Friday News Roundup: Mora Commissioner Behind Fracking Ban Defeated

Jun 6, 2014

Mora Commissioner Behind Fracking Ban Defeated  The Albuquerque Journal and The Associated Press

The driving force behind an ordinance that made a northern New Mexico county the first in the country to ban fracking lost his seat in this week's primary, raising new questions about the future of the ordinance.

John Olivas, an outfitter who also serves as northern director of the conservation group New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, lost his Mora County Commission seat to George Trujillo in a three-way Democratic primary Tuesday. There is no Republican on the ballot in November.

Olivas tells the Albuquerque Journal that, like many in the county, he considered the election a referendum on the fracking ban. But Trujillo -- who won 60 percent of the vote --- says he doesn't think it played a major role.

The county's authority in imposing the ban is being challenged in two lawsuits.

Albuquerque Chief Wants Union To Support Changes - The Associated Press and Albuquerque Journal

Albuquerque's police chief says the police union should get on board with changes his department will make as a result of a critical federal report on use of force and handling of suspects with mental illness.

Police Chief Gordon Eden said Thursday that other cities' police unions have lost clout when they didn't cooperate in negotiations following U.S. Department of Justice reviews.

Eden said he hopes it doesn't come to that in Albuquerque and that he wants to work with the police union to solve the problems.

The Albuquerque Police Officers Association's president later told the Albuquerque Journal that the union recognizes that change is coming and wants a role in negotiations.  However, association President Stephanie Lopez said city officials have largely ignored her since the report came out.

GOP Group Criticizes Democrat Gary King In New Ad - The Associated Press

The Republican Governors Association is throwing its first punch in New Mexico's race for governor with advertising that criticizes Democratic nominee Gary King.

The association says it's launching the ad today on broadcast and cable television statewide.

TV station records indicate the RGA is spending more than $100,000 to air the ad for a week.

Much of the ad relies on newspaper editorial criticisms of King, including his handling of public corruption cases.

King says he hasn't seen the ad, but believes voters will disregard attacks by out-of-state groups.

Trial Moved Up In Case Over Governor's EmailThe Associated Press

A federal judge has moved up a trial for Gov. Susana Martinez's former campaign manager, who is charged with hijacking the campaign's email system after Martinez took office.

U.S. District Judge William Johnson on Wednesday scheduled jury selection to start July 10 rather than July 15. Witness testimony is to begin July 14.

The judge denied a request by Jamie Estrada's attorney to postpone the trial because the government had brought additional charges and that could make the trial longer.

Estrada has pleaded not guilty to charges of intercepting email in the campaign account and making false statements to federal investigators.

Martinez is a potential witness.

Estrada briefly served as campaign manager in 2009 as Martinez started her bid for governor.

The new schedule allows three weeks for the trial.

High Court Rejects San Juan River Water Lawsuit - The Associated Press

New Mexico's highest court has denied a request by a group of lawmakers and a farmer to scrap a water rights settlement with the Navajo Nation.

The Supreme Court issued its decision last week in a one-page order without explaining its legal reasoning.

The court had been asked to nullify the San Juan River water rights settlement and require proposed water deals to be sent to the Legislature for approval or rejection.

Three legislators and a northwestern New Mexico irrigator filed the case last month, contending that former Gov. Bill Richardson lacked the power to unilaterally bind New Mexico to the water agreement.

A district court approved the settlement in 2013. Non-Indian irrigators have appealed that in a separate case that could eventually reach the Supreme Court.

Santa Fe Dropout Program Gets Foundation Grant - The Associated Press and Santa Fe New Mexican

Santa Fe public school officials say a foundation's $25,000 grant will enable them to move ahead with preparations for a new program for high school dropouts.

School officials say they still need additional funding but that the grant from the Santa Fe Community Foundation will allow the start of recruiting dropouts to be students in the program.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports that details of how the program will be run and where it'll operate remain unclear.

The Santa Fe school board earlier this year approved a private contract with the Florida-based firm Atlantic Education Partners to run the program.

But some initial funding evaporated in the wake of controversy over several matters, including teachers' complaints about public education being privatized.

NM Developer Guilty Of Defrauding Federal Program - The Associated Press

An Albuquerque developer who pleaded guilty to defrauding a federal program designed to steer work to businesses owned by disabled veterans, has been sentenced to nearly five years in prison.

Federal prosecutors say 64-year-old Max R. Tafoya received a 57-month prison term yesterday while his 41-year-old son-in-law Tyler Cole was sentenced to 37 months.

The two men also have been ordered to pay more than $1.3 million to the federal government.

Prosecutors say Tafoya falsely claimed his Tafoya Construction Inc. was qualified to participate in the program.

The company won $11 million in contracts, including at the Santa Fe National Cemetery and military cemeteries in Texas, Denver and Missouri.

Tafoya and Cole were charged in the case in February 2012.

They pleaded guilty to fraud and conspiracy last November.

Bataan March Survivor Elias Saavedra Dies At 96 - The Associated Press

One of the last survivors of the Bataan Death March has died.

Elias Saavedra died Wednesday at his San Rafael, New Mexico, home. He was 96.

Saavedra was born in 1918 and joined the New Mexico National Guard.

He was one of 75,000 Filipino and American soldiers taken captive by the Japanese in World War II when U.S. forces surrendered in the province of Bataan in April 1942.

Tens of thousands of the troops were forced to march to Japanese prison camps in what became known as the Bataan Death March. Many were denied food, water and medical care.

After the war, Saavedra returned to New Mexico where he operated a service station in San Rafael.