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SUN: New Mexico COVID map worsens as cases surge, Indigenous representation on US corporate boards continues to lack across the nation, + More

Centers for Disease Control
Community levels of COVID-19 as of July 22, 2022

New Mexico COVID map growing redder as cases surgeSanta Fe Reporter

The number of New Mexico counties showing high community levels of COVID-19 has risen from 7 to 17 according to data released by the CDC.

According to the Santa Fe Reporter, the latest numbers cover a seven-day period from July 14-20. Over that time period there have been more than 7,500 cases and 137 deaths, bringing the total deaths to over 8,100.

Santa Fe County remains yellow, or medium risk. Bernalillo County is high and is “red,” like a large swath of the state. Only four counties are in “green” indicating they have lower level. That’s down from nine last week.

For those in counties with high community levels, the CDC recommends indoor masking, but state health officials said in a recent briefing there are no plans to return to mask mandates. Acting Health Secretary Dr. David Scrase said the new Omicron subvariant BA.5 likely accounts for half of cases here. The variant is causing a surge nationwide.

Indigenous representation lacking on US corporate boardsBy Mark Trahant, ICT

Mary Smith had a plan: She was going to serve as a member of a corporate board. She already had the resume. Smith is an attorney, and she had worked as the chief executive officer for the U.S. Indian Health Service, a $6 billion-a-year operation.

"I think for most people, you're not going to get a call out of the blue," she said. "You have to put yourself out there so that people know that you want to be on a corporate board because there are recruiters that recruit for corporate boards. But, the vast majority of board seats are still filled through networking."

Smith's planning was deliberate. She "very intentionally treated it like a full-time job." That included learning about corporate governance and board responsibilities and developing a "board bio" to highlight attributes boards are looking for, such as experience with regulatory agencies. She also hired coaches to sharpen her pitch.

"I didn't want to look back and say, 'Oh, I wish I had done X, Y or Z.'"

Smith has made a place for herself at a table where few Indigenous people have historically been invited.

There are some 4,000 companies traded on Wall Street through the New York Stock Exchange or NASDAQ. Each of them has professional board members who are responsible for corporate governance. The number of American Indians and Alaska Natives represented on those boards is far less than one-tenth of 1%.

Smith, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, now serves on the board for PTC Therapeutics Inc., a publicly traded global biopharmaceutical company that focuses on the "discovery, development and commercialization of clinically differentiated medicines that provide benefits to patients with rare disorders."

She is paid a board fee of $30,659, according to the company's report with the Securities and Exchange Commission. She also is awarded both options and stocks that depend on the company's success and could be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Smith says there is more to serving on a board than showing up to four meetings a year.

"That sounds like an easy gig, but, no, it's actually a lot of work," she said. There are documents that must be reviewed, a duty of care and loyalty. One poor decision could result in liability.

"So, yes, you have to be very thoughtful and exercise your fiduciary duties to the corporation."

According to the corporate search firm Spencer Stuart and its annual report index, the total average compensation for a board seat is $312,279. This average reflects actual director compensation, including the voluntary, and usually temporary, pay cuts some boards took during the height of the pandemic. More than three-quarters of boards provide stock grants to directors in addition to a fee.

Serving on a corporate board is a good gig, yet there are a few prominent Indigenous board members. Cherie Brandt serves on the board of TD Bank in Toronto. She is both Mohawk from Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte and Ojibway from Wiikwemkoong Unceded Indian Reserve. She was appointed last August. Kathy Hannan, Ho Chunk, serves on Otis Elevator and Annaly Capital Management.

A number of Indigenous people also serve on regional bank boards, utility companies, across the energy sector.

Overall the data reveals movement related to diversity. The 2021 U.S. Spencer Stuart Board Index shows white directors fell slightly in 2021 yet still account for eight of every 10 board members, and six of the 10 are white men.

The index also found directors from historically underrepresented groups accounted for 72% of all new directors at S&P 500 companies, up from 59% in 2020. Female representation increased to 30% of all S&P 500 directors.

"Despite the record number of new directors from historically underrepresented groups, the overall representation of some demographic groups on S&P 500 boards falls short of their representation in the U.S. population," Spencer Stuart reported. "For example, although 42% of the U.S. population identifies as African American, Hispanic, Asian, American Indian/Native Alaskan or multiracial, those groups make up only 21% of S&P 500 directors."

The 6th edition of the Missing Pieces Report: The Board Diversity Census by the accounting firm Deloitte and the Alliance for Board Diversity is a multiyear study that found public companies are making slow progress appointing more diverse boards. The goal of the Alliance is to have women and minorities make up 40% of all corporate board seats, up from 17.5% in 2021.

And the thing is, the Alliance for Board Diversity says based on the skillset of new board members, women and people of color are more likely than white men to bring experience with "corporate sustainability and socially responsible investing, government, sales and marketing, and technology in the workplace to their boards."

In other words: If the new framework is sustainability, especially Environment, Social, Governance, or ESG, then people of color who are appointed to boards are more likely to be prepared for the task ahead.

Native Americans are largely absent from corporate leadership.

The numbers are striking. According to Deloitte, less than one-tenth of 1% of all corporate board members are in the "other" category. There are so few Indigenous people in corporate boardrooms that there is not even a measurement. (The Spencer Stuart Board Index simply reports less than 1% for American Indian and Alaska Native representation.)

There are a couple of initiatives trying to change that. The first comes from the National Association of Securities Dealers Automated Quotations, or NASDAQ, a computerized system for trading stock. In August 2021 a Board Diversity Rule was established that requires companies to use a standard template for board representation and "have or explain why they do not have at least two diverse directors."

And in California, a 2020 law requires companies headquartered in that state to have one to three board members who self-identify as a member of an "underrepresented community," which includes Asian, Black, Latino, Native American and Pacific Islander individuals, as well as those who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. The law allowed the secretary of state to fine companies that did not comply. Then in May 2022 a Los Angeles court struck down the law as unconstitutional; its application is on hold until the appeal process is complete.

But companies are acting anyway. Four years ago nearly one-third of public company boards in California were composed of all men. According to the most recent report from the California Partners Project, today fewer than 2% are. This year two-thirds of California public companies have three or more women directors — six times as many as in 2018.

"I think it's very important to have representation, especially from the Native American community," said Assemblyman James Ramos, D-San Bernardino. Ramos is a citizen of the Serrano/Cahuilla tribe, and is the first California Indian to be elected to the state Assembly. "It serves two different folds, one to make sure that representation of not only California's first people, but that the nation's first people has a voice in driving the economics of our community, of our state, and of our nation."

Ramos said it's also aspirational, demonstrating opportunity.

"When you're putting statistics and data together, we hear it all the time: Latino population, right? Statistics and data. African American, statistics and data. And yet we're talking about people of color and diversity and not even mention Native American people or even California Indian people in general."

There have been a significant number of Native Americans serving on philanthropic boards.

Sherry Salway Black, Oglala Lakota, has served on a number of such boards and says she heard the narrative often that only one or two Native Americans served on private foundation boards. So she did a "quick and dirty" survey and found at least 28 Native people serving on 13 private foundations, and nine Native people on the boards of seven community foundations.

One area where there is a lot of Native board action is for Community Development Financial Institutions that are mission driven and focused on community building and access to capital. There are dozens of such lending institutions, and it's been especially important in the agriculture sector.

Carla Fredericks, Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara, is chief executive officer of The Christensen Fund, a $300 million foundation. She said it's important to be intentional about how board members are appointed.

"This is long overdue," she said. "Even as we've tried to get additional board members for our board, we are certainly aware that while there's incredible leadership experience in Indian Country, there's not a lot of board experience that people have. So it's really important to build that."

Fredericks said it can be a self-perpetuating problem if boards require previous experience but don't explore translatable experiences.

"We took a broader lens to looking at candidates," Fredericks said. "I also think that we had a really intentional lens to recruit Indigenous people to the board."

ICT has been building a list of Indigenous representation on corporate boards, government-sponsored enterprises, university boards and major nonprofits, illustrating the deep talent pool already available. When members of Congress, for example, retire or even lose an election, they are often sought after as corporate board members. The process is not the same for tribal leaders who have been managing multimillion-dollar enterprises, especially large tribes such as the Navajo Nation or the Cherokee Nation.

One part of that equation is how boards recruit new members. The report Missing Pieces, a 2021 census compiled by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sloan School of Management, said there is an immediate impact after placing women and minorities into key positions, such as on the nominating committee. "After two years, these boards are more likely to have higher percentages of women or minorities."

Mary Smith, the Cherokee Nation citizen on the PTC Therapeutics board, said there is a need to expand the network beyond former chief executives into other areas of experience, such as tribal leadership.

"I would love to see more Native Americans on boards. And I hope that some people would start to say, 'Yeah, I could do that.' And then try to put themselves out there to be on the radar," she said. "People in the Native community have a lot to contribute to corporate boards."

Search continues for a man missing in New Mexico floodwatersAssociated Press

The search continued Sunday for a man reported missing after flash floods hit the wildfire burn scar in northern New Mexico.

Authorities said the bodies of two women were recovered Thursday west of Las Vegas, New Mexico after the Cabo Lucero Volunteer Fire Department responded to a call of a vehicle being washed away by floodwaters.

Officials with the San Miguel County Sheriff's Office said the bodies were found in different places along the creek

A search began Friday for a missing man who was in the vehicle with the two women, according to authorities.

The names, ages and hometowns of the women and man haven't been released yet.

The flooding occurred in the "burn scar" area from the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire.

The combined wildfire has burned 533 square miles (1,380 square kilometers) and has yet to be fully contained after more than three months.

Southern New Mexico city to install safe haven 'baby box' By Gabrielle Arsiaga, Hobbs News-Sun

Hobbs city commissioners took a step toward saving the lives of unwanted newborns at a recent meeting by voting to install a baby box in the southeastern New Mexico community.

The vote was spurred by the case of Alexis Avila, who was caught on surveillance camera in early January throwing her infant — who was tied in a plastic bag — into a dumpster behind a retail shopping mall in near freezing weather. Dumpster divers found the newborn — six hours later, and still alive.

Due to that incident, commissioners approved a resolution in support of installing a surrender safety device at Hobbs Fire Station 1, otherwise known as the "Safe Haven Site," and authorizing the city to seek funding for the installation and maintenance of the device from the state.

"We'd like to have the box here as soon as possible," Hobbs Mayor Sam Cobb said. "As soon as we see what's coming down from the state and other partners we might find. We hope to do something here within the next couple of months."

Commissioners in February had made amendments to the Hobbs Safe Haven for Infants Act, the Hobbs News-Sun reported. Those changes allowed for the surrendering of infants, 90 days or less in age, to be surrendered via a "safety device" or "baby box" without parental fear of criminal prosecution.

According to Hobbs Fire Chief Barry Young, the Safe Haven baby box is a much needed asset for Hobbs and surrounding areas.

"The whole baby box concept really hit home here locally when we had the incident with the baby thrown in the dumpster," Young said. "There was a lot of discussion as to what can be done on the part of the city and prevent it from happening again. Prior to that incident, I don't know of any incidents as such, especially in my 20 year career.

"My opinion is, if it can save one baby, it's definitely worth the cost."

New Mexico Sen. David Gallegos, R-Eunice, agrees.

According to Gallegos, who has been an advocate of the baby box since "Baby Sal" was found in the dumpster. While it has been a slow, uphill climb, he said, cities across New Mexico are taking steps in the right direction to continue to offer more options to mothers who feel they have no other choice than to give up their child.

"Loving and Carlsbad have both contacted me about having a box installed in their cities," Gallegos said. "In order for a city to have a box, they have to have a 24-hour fire station so we may end up with about 30 of these boxes statewide. The thought is, if we have at least one per county in the state, then we can offer more options to these women.

"This next year, I intend to make adjustments because the bill still leaves some liability with the mother and we want to make sure, in the overall scheme, when the child is placed in the box, there is no liability for the mother. We also want to make sure that if the grandparents or father want the child, they have to the right to go and do a DNA test to be able to get the child back from CYFD. This is the first step and I'm really proud of Hobbs."

Young said the approval on Monday night's consent agenda is only the first step in the process. It allows the city to establish an account where it can start funneling money from donations. There also will be an annual $300 service fee for the company that provides the box.

Young said the process isn't as simple as some might believe.

According to the consent agenda, $18,500 must be raised for the installation and fees of the box. Of that, $11,000 is the initial fee for the box itself.

Gallegos said a portion of the cost to the city has been pledged to be covered by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who offered in February to cover the cost of five baby boxes to be placed around the state, with Hobbs following the first in Espanola.

"This will give women options that they didn't have before. This is an anonymous option that has never been given to women in the country before," Safe Haven Baby Box founder Monica Kelsey told the News-Sun. "It is pivotal to give women options. We can prevent those incidents from happening like the case that happened in January. It's sad that it took that case to provide an option for the community there. I am thankful that baby survived and they are moving forward."

Kelsey said the company already has 98 baby boxes in five states, with New Mexico being the sixth.

In Indiana, where Kelsey is from, two to three babies a year were found dead before installing the boxes. After the installation, zero infants have been found dead, and a record number of babies have been recovered in the boxes, she said.

"We've literally changed the tide. We've turned it around in Indiana and Arkansas. We've had a total of 14 babies (recovered) in the last three years in our boxes and we've had 115 women surrender at fire stations," said Kelsey. "Our program doesn't just revolve around women going to boxes, it revolves around giving women options.

"We've had almost 130 babies, moms and dads, come through our program in a little under three years."

Cobb agrees a baby box will provide options for people struggling with how to handle an unwanted newborn.

"This box indicates that we (Hobbs) care about children and we also care about the people that are struggling with some of the issues related to having children and not knowing what to do. We hope that this gives them an opportunity to feel like they can take the child and put it in a safe environment and not make poor decisions," Cobb said.

According to Kelsey, after the money is raised and the contract is signed, it will take about two to three months to build, deliver and install a box.