Sila Avcil - Executive Director

Sila was born in Iowa and raised between the United States and Turkey throughout her life. She attended high school in Turkey and moved to New Mexico to pursue her college education. Sila is an alumnus of the University of New Mexico (UNM) with her Master’s in Political Science with a focus on International Relations and Comparative Politics. She completed her BA at UNM as well, where she double majored in International Studies concentrating in Conflict, Peace, and Diplomacy, and Foreign Languages concentrating in French and German. She is a first-generation dual citizen, Turkish-American. She speaks French, German, and Turkish. She has nearly seven years of volunteer experience in the community, specifically with international students at UNM through the Center for English Language and American Culture and ISI ABQ.


Bob Perls - Founder, President


Bob moved to New Mexico when he was five years old and raised a family in Albuquerque and Corrales.  He attended Albuquerque Public Schools, Pomona College, where he earned a B.A. in Government and University of Maryland where he earned an M.S. in Healthcare Management with honors.   Bob started his own medical technology company, Monitech, Inc., at the age of 24 and sold it in 2008 after 25 years of operation.  In addition, he was elected to two terms to the New Mexico House of Representatives representing parts of Sandoval County, did consulting for a Governor of New Mexico on ways to create jobs through renewable energy and ran unsuccessfully for Congress and the PRC for a total of 13 years of political, elected and campaign experience.  He co-founded a charter school in Albuquerque, NM called Public Academy for Performing Arts.  Bob spent 2009 working on two start-up companies, one in telemedicine and one in cybersecurity.  He became a U.S. Diplomat in January, 2010 and served in Germany, Canada, Pakistan and The Gambia.  He returned full-time to New Mexico in the spring of 2015 and lives in Corrales with his wife Joan.

He is fluent in German, tries to speak Spanish and is an avid cyclist, skier and martial artist.  He is married and has four grown children.

Email: [email protected]

Phone: 1(505) 259-2377 


Kathleen Burke - Vice- President, Board Member

Kathleen Burke is the Associate Director of Street Safe New Mexico, where she is a leader in
human trafficking prevention and advocacy for sex trafficking survivors in New Mexico. She is a
member of the New Mexico Human Trafficking Task Force and Albuquerque’s Southeast Area
Community Policing Council, where she is a voice for the community in the U.S. Department of
Justice police reform effort. Kathleen was a National Delegate for Bernie Sanders at the
Democratic National Convention of 2016. As a committed and high-profile Progressive activist
in New Mexico, Kathleen places a high priority upon issues of transparency and improvement of
the electoral process in New Mexico.


Barry Bitzer - Board Member

Barry brings a long, successful political resume to bear, often in unconventional fashion. On Capitol Hill, he was a senior aide to the late Congressman Steve Schiff and communications director for Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison. He served until 2008 as chief of staff to ABQ mayor Marty Chavez, and wore a variety of hats in the administration of Governor Gary Johnson – most notably as Deputy Secretary of Human Services and Director of the Child Support Enforcement Division. Barry’s recent stint as development director at the NM BioPark Society featured a campaign for a $17 million per year GRT revenue stream to overhaul and expand the Zoo, Aquarium, Botanic Garden and Tingley Beach. A 1985 UC Berkeley Political Science graduate, Barry currently works as a Church administrator and as a science teacher at Legacy Academy. He also serves on the NM Environmental Improvement Board.


Merritt Hamilton - Board Member

Merritt Hamilton Allen is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame and former Navy public affairs officer. In the Navy, she managed numerous communication issues, spanning from community relations to foreign trade. She served in the Philippines, Washington DC, and Norfolk, Virginia, before her final tour at the Navy’s National News Desk at the Pentagon. There, she was a national spokesperson on environmental and personnel issues for the Department of the Navy and also directed the Navy’s media training team, preparing admirals, senior civilians and the Secretary of the Navy for high-level interviews and testimony.

Merritt was medically retired from the Navy after eight years as a lieutenant in 1999 with a 60% disability rating. She worked in the private sector in the DC metro area for six years before starting her own company, Vox Optima, in 2005, and moving to New Mexico. Since then she has provided crisis management support to multi-billion-dollar organizations and individuals. Vox Optima has been retained to provide crisis communication training to FEMA, the U.S. Air Force, the State of Nebraska, and the State of New Mexico.

Merritt was named the SBA’s Veteran Business Champion for the State of New Mexico in 2008, an Albuquerque Business First Woman of Influence in 2012, and NM’s Top CEO in Media and Marketing in 2013. She has been asked to speak at numerous veterans’ and business ethics events. She is a regular contributor to New Mexico Public Television and News Radio KKOB and writes a weekly opinion column for the East Mountain Independent.


Luis Leyva-Castillo - Board Member

Luis Leyva-Castillo

Luis Leyva-Castillo is a licensed attorney in New Mexico and a proud alumnus of the UNM School of Law. As an immigrant, Luis champions expanding immigrant access to professional licensure, higher education, and health care in our state. He has experience in state and federal government working at the New Mexico Office of the Attorney General and in the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee. During law school, he served as the Editor-in-Chief of the Natural Resources Journal and is a current member of the Hispanic National Bar Association.


Abi Olvera - Board Member

Abi brings her seven years of government experience and democracy experience abroad to the NMOE board. She is very interested in low hanging fruit that have outsized positive impacts on society, such as more representative voting systems, urban and road infrastructure, and global poverty alleviation. She was featured on TEDx ABQ, Pickering Fellow, BikeABQ board member, neighborhood association board member, and the founder of the World Economic Forum's Global Shapers ABQ Hub.


Melissa Ontiveros - Board Member

Director of Thriving Families at Community Action Agency Southern New Mexico. Where she developed a hybrid mentorship/navigating program. Working through a systemic approach to break down barriers and support families in meeting their goals. Melissa’s contract work includes working with the State of NM’S TUPAC Department and JEDI leadership work with Constellation inc. Melissa’s leadership and experiences range from various direct service roles: Community and Program Development, Department of Health, Health Promotion program manager overseeing eight counties in New Mexico’s SW Region; Case manager at YDI’S Gang Intervention and Prevention program, School Counselor at Van Buren Middle School, Mental & Behavioral Therapist for NM State BSC Program, Multi-Systemic and Problem Sexual Therapist at Families Youth INC.; Developmental Specialist, Early Childhood Education, and Registered Behavioral Technician at Aprendamos Intervention Team.


Senator Bill Tallman - Board Member

Bill Tallman is a retired City Manger with over 35 years of experience as the Chief Administrative Officer of several mid sized full service cities mostly in the Midwest and Northeast. Bill is the past President elect of the Connecticut City Management Assoc. He has published articles in the Public Management magazine. As an active member of the Municipal Leagues of Pennsylvania, Illinois and Connecticut, Bill has testified before many state legislative committees Bill is a past member of the Corporation for Regional Development, Quad City Civic Center Authority and the Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments.

Bill received his M.A. degree in Public Administration from The University of Cincinnati and his B.A. degree in Political Science from Syracuse University. Bill’s most recent position was Deputy City Manager of Santa Fe, New Mexico. Since retiring eight years ago, he has served as a pro-bono mediator in metro court, been an active board member of several non- profits and been very active in the Democratic Party before being elected a New Mexico State Senator, District 18, in 2016.