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KUNM News Update

Municipal Boards, Commissions Raise Transparency Questions, NM Issues Tax Rebates To Film Industry

Ken Lund
via Flickr
Albuquerque Government Center At Civic Plaza

Municipal Boards, Commissions Raise Transparency Questions- KRQE-TV, Associated Press

Open government advocates say the city of Albuquerque is shirking some open meeting requirements despite pledges from Mayor Tim Keller and other officials to push for transparency.

The city has 60 boards and commissions that focus on specific things, from golf courses and balloon fiesta park to landmarks and conservation.

They all fall under the Open Meetings Act, but television station KRQE reports one-third of them aren't compliant.

The agenda for the airport advisory committee wasn't posted in time, and the agendas for the arts board were nowhere to be found. The Mayor's Youth Advisory Council also was behind on posting agendas.

Melanie Majors with the New Mexico Foundation of Open Government says the act has certain requirements so the public knows how money is being spent and what officials are doing.

Pro-Los Alamos Group Loses Federal Grant Amid Spending Probe- Santa Fe New Mexican, Associated Press

An agency of New Mexico municipalities surrounding Los Alamos National Laboratory has lost $100,000 in federal funds amid a federal investigation into its spending.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities has seen half of its budget evaporate as the U.S. Department of Energy continues to investigate the handling of a five-year grant to the beleaguered organization.

The coalition became embroiled in controversy last year amid revelations of improper travel reimbursements, including for expensive alcohol and Major League Baseball tickets. It also was the subject of a stinging state audit.

Eric Vasquez, the coalition's executive director, says the group has adopted control measures the state auditor recommended and is now ready to resume working with the Department of Energy.

Lawyers Say 250 Children Held In Bad Conditions At Texas Border- Associated Press

A traumatic and dangerous situation is unfolding for some 250 infants, children and teens locked up for up to 27 days without adequate food, water and sanitation, according to a legal team that interviewed dozens of children at a Border Patrol station in Texas.

The attorneys who recently visited the facility near El Paso told The Associated Press that three girls, ages 10 to 15, said they had been taking turns watching over a sick 2-year-old boy because there was no one else to look after him.

When the lawyers saw the boy, he wasn't wearing a diaper and had wet his pants, and his shirt was smeared in mucus. They said at least 15 children at the facility had the flu, and some were kept in medical quarantine.

The children told lawyers that they were fed uncooked frozen food or rice and had gone weeks without bathing or a clean change of clothes at the facility in Clint, in the desert scrubland some 25 miles southeast of El Paso.

The lawyers negotiated access to the facility with officials and said Border Patrol knew the dates of their visit three weeks in advance.

EPA Says No Serious Health Risk From Southwestern Colorado Mines- Associated Press, Durango Herald

The Environmental Protection Agency says contamination from nearly 50 mining sites in southwestern Colorado doesn't pose a serious risk for human health.

The Durango Herald reports that the Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund site assessment released Thursday didn't find any risks to people working or hiking, hunting or fishing there. However, it found a risk of exposure to lead or arsenic for children at four camping sites along the Animas River and at three mine sites used as recreational staging areas.

Most of those sites are set to be worked starting this summer.

The agency designated the Superfund site after it inadvertently triggered a spill at the Gold King Mine in August 2015. The spill released 3 million gallons of wastewater, polluting rivers in Colorado, New Mexico and Utah.

New Mexico Regulators Punt On Gila River Plan- Associated Press

New Mexico's senior U.S. senator says plans for diverting water from the Gila River are fatally flawed and residents are rightly concerned about the cost of the proposed project.

Democrat Tom Udall made his comments Thursday after a panel of state regulators delayed action on a work plan that details environmental reviews, legal services and other activities needed as part of the project.

It could be September before the Interstate Stream Commission considers the plan again. Commissioners indicated they want to review a draft environmental impact statement prepared for the project.

Officials are facing a deadline this year to have the reviews completed. It would then be up to the U.S. Interior Department to grant approval.

Environmentalists have been fighting the proposal for years, suggesting that millions of dollars would be spent for little return.

New Mexico Issues Tax Rebates To Film Industry-Associated Press

New Mexico announced tax rebate payouts of nearly $100 million to producers of film and television shows that were shot within the state in recent years, as the state's Democratic governor courts new investments and industry jobs.

The Taxation and Revenue Department said Thursday that payments of $98.5 million will be issued this week to 98 shows.

Legislation signed this year by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham removes a $50 million annual cap on film production tax credit payments and provides money to clear a backlog of applications. The first-year governor campaigned for office last year on promises to raise the cap in an effort to attract more film business and jobs to the state.

New provisions of the film tax rebate are likely to represent the most significant state investment ever for New Mexico in a single industry for economic development, according to state budget analysts with the state Legislature. They estimate a $500 million payout from the state general fund over the next five years as a result of legal changes, on top of $250 million in spending that was previously anticipated.

New Mexico Governor Calls Trump Deportation Tweets 'Heinous' - Associated Press

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is vowing to protect children from potential human rights violations as President Trump threatens to deport millions of people living in the U.S. illegally.

At a news conference Wednesday, the Democratic governor accused U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement of neglecting its responsibility to focus on specific immigrants with final deportation orders and failing to pursue employers who flout immigration laws.

Trump on Monday tweeted that immigration authorities next week will begin the process of removing the millions of "illegal aliens."

Lujan Grisham says federal immigrations authorities have been drawn into political activities. Lujan Grisham accused the president of heinous fearmongering and says children stayed home from school after his past deportation threats.

The first-term Democrat says due process violations affect all Americans, not just immigrants.

New Mexico Land Boss Concerned With Nuke Waste Proposal - Associated Press

State Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard says southeastern New Mexico isn't the right place to build a temporary storage facility for spent nuclear fuel.

She sent a letter Wednesday to the New Jersey-based company that wants to build the facility, saying the proposed site would be in the middle of the Permian Basin — one of the world's most productive oil and gas regions.

Nearly 2,500 wells and other mine sites are operated by dozens of businesses within a 10-mile radius of the site. Garcia Richard contends that storing the high-level waste above active oil, gas and mining operations raises serious safety concerns.

Fellow Democrat Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham also has voiced opposition to the plan by Holtec International.

The company is seeking a federal license for the proposed facility.

New Mexico Picks Corrections Secretary After False Start- Associated Press

Career state corrections officer Alisha Tafoya Lucero has been named Cabinet secretary to oversee New Mexico's combination public-private prison system.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced the appointment Wednesday and praised Tafoya Lucero for her toughness and dedication to the state prison system.

The governor initially appointed former Florida prisons chief Julie Jones to lead the New Mexico Corrections Department but saw Jones withdraw in February.

Tafoya Lucero began serving as a corrections officer in 2001 and later became deputy warden at the state penitentiary outside Santa Fe. She was promoted to interim corrections secretary in May.

The governor and Tafoya Lucero emphasized efforts to improve accountability at privately run prisons and expand inmate programs that can reduce recidivism. The state is limiting but not eliminating solitary confinement.

Booming New Mexico Oil Region To Get $5M In Airport Upgrades - Hobbs News-Sun, Associated Press

A southeastern New Mexico county has approved more than $5 million in upgrades to an airport in the heart of New Mexico's booming oil region.

The Hobbs News-Sun reports the Lea County Commission gave the green light last week to improvements to the Lea County Regional Airport — mostly funded by federal and state grants.

The improvements call for doubling the expansion of the holding area for flight patrons and renovating the apron area on the airside of the terminal. They also include upgrading a runway safety area and extending the primary runway.

Officials say increased ridership is spurring the recommended improvements.

The Lea County Regional Airport is located in Hobbs — a key city in the booming Permian Basin.

Commissioners Name Nominees For New Mexico Senate Seat - Farmington Daily Times, Associated Press

Two former New Mexico county commissioners have been nominated to fill the seat of state Sen. John Pinto, who died last month at the age of 94.

The Farmington Daily Times reported Monday that the San Juan County Commission nominated its former commissioner Wallace Charley.

McKinley County commissioners nominated their former commissioner Carol Bowman-Muskett.

Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham will choose one of the nominees or appoint someone else from the northwestern New Mexico district.

Pinto's term was set to expire next year, so the person appointed would have to run in 2020 election.

Pinto, a Democrat and a Navajo Code Talker in World War II, was the longest-serving state senator in New Mexico history.

Only Nursing Home Serving Southern NM Community Set To Close - Las Cruces Sun News, Associated Press

The only nursing home serving the southern New Mexico community of Lordsburg is set to close.

The company that manages Sunshine Haven says it's working to find housing and care for 28 residents before it closes Aug. 3.

The Las Cruces Sun News reports that the closure comes as the Texas-based company that owns the nursing home defends itself against complaints over staffing levels. Preferred Care Inc. and its subsidiaries also have filed for bankruptcy protection.

Neglect, understaffing and fears of retaliation were noted in recent federal inspection reports. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services fined Sunshine Haven about $45,000 in 2016 and $26,000 last year.

The nursing home's management company declined this week to specify staffing levels but said they're above limits set by the state.

At 103, 'Hurricane' Hawkins Takes Titles At US Senior Games  - Associated Press

At 103, Julia "Hurricane" Hawkins has cemented her title as the oldest woman to compete on an American track after finishing the 50- and 100-meter dashes at the National Senior Games in New Mexico.

Event organizers say the Louisiana resident holds the world record for her age group of 100 and over in the 100-meter dash.

She didn't beat her previous time Tuesday but crossed the line in just over 46 seconds in Albuquerque.

On Monday, she was clocked at 21.06 in the 50-meter event, which appears to be a new Senior Games record for the women's 100-plus age division. There's no record of a past female competitor in that contest.

The retired teacher says staying active keeps her sharp and she hopes she can serve as an inspiration to others.