Española City Clerk Melissa Velasquez has resigned from her position after a career of almost six years with the city and will be pursuing further studies in museum policy. Mayor Javier Sanchez announced her resignation during the Nov. 10 City Council meeting.
“I feel as though I am losing not only a confidant, but my strength and my voice,” he said. “Melissa has brought not only great work ethic and acumen to the city, but a sense of belonging for her and for me.”
After graduating from University of New Mexico, Velasquez returned to the Española Valley and began working for the city in January 2015 as a temporary library clerk.
“Initially when I graduated from UNM, my intention was to move out of state then and do grad school,” she said.
She studied art history with a concentration in museum education, arts management and intercultural communication, so she has a deep passion for curation and for creating museum programming.
“But I had a change of heart and decided that I’d come home, sort of assess what the state of the community was like,” she said. “I was at the library for about a year and a half and I very much enjoyed the library. It was quiet and provided a space for learning and, you know, contemplating the very questions about existence and life and what we all face on the daily, I guess.”
She said she enjoyed meeting with community members and helping them use the computers, which for some folks was their first opportunity to get acquainted with the technology. The aspect of service was important to her and she felt the need to give back, after her family and the community had fundraised thousands of dollars to help send her to study abroad in college.
“It’s only fair that I go back and give back a little bit of what I’ve learned and how I might be able to use any of that,” she said. “I wasn’t exactly sure what that looked like. I just knew that I was pretty passionate about giving that a try before I really go and live out of the state or even maybe out of the country.
“I also thought, you know, the norm, for my generation, is that not everybody comes back to Española and it’s sort of heartbreaking because there’s so much talent here that does leave the community,” she said. “But I felt like, I was fresh out of college. I was still young enough that I had a ton of energy that I just thought, maybe that’s best used at home first and to see if it might actually change my career path.”
She was also a volunteer at the Bond House and was active on the board of the San Gabriel Historical Society as treasurer, so she remained active in the museum field.
Almost a year and a half into the temporary position at the library, she was promoted to the position of records clerk in the City Clerk’s office on May 16, 2016, where she was responsible for maintaining and archiving legal documents in accordance with state laws.
Her ethic of service, genuine care for the community and grounded focus distinguished her as a city employee and she quickly moved up the ranks, first to deputy city clerk, then interim City Clerk before she was unanimously confirmed as City Clerk by the City Council on Sept. 11, 2018.
“I think, you know, being grounded goes a long way, especially for me personally, from, being at the library to all of a sudden being city clerk,” Velasquez said. “I come from a family that has such humility. My grandma’s philosophy is that it’s more about the intention that you have and what you do with it rather than how people perceive you and allowing that to, hinder what your intention is.” Her family roots were important in forming lasting relationships with the people in City Hall.
“My earliest conversations with Mayor were—because, you know, we were pretty much strangers to each other—I would just sort of tell him like some of these, like, dichos or things that my grandma would share with me. And a lot of them are very poetic and he, he enjoyed that.”
While City Clerk, Velasquez has learned how to navigate dense legalese and keep very detailed records of official city business. She points to some important achievements she’s made in increasing records transparency and online access.
“I really want to continue to be helpful and carry what I can in the city, as far as providing more online services, because that’s something I’ve tried to achieve, is to work on the end of the transparency for public records and providing online services for the community,” she said. “But we need to figure out how we’re going to educate the community first, as far as being computer literate and actually providing internet and, you know, all this infrastructure.”
She made important steps towards creating a digital inventory of old records and implementing a transparent online records management system, along with streamlining the process for making Inspection of Public Records Act requests and requesting official manuals from department heads about how their departments function.
Some of Velasquez’s other take-aways from the job aren’t as tangible.
“One of the things like you have to learn quickly regardless of how good the intention is that it’s almost impossible to please everyone,” she said. “But at the very least, it’s most important to be very considerate and honest and genuine and loyal to the community.”
That service work is what she’s sad to step away from.
“Because I feel like we need, we can use all of that as much as we can and hopefully turn the overall mentality of what it is here in the Valley, because there’s just, you know, the negative connotations that don’t really serve any true purpose.
“I wish I could continue to just show that there’s so much potential here and until everybody sees it in themselves, then I think things will really change for them,” she said. “But for now, there’s many, many who are actually making these efforts daily to do the best we can for everybody. And it’s not always easy to see.”
Velasquez said she will study at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. It’s one of the only schools that offers a dual degree program in law and museum policy. She’s continuing her passion for curation while specializing in the legal obstacles that museums and artists face when trying to do their work.
“You know, some local artists don’t necessarily trust in the process when it comes to vending their work to non-locals,” she said. “I felt with museum policy, I know that there’s times where, you know, artists have donated their work, or did it feel like they were fairly compensated? I felt like I could focus more in that direction, with sort of making sure that the artist is taken care of and even in how a museum curates its collections, does collections management, and that it’s done ethically.
Her deep roots in the Valley ensure she’ll be back someday. She said her family is already anxious for her to return.
“I can’t be too comfortable,” Velasquez said. “When things get comfortable, then things get stagnant, and they don’t evolve so much.”