~ by Rick Langenberg ~
It’s now official after months of speculation and even some concerns over the future of small-town law enforcement in the Ute Pass.
The town of Green Mountain Falls has hired a marshal, ending a nearly year-long pursuit for a head lawman. However, the new marshal won’t assume his official duties until March 20.
According to an announcement by Interim Town Manager/Clerk John Pick early last week, the town has selected Virgil Lynden Hodges as the new GMF Marshal. Hodges is currently a lieutenant with the New Mexico State University Police Department, where he has been employed for the past nine years. Previously, Hodges worked for the city of Las Cruces, New Mexico Police Department, from which he retired in 2007 after a 21-year career. Before that, Hodges worked for his home-town police department in Dexter, New Mexico for six years and served with the military police in the U.S. Army.
Hodges is being hired at a salary of $40,000 per year, in accordance with the town budget. He also will also receive a relocation allowance of $2,500. At his request, the town has agreed to allow him to remain on his current health insurance through the New Mexico retirement system with the town paying the new marshal what it would have had to incur in expenses for employee health insurance.
According to the 2017 budget, GMF allotted close to $80,000 for salary and office expenses. The new marshal may try to recruit reserve officers to staff the agency. However, under the current direction of the trustees, the town wants to instill the image of a marshal’s office, and not that of a police department.
“I am honored and a little humbled that the Town of Green Mountain Falls is willing to take a chance on a small-town boy who grew up and dedicated himself to service of communities both small and large,” said Hodges, according to a official statement. “I have never forgotten where I came from and hope to earn the trust of the community and the residents both year- round and seasonal. I will assure you of an impartial, fair and honest effort to enforce the laws and ordinances of the state and community in a manner that is consistent with small town values and understanding that I grew up with.”
“We are very pleased to welcome Mr. Hodges to the town as our new marshal,” said Mayor Jane Newberry last week. “We were extremely impressed with Mr. Hodges’ background and qualifications as well as by his personality and his approach to law enforcement. We believe that he will be a good fit with our community and that he will bring a very professional approach to his job. We look forward to working with him.”
The announcement of a new marshal hiring isn’t too surprising, as the board of trustees met behind closed doors recently and agreed to make an offer to the finalist for the position. Newberry stated that all testing requirements had been completed, and the only unanswered questions hinged on whether the finalist would accept the town’s offer, and when he could start.
The town had previously narrowed the field down to two, consisting of Hodges and another Colorado candidate. They both appeared at a meet and greet informal gathering with local residents and partook in executive session interviews on Jan. 31.
GMF hasn’t had a marshal or any regular local law enforcement presence since April 2016, when former Marshal Tim Bradley quit, along with the entire reserve crew.
According to long-time residents, this is the longest period GMF has gone without having a marshal in recent years. In the last year, the town has relied on the help of the El Paso and Teller County sheriff departments. But according to reports, the town hasn’t experienced nearly as much of a regular law enforcement presence, a fact that has made some business operators and residents nervous. Plus, sheriff deputies couldn’t enforce any code violations in GMF.
The town commanded national media attention last spring and summer due to its cop-less plight. The town appeared poised to hire a marshal late last summer, but the North Carolina-based finalist for the job couldn’t complete the testing requirements and leaders were forced to start the hiring process from scratch again.
As a result, the recent hiring of a marshal in GMF is being welcomed with open arms by local leaders and residents.