Martinez seeks county unity
Fred Martinez, of Menan, believes that it will be a challenge to help heal a fractured county.
“The most important part to me, is bringing that unity back to the community, and healing the divisions between us,” he said in an interview.
When he is sworn in as the newest member of the Jefferson County Board of Commissioners Jan. 9, Martinez explained he would get to work in helping the county move past the turbulent four years. He also said he would like to encourage more Latino participation in the community and government.
As far as we know, Martinez is the first Latino Jefferson County commissioner. Though he is not defined by his race, he explained that he has been very involved in the community and believes that the youth needs inspiration.
“I’ve been very invested in the Latino community for many years. I understand what their needs are,” he said. “One thing that we need to start doing is reaching out to the youth in that community for the opportunities that they can take.”
He said that many young Latinos feel like there’s nowhere to turn.
“A lot of them feel like they’re trapped in a certain spot because of the culture, or legal matters,” he said. “We can help this generation coming up to take advantage of opportunities. There’s so many people out there that are willing to give a helping hand.”
According to the 2010 U.S. census, people of Hispanic or Latino descent make up around 10 percent of the county. However areas, like the City of Roberts have a higher Latino population. Roberts is 52.4 percent Hispanic or Latino.
Martinez said that he has spoken to the Latino community and has gotten some ideas of things to try and encourage them to bring their thoughts to their local government.
“I hope that I can make that kind of difference,” he said.
Another fault-line of division in the county is the controversy surrounding allegations of misuse of funds, and the 2015 felony conviction of Sheriff Blair Olsen for misusing funds in issuing a county-paid cell phone to his wife.
“It’s been a tough past three or four years with everything that’s gone on with the sheriff and the prosecuting attorney, and the lawsuits, and I’m glad that we’re pretty much over the hump on those issues,” he said.
Still, emotions are still raw with some.
“That’s going to take some time to mend. So, I really hope, going into this, we can mend a lot of those relationships,” he said.
Martinez believes that some of the blame for the controversy rests with the county commissioners.
He explained that he believes the commissioners should be more involved in questioning expenditures, and that closely watching spending is in the best interest for the county.
“They call it ‘micromanaging,’ but I see it as just taking care of the responsibilities of the commissioners, to make sure departments are running in the most efficient way,” he said.
In preparing for the office, Martinez has attended training and has been present at almost every county commissioner’s meeting since he won the May primary.
He said that he looks forward to working with Commissioners Scott Hancock and Brian Farnsworth in order to fulfill the commissioners’ responsibilities.
The big issue he is watching closely is the construction of a new annex office building on courthouse grounds.
“We’re going to make sure that the annex takes care of the county’s needs for the next 20 years-plus,” he said.
As a manager of a construction company, Martinez believes he can help ensure the quality of the work.
“Having my own business helped me learn how to stay in budget and have an excellent product that, at the end, the customer is happy with. And the customer, in this case, are the people of the county,” he said.
When he takes office in Jan. 9, Martinez said he would remain open to new ideas, while the board of commissioners remains transparent.
He wants Jefferson County officials to become something more than managers of local government.
“The youth are growing up and watching the local leaders. So we need to make a good impression for the future leaders of our county,” he said.