AZTEC — Joe Hubbard has a lot of gripes over management of the city he's called home for most his life, but he says it's only because he loves it through and through.

Hubbard, 51, is challenging incumbent Mayor Sally Burbridge for the contested District 2 commission seat. It's a move Hubbard said he has mulled over for some time. A reluctant candidate, Hubbard sees the focus of his candidacy as raising awareness of issues.

"I love this city," he said. "But there's a lot of bad traditions in Aztec that need to change."

Hubbard believes those traditions include troubling safety issues, infrastructure needs and a lack of transparency at City Hall.

"Aztec's never come clean on repeated violations of safety, never undertaken what ought to be proactive maintenance of city infrastructure," he said. "There are so many ways the city could really do things that wouldn't take much time and would save money over time, to help the citizens here. A million dollars for a walking bridge could be money better spent. Aztec's just never come clean — we need transparency."

Hubbard has worked for the city of Aztec in multiple departments and, for the last two years, he has been as a water plant operator at the Bloomfield Water Treatment Plant. He said that experience has shown him ways to make a difference in residents' lives. From aged fire hydrants dating back to the 1950s to improper road paving that causes home flooding, Hubbard said he has expertise in city maintenance and safety that would spell relief for citizens if he were elected to city commission next month.

Although he was born in Gilroy, Calif., Hubbard visited relatives the summer before 12th grade and pleaded with his father to let him stay and finish high school in Aztec. He said he immediately took to the open space, the hiking and camping, and the high desert's climate and dry air, which he said helped him with his asthma.

"He said, 'Dad, I'd like to stay here,'" said Joe Hubbard's 85-year-old father, Jack, in the kitchen of the Hubbard home on Ute Avenue, which has been in the family for generations. "And — lo and behold — he was the only boy in his class that made straight A's."

Joe Hubbard went on to San Juan College and majored in math, thinking he'd become an engineer. He transferred to state technical college and studied biology, changing his major to science. He later attended New Mexico State University in Las Cruces and earned a bachelor's degree in history, with a minor in biology. Later, he earned a second bachelor's degree in business administration. He also enlisted in the U.S. Navy and spent four years as a machinist's mate on two far east peacetime tours in the early 1980s.

"The Navy's how I got my start working in city plants," he said.

For a time, Joe Hubbard even taught middle school chemistry, reading, social studies and cooking at Dzilth-Na-O-Dith-Hle Community Grant School in Bloomfield.

"We did a stir fry every week, and the kids just loved it," he said. "Cajun food, the spicy stuff. I have a talent for that. My wife's the baker. She makes this heavenly bread and I gobble it up."

In December, he earned an associate degree in occupational safety, knowledge he wishes all city employees were paid to pursue.

"Going to school is just my worst addiction," he joked.

But it wasn't when he was growing up in California. He spent a lot of time on a surfboard in the ocean instead of in class.

"I can be irresponsible, and I was a brat, like many teenaged boys, and a surfer dude," he recalled. "We'd check the surf report early in the morning, and, if the waves were above six feet, I'd call the school and say in a low voice, 'This is Mr. Hubbard. Joe will not be in today.'"

Though his days surfing the pounding waves in Santa Cruz are long behind him, Joe Hubbard feels like a native Aztecian. The Hubbards came to San Juan County in 1878. Joe Hubbard's great-great grandparents were married at the old City Hall in Aztec in 1890.

"Aztec's still a good place to live, with really good people," Joe Hubbard said. "It's our local government that needs improvement."

James Fenton covers Aztec and Bloomfield for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4631 and Follow him @fentondt on Twitter.