VanVeen challenges Smith for seat
By Brook Stockberger
Las Cruces Bulletin
Las Cruces City Councillor and Mayor Pro-Tem Greg Smith admits some supporters encouraged him to run for mayor in the upcoming Las Cruces municipal election.
Smith, though, wants to return as the representative for District 2. He faces a re-election campaign against Las Cruces businessman Philip VanVeen.
District 2 encompasses an area north of New Mexico State University to Missouri Avenue and also some of the city boundaries surrounding NMSU. To read more about the district and to access an interactive map of council districts, go to www.las-cruces.org/departments/ city-council/district-2.
PHILIP VANVEEN Smith
Smith was elected to the Las Cruces City Council in 2011. Born in El Paso, he lived in a variety of locations growing up, but came to Las Cruces – where his parents and grandparents settled – ten years ago.
After earning a bachelor’s degree at Texas A& M in environmental design and a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction at the University of Texas, Smith, 61, spent two decades as an elementary school teacher in Austin, Texas. He then moved to southern New Mexico and opened his own residential design business in Las Cruces.
“I became involved in Downtown revitalization and the centennial parade,” Smith said.
He served on boards with the Animal Service Center of the Mesilla Valley, West Mesa Strategic Planning committee, the University Avenue Corridor Advisory Committee and others.
Smith said he understands two constant issues always on the brains of the denizens of Las Cruces are roads and weeds. Still he also knows the job situation ranks right up there.
“A lot has to do with jobs and the future,” he said. “You hear about students who got their degrees here but had to move away.”
He said ideas such as building spec warehouse space and building a sound stage for movie and television production have merit.
“We want to help people; we want to start something here,” he said. “All of that is part of the larger picture.”
Smith said work must continue to build the kind of work force companies and businesses are looking for. He pointed to the two early-college high schools as successes in the area.
“I love the way that’s working out,” he said. “It’s a model that is certainly working.”
Smith said, though, there is residual anger in the community after a very divisive debate on raising the minimum wage and a subsequent recall effort against a few other members of the council.
He said he is not sure the minimum wage is a subject a municipality should undertake. If it does so, it should be something “appropriate for Las Cruces.”
The wage increased to $8.40 an hour in January, 2015.
For nearly 30 years, Van-Veen has been involved in the security business in New Mexico. He is president of Eagle Security, LLC and owner of Umbrella Mesh Network, two thriving New Mexico businesses.
VanVeen, 50, is also the president of the Las Cruces Host Lion’s Club and serves on the advisory board for the Doña Ana Community College Electronics and Aerospace Program, as well as the board of directors for the Southern New Mexico Diabetes Outreach.
He said he studied business management at Eastern New Mexico University but started in business and did not earn a degree.
“I have been in business management since the mid-’80s and have been a business owner since 1989,” VanVeen said.
He said one of the main reasons he seeks a seat on the city council is to help Las Cruces become more business friendly. His campaign slogan is: “Cut the Red Tape.”
“We live in a truly great city,” he said. “And I want to see it grow. My approach is simple: Cut the red tape. We need to get rid of unnecessary regulations and bureaucracy that hurt our growth.
“I will listen to all sides and use my experience as a businessman and community leader to come to common- sense, pro-growth decisions on our city council,” he said.
VanVeen said it is “very difficult” to get a business up and running in Las Cruces. He said he knows of small businesses that have taken two years to open, in part because of all the necessary channels needed to open.
“The first five years are so critical (to a business) and if you spend two years getting open (that puts you behind),” he said.
VanVeen said he has to apply for permits a lot as a businessman.
“The people in the community development department are very helpful and work hard,” he said. “But anything that involves constructing something (can) become a major issue.”
Brook Stockberger may be reached at 680-1977 or brook@lascrucesbulletin.