PED Investigating Santa Fe Schools Over Rally, Martinez To Consider Bill To Combine Local Elections

Mar 24, 2017

PED Investigating Santa Fe Schools’ Day Of ActivismSanta Fe New Mexican

Santa Fe Public Schools is facing an investigation by the Public Education Department over possible violations of state law related to the district shutting down for a half day for a political rally at the legislature.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports the PED Secretary Hanna Skandera sent a letter warning of possible violations to Veronica Garcia, district superintendent for Santa Fe Public Schools. Those included paying employees to participate in the rally activities, as well as using email lists and school intercoms to spread information on the protest.

About 1,500 parents, teachers and students attended the rally on March 16 seeking to halt more education cuts by lawmakers and Gov. Susana Martinez. The school district called it a “snow day for action.”

Garcia, who was the state’s first education secretary under former Gov. Bill Richardson, said she believes she and her staff followed the law. Skandera said PED received complaints from some students and that one principal allegedly told teachers they had to attend the rally.

Martinez To Consider Bill To Combine Local ElectionsThe Associated Press & ABQ Journal

A piece of legislation awaiting Gov. Susana Martinez's signature would reshape the political landscape for school boards, cities and other nonpartisan local governments in New Mexico by consolidating elections and putting them before voters in November every other year.

The Albuquerque Journal reports that currently, such elections draw little attention, with some garnering zero ballots.

Political analyst Brian Sanderoff says combining school board and municipal elections could boost turnout significantly. School elections draw maybe 5 percent turnout on their own, but Sanderoff says municipalities attract up to 45 percent.

Municipalities would have the option of opting out of the combined elections. Rio Rancho Mayor Gregg Hull says Rio Rancho will likely take that option.

Martinez has until April 7 to sign the bill or it automatically is vetoed.

Former Paramedic Loses Bid To Have Arrest Record WipedThe Associated Press & ABQ Journal

A former Albuquerque paramedic will not have her felony arrest record expunged after a ruling from the state Supreme Court.

The Albuquerque Journal reports that the state Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that while Christine Stump's 2008 arrest was unfortunate, the record of it is important for public accountability.

Stump was arrested for battery on a police officer after she grabbed the arm of a police officer as the two argued about who had priority over a scene. Stump and the officer reached an agreement out of court and the charges were dropped.

Public records, however, still show Stump has an arrest record.

Unlike most states, New Mexico law offers no guidance on the issue of expunging felony arrest records.

Government transparency advocates praised the court's ruling.

Feds: Woman Falsely Claimed Millions In False Tax ReturnThe Associated Press

Federal authorities say a 71-year-old Rio Rancho woman who admitted filing a false tax return claiming a refund to the tune of $958 million for one year's taxes has been sentenced.

Frances Jo Mehner was sentenced Wednesday to 207 days in federal prison, which she has already served.

Mehner pleaded guilty to filing a false for federal tax refunds, admitting that in January 2010 she presented a tax refund claim of $958 million that she was not entitled to.

Mehner's plea agreement says she owes no restitution to the government based on her guilty plea.

Authorities say Mehner will have to comply with several special conditions during her term of supervised release, including filing in a timely, accurate way and communicating with the IRS through an attorney.

Martinez Appoints New State Court JudgeThe Associated Press

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez has appointed a new judge to the Third Judicial District Court.

Martinez announced on Thursday she had appointed Conrad Perea to the court's third division.

Perea will fill a vacancy created when Judge Darren M. Kugler resigned.

Martinez says Perea has over 35 years of legal and law enforcement expierence. He is a former officer with the Las Cruces Police Department and has graduated from the FBI's national academy and the Border Patrol academy.  Perea served as magistrate court judge in Dona Ana County since 2010.

New Mexico Governor Orders Hiring Freeze To Save Cash By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez has ordered a hiring freeze for all agencies under her control, a move designed to save cash pending a political standoff over funding state government and public schools.

Martinez announced the freeze Thursday in a memo sent to her cabinet secretaries. She's still disappointed that the Democrat-controlled Legislature sent her a budget built on $350 million in tax increases and fee hikes.

The two-term Republican governor has vowed not to raise taxes, but lawmakers say the lack of new revenue and the downturn in the oil and gas industry has forced the state's hand.

Martinez plans to call lawmakers back to Santa Fe to renegotiate a balanced budget, but it's unclear when that might happen.

Despite the freeze, some hiring will continue for jobs identified as critical for public safety and health.

Iraqi-American Composer Musically Translates Wartime LettersAssociated Press

Rahim AlHaj cried every time he read the letters of eight Iraqis sharing personal, harrowing tales of love, loss and hope in wartime since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.

Rather than retreat, the Iraqi-American composer and musician immersed himself in the stories and emerged with a collection of songs to illustrate them.

AlHaj is touring the United States in support of the resulting album, "Letters from Iraq," which is set to be officially released next month on the Smithsonian Folkways label.

The Grammy-nominated AlHaj, who lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico, says he felt "obligated to make these stories" and share what people have endured in his homeland.

He spoke to The Associated Press from the Detroit suburb of Dearborn, where he will perform Friday at the Arab American National Museum.

New Mexico AG Praises Court Ruling On Special Education Associated Press

New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas is praising a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that bolsters the rights of millions of learning-disabled students.

The ruling issued this week requires public schools to offer special education programs that meet higher standards. The case involved a boy who attended public school outside Denver.

Balderas was among those who filed briefs in the case.

The New Mexico Democrat said Thursday the ruling reverses what had been the law in New Mexico and that educational plans for students with disabilities must be designed so that students can make progress.

School officials from across the country had cautioned the court that imposing higher standards could be too costly for some cash-strapped districts. They warned that it could also lead parents to make unrealistic demands.

Revenue Gap Hampers New Mexico Lottery Scholarship Program - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

New Mexico is no closer to finding a more permanent solution to solvency problems with a vital program that provides college scholarships for tens of thousands of students through lottery revenues.

The Legislature wrapped up its regular session more than a week ago without passing any measures that would affect the program's long-term bottom line.

Some have warned that the scholarships might only pay 70 percent of tuition starting next fall, but state officials are still crunching numbers.

For years now, tuition and demand for the financial aid have outpaced revenues from lottery sales.

There were measures on the table that including rolling unclaimed prize money over to the scholarship fund and setting the award at a certain amount rather than a percentage of tuition. Liquor excise revenues that recently helped float the program are being phased out.

City Releases Outside Report On Police VideosAlbuquerque Journal

An outside firm investigating allegations that the Albuquerque Police Department edited or deleted videos of police shootings found the system does not allow altering of original videos.

The Albuquerque Journal reported Chicago firm Elijah was hired by the city of Albuquerque after Reynaldo Chavez, a former Albuquerque police records supervisor, alleged in a that police employees had altered or deleted videos that showed the events surrounding at least two fatal police shootings

Elijah found the original videos are unedited. But Tom Grover, the attorney representing Chavez, said his client stands by his claims and the review did not look at whether videos released to attorneys and media were altered.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office confirmed there is an investigation into allegations videos were edited.

Suspended Northern New Mexico Judge Found In Contempt Daily Times, Associated Press

suspended northern New Mexico judge has been found in contempt of court after she failed to follow a court order.

The Daily Times reports that Aztec Magistrate Court Judge Connie Johnston failed to provide recordings and transcripts of private conversations captured in the Aztec Magistrate Court building. A district court judge found that Johnston violated court order and may have altered the requested recordings.

Johnston says the court order is incorrect and that she plans to fight it.

The actions, which led to criminal contempt-of-court charges being filed Monday, stem from a civil lawsuit that alleges Johnston placed recording devices around the courthouse.

Johnston was suspended by the New Mexico Supreme Court in December 2015 for ordering a court clerk to be jailed for contempt.