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FRI: Council backtracks on safe campsites for unhoused, NM Dems respond to Roe repeal, + More

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Source New Mexico
The Albuquerque City Council voted against adopting rules to the ordinance it passed earlier in the month that will allow for sanctioned encampments.

Councilors weigh repeal of measure to create city-sanctioned camps for unsheltered people - Shaun Griswold, Source New Mexico 

Albuquerque city councilors are trying to reverse course on an ordinance sanctioning camps for unhoused people that they passed earlier this month. As part of that, they’re postponing decisions on the rules for such camps.

But that might mean the Safe Outdoor Spaces ordinance will become law in early August without guidance or a zoning plan.

It’s in Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller’s hands now. He has not signed the ordinance into law. Friday is the final day for him to take action with a signature or veto. If Keller takes no action, the ordinance becomes law.

A tense meeting over Zoom on Wednesday night pitted Council members against city administrators from the Mayor’s Office, with much of the conversation going back and forth between councilors that want arrests and citations to clear out camps, and the city’s position on legal protections that grant constitutional rights for people who sleep outside in tents.

In the end, the Council voted against adopting operating rules that would have set up protections for sanctioned camps but also did not fast track a proposal to repeal the measure.

“A deferral on this bill means that we will have legally allowable safe outdoor spaces without any rules in place for how they will be put in place,” Councilor Tammy Fiebelkorn said. “I don’t think that is what anyone I’ve spoken to wants.”

Fiebelkorn voted in the minority with Councilors Ike Benton, Pat Davis and Trudy Jones in support of adopting rules to the camping ordinance. Councilors Renee Grout, Dan Lewis, Klarissa Peña, Louie Sanchez and Brook Bassan defeated the measure 5-4.

Bassan originally co-sponsored the Safe Outdoor Spaces ordinance but changed her mind and unsuccessfully attempted to introduce a repeal during Wednesday’s meeting. She can bring it back up, and it could be considered by the Council as soon as August.

During a news conference at the North Domingo Baca Multicultural Center on Wednesday morning, Bassan announced a new pool headed to the facility in the far Northeast Heights and then renounced her support for city-sanctioned camps.

She said her vision for moving tents to a central location needed more public input, which she received in the form of protest by a group called Women Taking Back Our Neighborhood. The group calls the Safe Outdoor Spaces ordinance a “disastrous idea” and says it will hurt property values and reduce tourism.

The group is also taking the stance that more policing of homeless camps is necessary, something that was echoed by councilors during the meeting Wednesday evening.

During one exchange, Council President Lewis wondered if the city can arrest people at camps based on the number of beds available at local city-run shelters, a link to the 2018 federal court case Martin vs. Boise where a judge ruled people cannot be arrested if services are not available.

City attorneys and Albuquerque police reminded Lewis that people cannot be forced to go to shelters if they do not want to and that federal ruling, even though it does not apply to Albuquerque, could cause further lawsuits for the city if police are more aggressive toward clearing camps.

Bassan accepts the notion that arresting people for camping in public spaces can be problematic but questions why there are not more arrests for misdemeanor or felony crimes that reportedly happen at encampments. She said concerns of jail overcrowding at MDC should not be an excuse.

“I think that that’s something that we do need to look into,” she said. “Maybe it’s overcrowded, because we need more behavioral health services, because we need more drug addiction treatment. We need to get those things online so that we can truly be able to filter out the difference between illegal activity and a need for access to services.”

The Metropolitan Detention Center has twice declared a state of emergency in June because of a shortage of guards that’s worsened over the last couple of years. In recent months, Bernalillo County officials also called on the National Guard and county employees to handle administrative tasks at the jail to free up guards. Sometimes the 1,300 or so people incarcerated there are on lockdown for days at a time so they’re easier to watch.

Albuquerque Police Deputy Chief Josh Brown made it clear to councilors that the department cannot, “simply arrest people for camping at city parks.”

“There are multiple factors that determine when and if an arrest should be made. Potentially violating the rights of individuals, the city will likely be sued, facing extensive litigation and face significant damage.”

Brown said that when police determine an arrest is not possible, they call other city resources such as the Albuquerque Community Safety Responders.

Dems in NM weigh legislative response to abortion ruling — KUNM News, Dan McKay, Dan Boyd, Albuquerque Journal

In response to this morning’s Supreme Court Decision overturning Roe v Wade, New Mexico’s democratic lawmakers said they are discussing whether to enshrine abortion protection directly in state law.

The Albuquerque Journal reports officials have discussed expanding protections for both health care providers, and for women seeking services here, even if they are from another state.

Last year, in response to the election defeat of candidates who were vocally anti-abortion, lawmakers repealed a 1969 law that made it a crime to end a pregnancy except in very specific cases such as rape.

For decades the law had been unenforceable because of the now overturned Roe v Wade.

Now, lawmakers say it’s more important than ever to put a law on the books that can ensure protections for not only local women, but those from around the country who receive care here in NM.

Albuquerque salon owner behind 'vampire facials' takes plea — Associated Press

A former Albuquerque spa owner has pleaded guilty to conducting unlicensed "vampire facials" that led to two clients contracting HIV.

New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas announced the plea from Maria de Lourdes Ramos de Ruiz in a news release Friday.

Ramos de Ruiz will enter a guilty plea to five felony counts of practicing medicine without a license.

The scam was discovered when a client who was diagnosed with HIV reported visiting her spa.

State licensing regulators investigated her business and found multiple health-code violations. Inspectors say there were unwrapped needles, improper blood disposal and unlabeled syringes next to food in a refrigerator.

A second client with HIV then came forward.

"Vampire facials" are when a person's blood is injected into their face to rejuvenate their skin.

Prosecutors say Ramos de Ruiz also did illegal plasma and Botox-injection procedures.

She faces more than seven years in prison.

Santa Fe complex residents must move after power outage — Associated Press

More than 50 tenants at a Santa Fe apartment complex are being forced to move out because of electrical issues.

Residents of the Railyard Flats told Albuquerque's KOB-TV that they lost power Friday and were told by management to leave by July 6.

In a statement, Railyard Flats said repairing the electrical issues could take months because of back order and supply chain problems. But residents will be placed in hotels through July 8. They will also be allowed to break their leases with no penalty.

Residents are worried about finding a new home in a short amount of time. Helen Wang says she only moved to Santa Fe a couple weeks ago and it took her months to find an apartment.

Donna Huaman-Castillo and her daughter are still staying in their apartment for now. They are taking cold showers and sleeping on air mattresses.

It was not immediately clear if the outage was related to the one that left more than 10,000 Santa Fe customers without power Thursday morning.

Public Service Company of New Mexico says that outage was caused by a crow touching a 46,000-volt line at a transformer station.

Power was restored after 45 minutes.

State of City event set to take place at ABQ Railyards — KUNM News

Saturday, the city of Albuquerque will host its annual State of the City community celebration starting at 10am at the Rail Yards Market.

The event will allow residents to connect with City departments and community partners. Local food vendors will be on hand and entertainment will be provided. Mayor Tim Kellor will give a speech starting at 1 p.m., in which he will discuss issues of crime and homelessness as well as investment in the city and efforts to create more opportunities for young people.

New Mexico election drama has roots in wider county movement - By Christina A. Cassidy And Morgan Lee Associated Press

A rural New Mexico county's initial refusal to certify its primary election results sent ripples across the country last week, a symbol of how even the most elemental functions of democracy have become politicized pressure points amid the swirl of lies stemming from the 2020 presidential outcome.

After the Otero County Commission finally relented, one question persisted: Why New Mexico, a state that has not been a political battleground and where Joe Biden beat Donald Trump handily two years ago?

The seeds of the short-lived election crisis, which ended amid a showdown with the secretary of state and an order from the New Mexico Supreme Court, had been planted months before, when David Clements, a lawyer who has gained prominence in conservative circles, and others began raising conspiracy theories and false claims about the last presidential election that came to dominate political discussion in the heavily Republican county.

But it's not just Otero County where local election administration is in the crosshairs of conspiracy theorists, and it's not just Clements involved in the effort.

Across the country, supporters and allies of former President Donald Trump have been meeting with local officials — sowing doubts about the 2020 election, seeking access to voting equipment and pressing for changes that would upend election administration in their counties. The effort has led to security breaches of voting equipment and, in New Mexico, chaos surrounding what has historically been a routine task.

"You have seen a whole bunch of people — some sincere, some perhaps less sincere — who have rushed to fill the demand to provide evidence of the fraud that Trump created," said David Levine, a former election official who is now a fellow with the Alliance for Securing Democracy.

There was no widespread fraud in the 2020 presidential election that could have changed the outcome.

Even before the Nov. 3, 2020, election, Trump was telling his supporters that fraud was the only way he could lose re-election, pointing mostly — and without evidence — to the expansion of mail-in voting during the pandemic.

In the months since, there has been no evidence to support the claims. They have been dismissed by dozens of judges, by Trump's attorney general at the time, and by a coalition of federal and state election and cybersecurity officials who called the 2020 vote the "most secure" in U.S. history.

That hasn't stopped the false claims from proliferating, driven by a group of Trump supporters who appear at many of the same events and engage with each other regularly.

Clements, a former assistant district attorney in southern New Mexico and former business professor at New Mexico State University, has traveled the country speaking with local government boards, at conservative conventions and to church groups. He was at the "cybersymposium" last year held by MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, a key Trump ally who has sought to prove voting machines were somehow manipulated to favor Biden.

Clements' popular social media feed on Telegram frequently weaves pronouncements about democracy with scripture and prayer. It also includes video chats with the like-minded.

In one video from March, Clements chatted with Jim Marchant, a Trump loyalist from Nevada who claims elections have long been rigged. Marchant recently won the Republican primary for secretary of state, Nevada's top elections position. He has been a key organizer of a group of "America First" candidates this year who either deny the outcome of the 2020 presidential election or promote the idea that elections in the U.S. are corrupt.

In the video, Clements and Marchant discuss a "county commission strategy" that involves pressuring local officials to get rid of the "cheat" machines so that all ballots are not only cast by hand but also counted by hand. Election experts say hand-counting of ballots is not only less accurate but extremely labor-intensive, potentially delaying results by weeks if not months. They also say it's unnecessary because voting equipment is tested before and after elections to ensure ballots are read and tallied correctly.

A day earlier, county officials in Nye County, Nevada, had voted to request that the county clerk not use ballot tabulators in the upcoming November election. The clerk is opposed to the move and has decided to retire after the primary. Marchant was among those urging commissioners to make the move.

"It was the first domino to fall to allow us to get back to fair and transparent elections here in the country," Marchant told Clements. "And we're going to do it with many more counties right here in Nevada, and hopefully this will encourage others in other states to do the same thing."

Clements was excited about the development and promised to push counties to do the same in his home state of New Mexico, where he once sought the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate.

"Shouldn't the commissioners care about whether I trust the system or not?" Clements told Marchant. "I love how you just cut through all the noise."

This week, Clements is scheduled to appear at an event in Louisiana with Douglas Frank, another Lindell associate who has been traveling the country meeting with state and local officials. In May 2021, Frank met with members of the Ohio Secretary of State's Office offering to scrutinize their voting procedures, boasting he's been working with county officials in 22 states.

"You either come onto our team and we can audit it together and show that there was no malfeasance, or you can oppose us," Frank told agency staff, according to an audio recording. The office did not accept the offer.

For months now, Clements has been pushing Republican-leaning counties in New Mexico to launch partisan reviews of the 2020 election, similar to the much-maligned effort in Arizona coordinated by Republicans in one chamber of the state's legislature. In Otero County, which Trump won by a wide margin, Clements and his wife, Erin, have been conducting an informal and unpaid review of the county's 2020 election procedures.

The result has been a series of hourslong presentations to the county commission about unproven vulnerabilities in vote-tallying machines and patterns in voter registration activity. The Clements, who list Las Cruces as their residence, did not respond to requests for an interview.

Earlier this month, when Otero County commissioners were considering whether to discontinue the use of ballot tabulators, the couple again made a presentation. It prompted a rebuttal from Otero County Clerk Robyn Holmes.

"There is a lot of things they have found, that they are saying, that are not true," Holmes said.

Nonetheless, the commissioners — led by Couy Griffin, co-founder of "Cowboys for Trump," who was convicted of entering restricted U.S. Capitol grounds during the Jan. 6 insurrection — voted to stop using the ballot tabulators before the November election.

Clements was among those urging Otero County commissioners against certification of the June 7 primary results, repeating conspiracy theories about voting equipment that trace back to the days immediately following the 2020 election. Holmes, the clerk, said the primary was conducted without problems.

Clements also went to Torrance County, another conservative stronghold in New Mexico, to urge commissioners to defy authorities and refuse to certify their primary results. During the meeting last Friday, the crowd hurled insults of "traitors" and "cowards" at commissioners before they voted — unanimously — to certify the results.

Election officials and experts have expressed concern that local certification boards in other states that are receptive to conspiracy theories surrounding voting machines might be inspired to follow Otero County's example, wreaking havoc with election results.

Counties in Nevada have until Friday to sign off on the results of the state's June 14 primary. Nye County commissioners, who want to stop using ballot tabulators, are scheduled to meet to consider certification on Friday. They have not said publicly what they plan to do.

Nevada counties face deadline to certify election results - By Ken Ritter Associated Press

Facing a Friday deadline to certify results from the recent primary election, officials in Nevada's least populated county were planning another hand count as a way to prove to residents that their votes count and that the voting process works.

Several other county commissions also were scheduled to certify their results so they could be forwarded to the secretary of state's office, as required under state law.

Distrust by some voters in Nevada has been fueled by unfounded voting machine conspiracies that have spread across the country over the past two years.

The decision in Esmeralda County, the least populous county in the state, comes a week after lawmakers in a Republican-leaning rural New Mexico county initially refused to certify their primary election results.

Esmeralda County Commission Chairman De Winsor and Vice-Chairman Timothy Hipp responded to constituents' complaints with a promise to recount the votes themselves before Friday's deadline.

"The grassroots effort starts right here," Winsor said midway through a contentious 90-minute meeting at which the three-member commission in the Republican-leaning county met to sign off on the results of the vote. "This is where we proved we do it right."

Fellow Commissioner Ralph Keyes said he was already willing to accept the count of the vote conducted by county officials — including a hand-count on Wednesday by county employees of the 177 paper ballots and paper records of 140 ballots that county Clerk-Treasurer LaCinda Elgan said were cast by machine.

In a telephone interview, Elgan called the primary "absolutely safe and fair." One vote cast on one ballot was unintelligible, she said, but all ballots were tallied and reported. None was rejected.

It did not appear the number of votes in question could affect results of primary contests that chose candidates for federal and state offices including Congress, governor, state attorney general and the top elections official in Nevada, the secretary of state.

State attorney general's office spokesman John Sadler confirmed that Nevada law sets 11:59 p.m. Friday as the deadline to certify results of the June 14 primary. He said any hand-count of ballots before then would be considered part of the county "canvass" process.

To his knowledge, Sadler said no Nevada county had ever refused to certify results.

The role of county lawmakers in the certification process is ministerial. Attorney General Aaron Ford told The Associated Press earlier this week that the state would respond with "legal options" if county commissioners or elections officials refused to certify the results "based on posturing designed to undermine faith in our democratic process."

Eight rural Nevada counties already have certified their results. Canvassing is scheduled Friday in Esmeralda and eight others including Clark, covering the Las Vegas area; Washoe covering the Reno area; and Nye, a Republican-leaning county including Pahrump and Tonopah.

The standoff in Nevada bore echoes of concerns raised in New Mexico's Otero County, where commissioners stalled before splitting their vote and approving election results. Officials there cited unspecified concerns with Dominion voting systems, which have become a target since the 2020 presidential election.

New Mexico's Democratic secretary of state appealed to that state's Democratic Supreme Court to intervene before two commissioners relented — complaining that they felt they were little more than rubber-stamps.

The three commissioners in Esmeralda voted in April to join commissioners in neighboring Nye County calling for elections to be conducted using paper ballots — and without Dominion machines. Elgan and the elected county clerk in Nye County, Sam Merlino, both said they did not believe it was feasible to stop using electronic voting machines this year.

In comments protesting the Esmeralda County primary vote, resident Mary Jane Zakas made no reference to New Mexico.

But she alleged that "hot dog tongs could have breached" ballot boxes that she said didn't meet security standards; that partisan workers drove ballots from a remote polling place to Goldfield; and that a Dominion representative provided assistance to an election worker. Zakas said that showed the poll worker wasn't properly trained.

The clerk's office said the worker was trained, and the Dominion representative was there to help. The county clerk also said no computer malfunctioned.

Zakas also alleged in an email that "the vote could have been flipped or tampered with" during the five minutes she said a poll worker carried a thumb drive from a vote tally computer out of a room.

Elgan and Deputy Clerk Michelle Garcia said during Thursday's meeting that a printer was in the other room. Elgan said a printer will be installed in the counting room for the general election.

"We've got a problem. People don't trust the system," Zakas told the commissioners. "We've got a situation where a lot of people are really concerned about the safety of their votes."

Esmeralda County, a former mining boom area, is about halfway between Las Vegas and Reno. It is home to fewer than 1,000 residents. Nearly 54% of the county's 621 active registered voters are Republicans, according to the Nevada Secretary of State, and more than 25% are non-partisan.

President Donald Trump won 82% of the vote in Esmeralda County in 2020.

Recent rain allows forests in US Southwest to reopen - Associated Press

Some national forests in Arizona and New Mexico are relaxing fire restrictions and reopening, thanks to a strong start to the annual rainy season in the southwest U.S.

The monsoon has delivered much-needed moisture to the parched region and relief from scorching temperatures. Forecasters say Arizona has a good chance of getting above-average rain through the season that runs through September. New Mexico has equal chances of above, below and normal rainfall.

Two national forests that border New Mexico's most populated areas — the Santa Fe and the Cibola forests — along with the Lincoln and Carson forests largely will reopen Friday after being closed because of wildfire danger. That means residents and visitors once again will be able to hit the hiking, biking and horse riding trails, and camp there.

Some pockets will remain closed because of active wildfires, or the threat of flash flooding or trees falling.

Restrictions across the forests and other public land vary on whether campfires are allowed without limits or only in developed areas. Bandelier National Monument also will ease fire restrictions Friday.

The Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in eastern Arizona is rescinding all fire restrictions Friday, but officials urged visitors to avoid lighting campfires in hot, dry conditions.

Lightning from monsoon storms also can ignite new blazes. Eight small fires were reported in Arizona and New Mexico on Wednesday, two of which were caused by lightning.

A dozen large wildfires are burning in the two states in what has so far been a historic start to the fire season due to hot, dry and windy conditions brought on by drought and climate change.

County approves order to address MDC issues — KUNM News, Elise Kaplan, Albuquerque Journal

County Officials approved on Tuesday an order requiring the Metropolitan Detention Center to address a long list of issues plaguing the jail.

The order will require MDC to increase the amount of time inmates are under direct supervision, decrease their amount of time in lockdown, and improve safety conditions in general, according to a report from the Albuquerque journal.

As per the newspaper, the order stipulates the jail must hire more than 100 people over the next two years, with benchmarks set every six months in order to help meet those goals.

MDC, which currently has more than 1400 people incarcerated, has a more than 50 percent vacancy rating among correctional officers, at times having as few as 13 guards and two supervisors on shift for the entire jail.

The lack of supervision has led to safety conditions so poor that the New Mexico Public Defenders office will now no longer meet clients in person at the jail, and has forced MDC’s chief to declare a state of emergency twice in June alone.

While the order is a step in the right direction, current correctional officers say the order is a “joke” and that they would need to hire those 100 people in the next six months to make a difference.

Man gets life in prison for killing of Santa Fe prep star - Associated Press

A man convicted of fatally shooting a Santa Fe High School star basketball player after a fight at a house party nearly two years ago has been sentenced to life in prison.

A New Mexico district court judge gave 18-year-old Estevan Montoya the maximum sentence Wednesday for the August 2020 killing of Fedonta "JB" White.

The judge said Montoya will be eligible for parole in 30 years.

Montoya was 16 at the time of the fatal shooting.

A jury found him guilty of first-degree murder, tampering with evidence, unlawful possession of a handgun by an underage person and negligent use of a deadly weapon.

White graduated from high school a year early and was recruited by multiple Division I college basketball programs. He was set to play for the New Mexico Lobos in the 2020-21 season.

City makes plan for $49 million in pandemic relief — KUNM news, Jessica Dyer, Albuquerque journal

Albuquerque city councilors on Wednesday, voted to appropriate nearly 50 million dollars the city recently received via the American Rescue Plan act.

Most of the money will go towards projects, facilities and services aimed at helping unhoused people, according to a report from the Albuquerque Journal.

For example, the report states $7 million will go toward building a new youth shelter, and $4 million will go to cover wellness motels–a program where the city uses motels for homeless families and those who need to be isolated from the general shelter population.

The council also allocated more than $10 million to several line items involving the long anticipated Gibson Health Hub, a redesign of the former Lovelace hospital that will include a new shelter, as well as a medical substance detox center, and a respite center for people who need to recover at home after initial medical treatment — but don’t have a home to go to.

The city previously received $150 million in aid under the CARES act, most of which covered public safety payroll.