure/capital improvement plan, and quality of life/education policy review committees.
A native of El Paso, Gabe is a first-generation American with family ties in Juarez. He moved to Las Cruces in 2002 and has a BA in English from NMSU. He is director of community relations for the New Mexico Wildlife Federation and founder of the Nuestra Tierra Conservation Project.
Gabe says his role on city council “is to bring investment and revitalization to District 3, while being a good steward of taxpayer money and keeping our community a safe and high-quality place to live and work. My main priority is to lift up the neighborhoods in my district through infrastructure redevelopment and as a conduit to job creation. My main goal is to innovate, to buck the status quo, and to think differently about how we tackle poverty and deliver our residents a better quality of life.”
Yvonne Flores was elected to represent district six on the city council in 2017. She is a native of El Paso who lived part of her childhood with her grandparents in Juarez. She later moved with her family to Los Angeles. Yvonne earned a BA degree in Spanish literature at California State University-Sacramento and a Juris Doctor from the University of California, Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco. She bought a Las Cruces home in 2005 and has been a permanent resident since 2012.
Yvonne is a member of the city Airport Advisory Board and Mesilla Valley Regional Dispatch authority and serves on the city economic development, finance, health, housing and public safety policy advisory committees. She is a member of the Mexican-American Bar Association and the Latina Lawyers Bar Association.
Serving on city council is “everything I expected,” Yvonne says. The job is 24/7 and being prepared is vital. Walking in her district, she says she gets positive feedback from constituents. “Everything’s going well,” she notes after six months in office. “I love it.”
Being a councilor is about “all the things that are good for people,” Yvonne adds, including everything from the Organ Mountains to Film Las Cruces.
She has two sons.