Arguably the best Village Clerk Corrales has had during its 50 years as a municipality, Aaron Gjullin resigned effective October 15 to finish up a doctorate in biology and start medical school. In an interview for Corrales Comment, the life-long village resident said the essential skill for the job is an ability to juggle 20 balls at the same time. “Basically, you just have to stay organized.”
Starting with a summer job at the Corrales Recreation Center when he was 15, Gjullin has worked for Village government here ever since, except for his time at the University of Portland .
Initially he had planned on becoming an engineer, “following in my parents’ footsteps but it turned out I really didn’t like that, so I bounced into biology which was always my forte in school. But I really enjoyed math so I took a lot of that. It turned out I was only two courses away from a math major so I did that as well.
“I finished my mathematics degree at the University of Portland in 2015, and when I moved back to New Mexico, I finished my biology degree through UNM in 2018.”
After graduating in Portland, Gjullin was a bit burnt out so he found a job working for a farmer one summer. “I wanted something really easy where I didn’t have to think a great deal. Basically I sat on a tractor planting potatoes all summer. But it didn’t take long — much like here —before he said, ‘Oh, you’re pretty smart and capable,’ so he gave me more and more things to do and I wound up as general manager by the time I left.”
He moved back to New Mexico in 2018 and went to work in the Parks and Recreation Department, assisting Lynn Siverts while helping in the Village Office on the website and other tasks.
He expects to take the exam for medical school by April, and then resume working on a doctorate in biology as well.
When he was asked to apply for the Village Clerk position, he was basically ignorant about what the job entailed. In retrospect, he thinks that may have been an advantage —for himself and for the community. “I was really going in blind, so to speak. I spent the first few months learning how to do the job correctly, instead of how we had always done it in the past.
“That set me up well. It made it real easy for me to be compliant with what the laws and procedures required.”
Asked what he considered his strengths to have been in the office, he said it was responsiveness to villagers’ inquiries. “I’ve tried really, really hard to be responsive, even if it just meant shooting of a quick note. Just being responsive was a big improvement.”
A weakness in Village government, he said, was updating the Code of Ordinances, personnel procedures and revisions to the Corrales Comprehensive Plan. He regretted he had not gotten to overhauling the Village’s business registration system. “We could make it so much simpler and streamlined.”
It doesn’t make sense to have an artist painting in her garage go through the same cumbersome process as someone opening a restaurant, he suggested. “If I’m an artist and I’m painting in my garage, do I really need a home occupation permit for something like that? My answer is no, I think that’s really silly. But the Village Code says yes. I think we, as a Village, can address things like that better. We can use a little bit of common sense to help drive policy.
“It’s funny, but I wish that government had a common sense clause.
Asked what he sees as Corrales’ biggest challenges in the years ahead, Gjullin responded “Corrales has an identity crisis, at the end of the day. We, as a village, don’t have a clear vision for what we would like to be or what we would like to continue to be.
“And I think we’re seeing it with things like we really want to preserve farmland and yet it’s really hard to do so. There’s not a whole lot of it left. The reality is that we’re not an agricultural community any more. We have moved completely into becoming a bedroom community. So what are the ramifications of that?
An aspect of the identity problem is that Village governments must make decisions that will be regarded as positive for some people and negative for others. “Sometimes you just have to make a choice and there’s no way to satisfy both of them. Or you make no choice and that has ramifications also.”
But it leads to misconceptions about Village government… almost like a conspiracy theory that the government is only making decisions to benefit a specific group of people. Well, you know, I haven’t seen that. But I can see how some people would make that leap, in a sense, because there are issues that the Village has to make a decision on, and it may not make everyone happy.
“But that’s not to make light of anyone’s problem. The Village will continue to struggle with that.”
Corrales Comment pointed out that one of the primary ways that communities come to grips with determining what they want to be, and to resolve crises of identity, is by generating a comprehensive plan. Corrales has one that is well past its time for update or revision.
Yet neither the mayor, council nor Planning and Zoning Commission have begun the process to revise the 2009 plan. Gjullin said he can explain why nothing has happened: “A comprehensive plan is something that you want to have maximum public input for. So without it being a cop-out, the COVID-19 pandemic has made that nearly impossible. You want to have tons of meetings, asking what do we want to do and how do we want to approach it.” Another reason for the delay is that Village officials had been waiting for the new census data.
“It seems completely silly to use 2010 census data for a 2020 comprehensive plan, especially when the new data was coming out just around the corner.”
Waiting for the 2020 census data was all the more important because Village officials were anticipating that Corrales’ population would be reported as greater than 10,000. “Getting over that 10,000 mark is a huge step for the village and quite a scary one” in terms of requirements and obligations in state law. “Now, as it turns out, we’re not there yet.”
Asked what advice he would give villagers wanting to improve municipal government, Gjullin easily responded “You can be a participant in decisions that affect you. Don’t stay silent because you think someone else will speak up. It’s not good if your elected officials hear only one side of an issue.”