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Improvements Underway For Balloon Fiesta, New Oversight For UNM Athletic Department

NoTalkman via Good Free Photos

New Oversight For UNM Athletic Department – The Associated Press

The University of New Mexico says it is instituting new controls and oversight of athletics department finances and that it has found "inconsistencies" in contracts for basketball arena suites.

Interim President Chaouki Abdallah says a top university administrator will head efforts to evaluate and improve the department's financial management while working with the recently appointed acting athletic director.

Meanwhile, state auditors and the state attorney general's office continue separate inquiries into the department's overall spending and a 2015 golf trip to Scotland that included private donors.

Abdallah says the university is reviewing records of suites for the Lobo men's and women's basketball seasons and that unspecified inconsistences were found in contracts, invoices and payments for some suites.

Janice Ruggiero was appointed acting athletic director last month following Paul Krebs' departure.

Improvements Underway For New Mexico Hot Air Balloon EventThe Associated Press & The ABQ Journal

Event organizers are starting several major improvement projects to prepare for this year's Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta.

The Albuquerque Journal reports construction begins Monday on a bridge over the North Diversion Channel that will lead to a new set of RV sites to the west of Balloon Fiesta Park.

Balloon Fiesta spokesman Tom Garrity says large radio transmission towers west of the park have been removed in order to construct RV sites and parking for staff and volunteers.

Girders for the new bridge over the North Diversion Channel are set to be installed Monday, and work on the bridge will extend through mid-August.

Garrity says all of the projects will be completed by the start of the large hot air ballooning event, which is scheduled to run Oct. 7-15.

GOP Rep. Steve Pearce Runs For Governor, Will Leave CongressThe Associated Press

Republican Congressman Steve Pearce is running for governor of New Mexico in 2018 while giving up his firm hold over a congressional district along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Pearce announced Monday he will seek the GOP nomination in an attempt to succeed second-term GOP Gov. Susana Martinez, who by law cannot run for re-election next year.

The move by Pearce offers New Mexico voters a Vietnam War-era veteran and former oil man with a largely conservative voting record during seven terms in Congress.

He will give up running in 2018 for New Mexico's southernmost congressional district — one of a handful along the U.S. border with Mexico that is not held by a Democrat.

New Mexico University To Lay-Off Staff, Freeze Vacant PostsThe Associated Press & The Las Cruces Sun-News

New Mexico State University's finalized budget will freeze over 90 vacant faculty and staff positions and lay off two personnel.

The Las Cruces Sun-News reports university officials said Friday that the moves will close an $8 million gap in the institution's budget. Administrators say the personnel cuts are much smaller than originally anticipated in initial planning scenarios.

Chancellor Garrey Carruthers says the other positions will remain frozen until officials decide on a date to fill them.

The university's permanent budget was reduced by 5 percent in 2016 after special session to address the state's budget crisis and received further cuts after the 2017 regular and special legislative sessions.

The institution has also lost funding due to declining enrollment numbers.

Ex-Us Attorney In New Mexico Plans To Enter House Race - By Russell Contreras, Associated Press

A former U.S. attorney who led the office during Justice Department reforms of Albuquerque police is expected to run for an open congressional seat in central New Mexico.

Damon Martinez, who was ordered to resign earlier this year by the Trump administration, plans to announce Monday that he is jumping into a crowded Democratic primary to succeed U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat who is running for New Mexico governor.

Under Martinez, federal prosecutors in Albuquerque targeted the state's worst offenders and focused on heroin and opioid trafficking suspects amid New Mexico's opioid crisis.

He is running against former state Democratic Party Chairwoman Debra Haaland, Albuquerque City Councilor Pat Davis, physicist Dennis Dinge, Edgewood Mayor Pro Tem John Abrams, attorney Damian Lara and former law professor Antoinette Sedillo Lopez.

No Republican has formally announced a bid for the seat.

Experts Finds New Mexico Teacher Evaluations Toughest In USAlbuquerque Journal, Associated Press

A national publication and an expert found that teacher evaluations in New Mexico are among the toughest in the U.S., as they put a large amount of weight on student test scores.

The Albuquerque Journal reported Thursday that New Mexico evaluations from 2015-2016 ranked twice as many teachers as below effective than the other 24 states reviewed in the study.

Brown University Assistant Professor Matthew Kraft's study on teacher evaluation systems across the U.S. agrees with Education Week's claim that the New Mexico's are the toughest in the nation.

New Mexico's acting secretary of education says that the system reflects the state's commitment to putting students first.

Charles Goodmacher with the National Education Association of New Mexico says that the current system makes teachers feel devalued.

Albuquerque Firm To Design Contemporary Art Museum AnnexAssociated Press

An Albuquerque-based architectural firm has been chosen to design the transformation of a former state records building into a contemporary art space for the New Mexico Museum of Art.

The selection of DNCA + StudioGP was recently announced by officials with the museum, the museum's independent fundraising arm and the state Department of Cultural Affairs.

The annex has been a part of the museum's strategic plan for a couple of years because the main museum near Santa Fe's historic plaza has only so much space to display and store works from a collection that tops 23,000 pieces.

The Museum of New Mexico Foundation is undertaking a $10 million campaign to bring the project to fruition.

The annex will be in Santa Fe's Railyard District. It's expected to open in 2020.

Navajo Nation Backs Federal Amber Alert LegislationAssociated Press

A panel of lawmakers on the nation's largest American Indian reservation is throwing its support behind federal legislation that would expand the Amber Alert child abduction emergency notification system to tribes across the U.S.

One of the standing legislative committees on the Navajo Nation voted this week in favor of a measure that supports the congressional legislation.

The legislation is in response to the 2016 deadly abduction of 11-year-old Ashlynne Mike on the Navajo Nation.

The high profile case raised questions about gaps in communication and coordination between tribal and local law enforcement.

Tribal members have testified about the need for the Navajo Nation to establish its own comprehensive system to remain accountable and responsible for the protection of Navajo children, rather than relying on state entities.

New Mexico Group Lobbies For Film, Television Hall Of FameSanta Fe New Mexican, Associated Press

A new nonprofit wants to create a hall of fame for those who have made significant impacts on New Mexico's bustling movie and television industry throughout its century-plus history.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports the nonprofit is calling its project the New Mexico Film and Television Hall of Fame, and hopes to one day find a building to host it. But in the meantime, the group will seek nominations for the first crop of inductees, who will be announced at an awards gala in February in Santa Fe.

Organizers say finding a building for the hall of fame would require private sponsorships. Kate Noble, the hall of fame project launch coordinator, calls finding a building the "dream-big plan."

State Wildlife Officials Review Feds' Plan For Wolf RecoveryAssociated Press

State wildlife officials are reviewing the federal government's plan for recovering endangered wolves that once roamed parts of New Mexico, Arizona and northern Mexico.

A draft was recently released by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as the agency works to meet a court-ordered deadline to have the plan completed by the end of November.

In Arizona, the state Game and Fish Department says the plan appears to address concerns raised in a 2015 lawsuit that was filed by the state.

Arizona officials and others have argued that the federal government is required by the federal Endangered Species Act to have an updated plan. The current plan was published in 1982.

Since conservation of the Mexican gray wolf began in the 1980s, the Arizona agency has spent more than $7 million on recovery efforts.

New Mexico Utility To Release Documents In Rate CaseAssociated Press

New Mexico's largest electric utility has been told to publicly release documents that were sealed as it pursues approval from state regulators for a rate increase.

Two hearing officers for the Public Regulation Commission ruled this week that the utility failed to show the information's secrecy was protected by state or federal law, and it didn't prove that any trade secrets would be revealed if the documents were made public.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports that Public Service Co. of New Mexico is asking the hearing officers to reconsider the decision.

The renewable energy advocacy group New Energy Economy, a long-standing critic of the utility, had asked earlier this year that a confidentiality designation be lifted from documents that relate to two coal-fired power plants and negotiations over future coal supplies.

Feds To Review Behavioral Health Care Access In New MexicoAssociated Press

The investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has agreed to review the level of access that New Mexicans have to behavioral health services through the Medicaid program.

Members of New Mexico's congressional delegation made the request earlier this year.

The inquiry will be one of a handful being conducted by the agency's inspector general.

New Mexico's behavioral health system was upended in 2013 when Republican Gov. Susana Martinez's administration froze payments to 15 nonprofits that provided services to the state's most needy residents after an audit raised questions about fraud and abuse.

Some providers were forced to close. Others were replaced by out-of-state companies.

An investigation by the state attorney general's office eventually found only regulatory violations and no patterns of fraud among the nonprofits.

Details Emerge In 2008 Cold Case As Suspect Appears In CourtAssociated Press

Justin Hansen, a man accused of beating a former New Mexico high school student in 2008, appeared in court for the first time.

While Hansen was in court Friday, the judge also unsealed documents revealing Hansen was inconsistent in his statements to detectives in January when he was first questioned in the beating of Brittani Marcell.

According to the unsealed criminal complaint, Hansen would give variations in his story, specifically in how well he knew Marcell.

When Hansen reportedly refused to give detectives a DNA sample, detectives went undercover, following Hansen to a local McDonald's and retrieving a sample after pulling a cup Hansen drank from out of the trash.

Investigators say that DNA matched blood found on glass on the porch of the crime scene.

Fake Indian Art Threatens Native Livelihood - By Morgan Lee, Associated Press

The recent spread of fake Native American art and jewelry has shown the need to update how the federal government protects tribal artists from fraud that undercuts the value of their work.

That’s according to two U.S. senators who gathered suggestions for reforms on Friday. New Mexico Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich convened a hearing in the American Indian arts hub of Santa Fe.

Federal law enforcement officials and leading Native American artists described a disheartening influx of counterfeit jewelry, weavings and contemporary art knock-offs.

Udall said he hopes to propel efforts to modernize the Indian Arts and Crafts Act to cope with sophisticated international jewelry rings that copy Native American designs and police online sales. The act makes it a crime to falsely market and sell art as Native American-made when it is not.

The act makes it a crime to falsely market and sell art as Native American-made when it is not. Calls to modernize enforcement provisions have been spurred by revelations about the spread of fake Indian art.

Federal prosecutors in New Mexico are preparing for trial in an ambitious investigation that traced falsified Native American art from the Philippines to galleries across the United States.