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Top Albuquerque City Officials Get Big Raises, Report Shows Mental Health Care Delayed For Veterans

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Dozens Of Albuquerque Administrators Received Double RaisesAlbuquerque Journal, Associated Press

Dozens of administrators for the city of Albuquerque received double raises this year that officials say was needed to attract and keep skilled leaders.

The Albuquerque Journal reported Wednesday that nearly 50 employees including department chiefs and directors got raises in March and then were included in the 2% pay increase given to thousands of city workers earlier this month.

The March raises for the high-ranking employees averaged 6.2%, bumping the group's average annual salary to nearly $119,000.

Mayor Tim Keller's administration says the salaries of top administrators are still below other regional markets and comparable state government jobs.

City Councilor Trudy Jones says the raises are "disgraceful," citing the growing disparity between those in the top jobs and those at the lower end of the city pay scale.

Fatal Wrecks In Southeastern New Mexico Prompt Crackdown – Associated Press

Authorities in southeastern New Mexico's oil country are responding to multiple deadly wrecks with a crackdown on reckless and inattentive drivers.

The New Mexico State Police said Thursday that reckless speed and driven inattention were the main factors in seven fatal wrecks in Lea County that so far this year claimed 13 lives.

The State Police said the crackdown includes joint patrols with the county Sheriff's Office, a focus on companies that operate unsafe commercial vehicles and "zero tolerance" for traffic law violators.

Three Texans were killed Wednesday when their pickup collided with a commercial truck near Hobbs.

Those killed were identified as 47-year-old Brady Steele of Dublin, 25-year-old Dakota Lujan of Fritch and 21-year-old Nygel Key of Fritch.

Five Texans were killed in a July 11 collision near Jal.

Man Who Abducted Girl, Shot Her Parents Moved To New MexicoPress-Gazette Media, Associated Press

The man who kidnapped Jayme Closs and killed her parents in northern Wisconsin has been moved to a prison in New Mexico.

Press-Gazette Media reports the New Mexico Corrections Department has confirmed Jake Patterson has been transferred to one of its prisons from Dodge Correctional Institution in Waupun.

Wisconsin corrections officials recommended Patterson be sent to an out-of-state facility due to security concerns because of his case's notoriety. Patterson was moved July 15 but Wisconsin Department of Corrections officials refused to say where he was moved and removed him from its online inmate locator.

A judge sentenced Patterson to life in May for shooting James and Denise Closs in their Barron home and holding 13-year-old Jayme captive for 88 days.

Patterson doesn't appear on the Wisconsin sex offender registry even though the judge ordered him added. Wisconsin officials said Thursday they're working on posting his name. Patterson is listed on the national registry.

New Mexico Nurse Faces Charges In Opioid Deaths, OverdosesAssociated Press

A New Mexico nurse practitioner is accused of involuntary manslaughter and other charges for allegedly causing the deaths of three patients and two overdoses by overprescribing opioids.

The state attorney general's office announced the felony charges against Andrei Marchenko on Thursday. They include counts of Medicaid fraud.

It wasn't immediately clear if the 59-year-old Marchenko had an attorney.

According to a criminal complaint, investigators with the federal Drug Enforcement Administration first contacted state prosecutors in 2017 after receiving information from several sources that indicated Marchenko allegedly was prescribing large doses of controlled substances without a legitimate medical purpose.

In one case, prosecutors say he continued to write prescriptions and file claims under the name of a patient who died.

Records show Marchenko voluntarily surrendered his prescription privileges in April 2017.

Report Lists VA Mental Health Care Issues In New Mexico - Associated Press

A federal review shows several factors have resulted in limited access and delays in mental health care for veterans in New Mexico.

A report by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General shows staffing shortages, hiring delays and training among the problems.

The report issued this week stems from an inspection done in March 2018 that was prompted by an anonymous complaint received the previous year.

U.S. Sen. Tom Udall says the VA must take immediate action to address the staffing shortages and recruitment issues that are leading to wait times that he described as unacceptable.

In 2014, the discovery of secret waiting lists at VA facilities around the U.S. resulted in a nationwide scandal and legislation aimed at giving veterans the option of seeking private-sector care.

Lawmaker Wants Hearing On Cabinet Firing - Associated Press

Republican State Rep. Alonzo Baldonado of Valencia is asking for a special legislative hearing about the recent dismissal of New Mexico's top public education official.

Baldonado said in a letter Wednesday that the governor's decision to dismiss Karen Trujillo as public education secretary was drastic and has triggered confusion and concern across the state. He wants to know more about why the secretary was removed by Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and how soon a successor may be named.

It was unclear if the Legislative Education Study Committee would agree to a hearing.

Democratic Sen. Mimi Stewart of Albuquerque is emphasizing the need to name a new secretary quickly amid multiple statewide education reform efforts.

She says the Cabinet change reflects a "gung-ho" attitude by the governor toward changes in public education.

New Mexico Ex-Lawmaker Drops Lawsuit Against Accuser - Santa Fe New Mexican, Associated Press

A former New Mexico state lawmaker who was defeated in a primary after a lobbyist accused him of sexual harassment has dropped a defamation lawsuit against his accuser.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports former state Rep. Carl Trujillo announced Tuesday on Facebook that he decided to drop the lawsuit because it was exposing him and his family to "financial and emotional damage."

Trujillo says he received "implicit and explicit threats" in response to his defamation lawsuit. However, he didn't give examples of any threats.

Trujillo lost his state House seat to Andrea Romero, D-Santa Fe, in the Democratic primary last year.

A legislative investigative subcommittee in July 2018 found probable cause for two of his accuser's accusations.

The case was dropped after the accuser declined to testify under oath.

New Mexico Aims To Have New Ed Chief Before Schools StartsAssociated Press

New Mexico is conducting a nationwide search for a new public education chief, and officials with Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham's administration said Wednesday they're optimistic they will find a candidate before the start of the school year.

The search was announced Monday when Lujan Grisham abruptly fired Public Education Secretary Karen Trujillo. She was picked for the job just months earlier by the first-year governor.

Lujan Grisham expressed dissatisfaction with progress on sweeping reforms.

Trujillo says she was blindsided and disappointed that the governor's office didn't really give her a reason.

The dismissal is reverberating through the department, with chief of staff Daniel Manzano submitting his resignation Tuesday. State lawmakers also have voiced concerns.

The shake-up comes as the administration deals with court-ordered mandates and a push to roll out extended learning times for students.

New Mexico AG 'Frustrated' With Response To ContaminationAssociated Press

Top New Mexico officials want the U.S. Air Force to immediately begin defining the boundaries of plumes of contamination at two bases and provide alternate water supplies to affected residents.

Attorney General Hector Balderas and the state environment department are seeking a preliminary injunction in federal court to require regular groundwater and surface water sampling as the case proceeds.

The state sued in April, saying the federal government has a responsibility to clean up toxic chemicals left behind by past military firefighting activities.

The contamination is linked to chemicals known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS.

The Air Force has argued its response to PFAS contamination in New Mexico and elsewhere has been aggressive. Officials have said they've been working to identify and implement long-term solutions to prevent exposure.

Groups Seek To Intervene In New Mexico Power Plant CaseAssociated Press

County commissioners in northwestern New Mexico and a water utility that serves the state's largest metro area want to intervene in a regulatory case over the upcoming closure of the coal-fired San Juan Generating Station.

San Juan County Commissioners and the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority filed their requests with the Public Regulation Commission this week.

The regulatory panel is considering Public Service Co. of New Mexico's plans for shutting down the power plant and financing the move through bonds that will be paid off by utility customers.

Options for replacing the lost capacity also will be weighed.

The case marks the first test for how the state's new Energy Transition Act will be applied.

San Juan County commissioners are concerned about how the closure will affect the region's job market and tax revenues.

Albuquerque's Annual 'Dia De Los Muertos' Parade Canceled Associated Press

The annual parade celebrating Día de los Muertos in Albuquerque's South Valley has been canceled this year.

Organizers of the Día de los Muertos Marigold Parade recently announced it will not hold the event in 2019 because it has grown too big.

The Marigold Parade said in a statement on its website last year's gathering attracted around 17,000 people and the group has decided to scrap the November event amid concerns from residents and county officials.

The group says it intends to "restructure the event."

Held annually in the historic Hispanic enclave of the South Valley, the parade attracts thousands of attendees in Día de los Muertos attire.

Día de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead, honors departed souls of loved ones who are welcomed back for a few intimate hours.

State Flags To Be Lowered In Honor Of Firefighter Who Died Associated Press

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has ordered state flags be lowered to half-staff on Friday in honor of a Roswell firefighter who has died from injuries suffered in the line of duty.

Authorities say 46-year-old Jeff Stroble died Sunday.

He was injured in a June 5 explosion that occurred while members of the Roswell Fire Department were preparing for the city's annual Fourth of July fireworks display.

Stroble was a 17-year veteran of the department.

Under the governor's executive order issued Wednesday, flags will fly at half-staff from sundown Thursday through sundown Friday.

Border Patrol Agents Stop Truck With 17 Migrants Inside - Albuquerque Journal, Associated Press

U.S. Border Patrol says agents found 17 migrants in the back of a rental truck near New Mexico's southern border.

The Albuquerque Journal reports the migrants and driver were taken to the Deming Border Patrol station after agents stopped the U-Haul truck Monday on state Route 9.

Border Patrol says in a statement that agents followed footprints from the border to the highway where the truck was sighted in the remote area near Deming.

Border Patrol says the truck's cargo area was "sweltering" and its only ventilation was from a 2-inch opening.

Officials say the driver remains in custody on suspicion of smuggling. Authorities have not released the name of the driver, who is a U.S. citizen.

Historic Horizontal Well In Permian Basin Completed - Carlsbad Current-Argus, Associated Press 

Drilling of the longest horizontal oil and gas well in the history of the Permian Basin has been completed.

The Carlsbad Current-Argus reports the Fort Worth, Texas-based Basic Energy Services recently announced the well was completed in the Wolfcamp. That's shale of the Delaware Basin, which sits below most of New Mexico's Eddy County and the southern half of the state's Lea County.

Records show the well also encompasses portions of Culberson, Reeves and Loving counties in Texas.

The completion comes as booming oil production in the Permian Basin continues to center around shale in southeast New Mexico and West Texas.

The U.S. Geological Survey says it found 46.3 billion barrels of oil and 20 billion barrels of natural gas liquids beneath the region.

Alexander Neef To Become Paris Opera Director In 2021-22 - Associated Press

Alexander Neef has been hired to succeed Stephane Lissner as director of the Paris Opera starting with the 2021-22 season.

The 45-year-old Neef, whose hiring was announced Wednesday, has been general director of the Canadian Opera Company since June 2008. He became artistic director of the Santa Fe Opera in February 2018.

Neef was head of casting of the Paris Opera from August 2004 to September 2008. He was scheduled to join Gerard Mortier's staff at the New York City Opera before Mortier quit in November 2008, before he was to officially start for the 2009-10 season.

Born in Germany, Neef also has worked at the Ruhrtriennale and spent two seasons at the Salzburg Festival as a production manager under Mortier.