It took an outsider.
That’s how Angel Montanez views it as he prepares to leave office after one term as Lovell’s first Hispanic mayor.
Montanez came into office in November of 2014 with a tight win against incumbent mayor Bruce Morrison 395 votes to 352. Montanez wasn’t able to get past the primary round in 2018, where he received just 60 votes in August after garnering 241 votes in 2014.
2014 was a change election, as Montanez sees it, and even those he would consider as part of the Lovell establishment came over to his side, recognizing that Lovell needed a new presence at the helm.
“I know there’s a lot of citizens out there that saw the changes that needed to be made. Some of them, I would have looked at them as a good old boy, but they didn’t like the way things were going,” Montanez said. “As for myself, just being raised here, growing up in this area, I would have never thought I would have got elected. I think the reason I was elected was because of the things that needed to be changed.”
Montanez doesn’t see himself as any kind of politician. He’s not the kind of person who “wants the public to know who you are,” he said. He’s not a “suit and tie type guy” but a “hold the door open for you” guy.
But even he wasn’t the typical candidate for mayor. He ran on the conviction that the Lovell town government was too often unaccountable and inefficient.
“We had areas that had gone straight away from the town as far as your checks and balances, straight away as pretty much not having to answer to anyone but themselves,” Montanez said.
First and foremost, Montanez said, the epitome of this, in his view, was the Lovell Police Department.
“There’s a lot of stuff going on behind closed doors the public is unaware of. I think the community needs to be well aware of what their government is doing, what’s going on. There was a lot of ‘if the public isn’t looking, it’s not going on’ type of stuff.”
One of Montanez’s most controversial and defining acts was one of his first, as he promptly moved to remove Nick Lewis as the chief of the Lovell Police Department, though he temporarily kept Lewis in the position while a search for a successor progressed.
He eventually appointed Jason Beal to the position, but Beal resigned July 13, 2017, and was replaced by Dan Laffin.
At the end of the process, Montanez said that he believes the police department now is both professional and accountable to the public.
“Everything is done by the books. There is no ‘I know his parents’ or ‘their parents’ type of stuff,” Montanez said. “Dan comes from out of town, so you don’t have any of this good old boy stuff. It’s turned out to be what it is. A lot of people don’t like change. I was the necessary person who had the backbone to do what needed to be done to clear a lot of stuff.”
During his time in office, Montanez also moved to return a full-time town administrator to Lovell. Jed Nebel was appointed to the position in July of 2015 and started work in August.
Montanez said he made the decision to add a town administrator out of one principle.
“That was the best thing. Someone told me once that in order for yourself to look good, surround yourself with people who make you look good,” Montanez said. “That’s what I tried to do.”
Nebel was another key component to increasing accountability within the town, with the position ensuring that every department was looked after and had someone to report to.
“If you’re just a mayor coming in and trying to run both administration and be mayor, there’s no way you can do it unless you’re one hundred percent doing it, every day, all day,” Montanez said.
Nebel also has been crucial to the town in other ways, Montanez said, with Nebel being able to research and apply for grants and other funding opportunities on the town’s behalf.
“When you’re looking for grants or moneys for different projects, that person has that time to spend, saying we can get the money there or no we can’t,” Montanez said.
Together, Nebel and Montanez have been able to review the town’s ordinances together, and have been amending loopholes and shortcomings buried within them.
The town has taken special care to make Lovell’s ordinances on junk and trash both more stringent and simpler, to give the city more ability to enforce them.
“We pretty much streamlined them so that we can hand out one notice per season, so we don’t have to give a 14-day notice every time we run into the same issue,” Nebel said. “Did that a lot with the personnel policy as well, looking for loopholes and how people got around certain things in the past.”
Other ordinances were just very outdated.
“We just got rid of a health safety ordinance that was put in in 1922,” Nebel said. “It detailed what vaccines to give your dog and how deep to bury it.”
It was work that should have been done a long time ago, Montanez said.
“We did that with a bunch of ordinances that were just hanging in there, for no other reason except someone didn’t want to go through and clear them up,” Montanez said.
There were a fair number of other accomplishments for Montanez.
Montanez said he re-organized the public works department, which resulted in giving the parks a cleaner, more well-maintained look.
“We utilized our budget more efficiently. The time that was spent in the parks was a little more well managed,” Montanez said. “It wasn’t just go through, cut the grass and go to the next one. We split the crews up as far as the mowing and cleaning. It was just changing the way things were done, making it more efficient.”
Montanez said he also has managed to save the town $14,000 a year by more strictly enforcing Lovell’s standards for gifts and donations.
“We had a lot of organizations that would come to the town for money and the town can’t give any money out except for town advertising and area promotion,” Montanez said. “The Kane Museum, the Lovell Library, you can go through the list on the town’s website, and you can see what shouldn’t have been.”
What Montanez is most proud of is being elected the first Hispanic mayor of Lovell. He represents a community that has long been a part of Lovell but has not always been noticed.
“We’re part of the community. When we did the hundred year Western Sugar factory (celebration), I did not once hear how the Hispanic labor was a part of that. I didn’t hear that at all,” Montanez said. “That was part of the workforce they brought from Texas up here to do the work, and they lived in a colony behind the plant, and they became a part of the community.”
At the end of his term, Montanez doesn’t regret not having the opportunity to have another term.
“The way I ran everything, everything was done fair and equal. Everyone had an equal chance of getting a position. There was never anything underhanded or sneaky,” Montanez said. “I brought everything back under the town umbrella, added checks and balances…I feel I left my mark.”
By Ryan Fitzmaurice