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FRI: Feds approve $5M for NM watersheds, state says too many schools underperforming + More

The Rio Chama is located in northern New Mexico. The landscape consists of gently rolling sagebrush-covered plains and a 900-foot-deep canyon of colorful siltstone and sandstone carved by the Rio Chama. Piñon woodlands cover the hills, and forests of ponderosa pine and Douglas fir cover the north-facing slopes. The diversity of habitat types provide for a variety of wildlife. This scenic area includes excellent opportunities for river rafting.
Wild and Scenic Rivers
The Rio Chama is located in northern New Mexico. The landscape consists of gently rolling sagebrush-covered plains and a 900-foot-deep canyon of colorful siltstone and sandstone carved by the Rio Chama. Piñon woodlands cover the hills, and forests of ponderosa pine and Douglas fir cover the north-facing slopes. The diversity of habitat types provide for a variety of wildlife. This scenic area includes excellent opportunities for river rafting.

Projects protecting New Mexico watersheds see $5 million boost - Albuquerque Journal, KUNM News

The federal government is pumping $5 million dollars into two watershed projects meant to protect drinking water for several urban areas – including Albuquerque.

As the Albuquerque Journal reports, the money comes from a $51 million pot of cash made available through the Bureau of Reclamation for 30 water projects across the United States.

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland made the announcement last week, saying “Adequate, resilient and safe water supplies are fundamental to the health, economy and security of every community in our nation.”

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, championed by President Joe Biden, earmarks $8.3 billion for water infrastructure projects over five years.

$3 million of that will help increase resiliency for the San Juan-Chama Project and Rio Chama headwaters by thinning forests. Doing so would protect source water from the effects of wildfire.

On the other hand, the Pueblo of Isleta will get $2.5 million to build resilience in the lower Rio Puerco watershed. There, the Pueblo will use nature-based watershed restoration techniques to tackle erosion caused by a loss of vegetation and intense monsoons.

Too many schools are underperforming, top New Mexico education official says Associated Press

Far too many schools in New Mexico are underperforming, and the state's top education official says the focus of his agency's next budget proposal will be on holding districts and schools responsible for student achievement.

The budget blueprint is due next Thursday, but Public Education Secretary Arsenio Romero and other officials have declined to release any details before the deadline, the Albuquerque Journal reported Friday.

The proposed spending plan will follow the overdue release last month of results from spring standardized testing. The results show just 38% of tested students were proficient in reading, marking a slight uptick from the previous year. However, statewide math proficiency stands stagnant at 24%.

Romero sent a letter last week to the state's school districts calling for accountability from his own department, district leaders, charter schools, teacher unions as well as families. He wrote that he was alarmed by the high number of low-performing schools and what that means for the state.

"Far too many of our schools are underperforming. Students statewide have low reading and math proficiencies. This is unacceptable," the letter stated. "It is time for accountability. We owe this accountability to our state's most precious resource: children."

In addition to its funding request, the Public Education Department also aims to use proposed new rules to enforce accountability. One such rule would establish an accreditation process for school districts.

If a district is not approved for accreditation, the state agency could mandate the district create a plan to correct course or the agency could take over that district's educational and operational planning.

A public hearing for that rule is scheduled for Dec. 18 in Santa Fe.

American Federation of Teachers New Mexico President Whitney Holland said Romero's letter has caused some concern among educators and she questioned what more accountability would look like.

"We are already facing a vacancy crisis, and when we say things like 'Be more accountable' — I think we have to be really careful, because that's going to disincentivize the profession," Holland said.

Legislative analysts also have called out the Public Education Department's delay in releasing the spring assessment results. Last year, the department published that data Sept. 1, and though it promised a quicker turnaround this year, did not release the information until Nov. 1.

Senior Policy Analyst Tim Bedeaux told members of the Legislative Education Study Committee during a meeting last week that the goal should be to get the data sooner so that lawmakers have enough time before the January start of their legislative session to understand whether the state's investments are working.

Amanda Aragon, executive director of the advocacy group NewMexicoKidsCAN, has said that the improvements in reading proficiency are positive but that overall the numbers are concerning for key groups of students. She pointed out that Hispanic, Native American and economically disadvantaged students are behind the statewide averages.

Lawmakers also have criticized the lack of progress New Mexico students have shown, particularly when it comes to graduation rates.

Democratic Sen. George Muñoz of Gallup, who chairs the legislative committee, directed criticism toward districts over lagging student outcomes. He noted that cash balances have grown over recent years as student populations have declined.

"We haven't moved the needle at all," he said. "We're paying more for kids, and we're still not getting there."



Authorities capture man accused of killing 3 in simmering Colorado property dispute Colleen Slevin, Amy Beth Hanson, Associated Press


A man was captured Tuesday after 25 hours on the run after police say he fatally shot three people and critically wounded a fourth in his latest property dispute with neighbors in rural Colorado, authorities said.

The suspect, Hanme K. Clark, 45, was arrested by New Mexico State police near Albuquerque, the Custer County Sheriff's Office in Colorado announced Tuesday afternoon. Officers found a weapon in the pickup truck, but it's not clear if it was the weapon used in the slayings, said Officer Wilson Silver with the New Mexico State Police.

Other neighbors not involved in the shooting have accused Clark of harassing them, denying them court-ordered use of part of his property to access their property, and posting signs saying he was armed, court records said.

The shooting broke out early Monday afternoon as a surveyor was working on a property owned by Rob Geers near Clark's, near Westcliffe about 50 miles (80 kilometers) southwest of Colorado Springs. The town is set in a valley between two mountain ranges and the area is home to both farms and ranches as well as vacation homes.

The surveyor told investigators that a man Geers identified as Clark approached them, yelling about trespassing, and then started to shoot. The surveyor was able to escape, running to a home about a half mile away, Clark's arrest affidavit said.

According to the document, Patty Daulton, who was wounded in the shooting, called 911, saying she thought her husband and two other people had been shot to death. Gunfire could be heard in the background of the call, it said.

The victims were identified as Geers, 63, his wife Beth Wade Geers, 73, and James Daulton, 58, Patty Daulton's husband, Custer County officials said. Patty Daulton was being treated at a trauma center, officials said.

The Daultons and Geers owned property near Clark's, Custer County Sheriff Rich Smith said.

Rob Geers had accused Clark of trespassing on his land four times, court records in the shooting case said. On Nov. 17, Geers said a hidden camera captured an image of a man dressed in hunting gear and carrying a rifle, his face covered, on his land that he said he was sure was Clark. He also claimed that Clark and his girlfriend had "decided to target him and his wife with harassment and trespassing" and had been concerned about a weapon being seen.

The property dispute had led sheriff's deputies to the area several times in recent years, but there was no indication that it would lead to violence, Smith said.

A week before the shooting, another area landowner asked that Clark be held in contempt of a June 2022 court order that had allowed them to cross the suspect's property to access their land.

The suspect had also been accused earlier of locking a gate and posting a sign near the gate that said "the owner of this property is armed," said Kevin Flesch, an attorney for one of the defendants who lost his easement access.

Easements are legal rights to cross someone else's land, usually to access one's own property and are often vital in rural American communities like this one.

Property boundaries in the county created soon after the Civil War are not always as clear as they would be in cities, Smith said, leading to calls for deputies to respond to property disputes almost every day.

The suspect was a part-owner of a business called Herbal Gardens Wellness, Smith said. Its website said it is dedicated to promoting health and well-being through the use of herbal remedies.

In the hours after the shooting, authorities in Westcliffe, a town of just about 500 people, called in help from other agencies and searched the woods and area buildings for Clark using night vision equipment, telling residents to remain in their homes, Smith said. But Smith said authorities later learned that Clark likely had left the area before they arrived, when his vehicle was spotted in Salida about 50 miles (80 kilometers) away. That prompted another shelter in place order for residents there as authorities looked for Clark with help from drones and a Denver police helicopter.

It was not clear if Clark had an attorney who would comment on his behalf. A telephone message left for a lawyer who represented Clark in the lawsuit over the easement was not immediately returned.

The shooting was one of several mass shootings that occurred in the past few days around the country.

Four people were wounded Monday night when a gunman opened fire in a Walmart in Beavercreek, Ohio, before apparently killing himself, police said.

On Sunday, a Tennessee man died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound while on the run after a series of shootings that killed four of his female relatives.

Officers found the body of Mavis Christian Jr., 52, in his car during a search following shootings at three locations in Memphis that left three women and a teenage girl dead and a teenage girl critically wounded, the Memphis Police Department said.


Hanson reported from Helena, Montana.

 New Mexico Supreme Court reprimands judge who advised prosecutors in case involving his daughter - Associated Press

The New Mexico Supreme Court has publicly censured a state judge in Las Cruces for providing advice to prosecutors during a 2021 trial of a man accused of pointing an assault rifle at the judge's daughter.

Third District Judge James Martin also was censured for allowing his daughter to wait in his chambers before she testified at the trial — which a visiting judge presided over after Martin had recused himself — and for having an inappropriate conversation with the prosecutors after Robert Burnham was convicted of aggravated assault by use of a firearm.

Martin accepted the court's decision, the Supreme Court said. It said Martin "denied committing willful misconduct" but "viewed through the lens of hindsight ... recognizes the potential for appearance of impropriety based upon his conduct."

The justices said their decision, reached Nov. 13, was not selected for publication in the formal New Mexico Appellate Records. But it was made public this week and will be published in the New Mexico Bar Bulletin.

Martin did not immediately respond Thursday to The Associated Press' requests for comment sent in an email and left in a telephone message at his office at the court, which was closed for the Thanksgiving holiday.

Burnham is appealing the conviction stemming from a 2018 incident outside a Las Cruces bar he owned. He told police that he had recently won the rifle in a raffle and was just moving it inside his car.

The Supreme Court said after the first day of the two-day jury trial in 2021 — heard by Judge Steven Blankinship of the 12th District — that Martin telephoned Assistant District Attorney Samuel Rosten and told him he should use the phrase "brandished a firearm" in his jury instructions instead of "pointed a firearm" at the alleged victim, Martin's daughter.

The next day the prosecution followed that advice.

Following the conviction, Martin inquired as to whether Burnham had been remanded to custody while awaiting sentencing. When Martin learned that he had, he told the prosecutors, "Good thing he was remanded, otherwise I would have told you to go back in there and try again."

Martin improperly allowed his daughter to be present for that conversation. He also improperly allowed his daughter to wait in his chambers down the hall while waiting to be called as a witness at the trial, the high court said.

The justices said Martin originally provided advice to the prosecutors because he recognized a legitimate mistake of law in their proposed jury instructions.

"Judge Martin believed that he was acting in his daughter's best interest by pointing out the mistake. Judge Martin's actions created an appearance of impropriety, which should not be ignored," Chief Justice C. Shannon Bacon wrote in the decision joined by the four other justices.

"We issue this censure not only to remind judges of their responsibility to avoid the appearance of impropriety but also to ensure the public that our legal system is committed to maintaining an independent, fair and impartial judiciary under the law," they said.


This story corrects the district in which Judge Steven Blankenship serves, which is the 12th District — not the Third District.

Local courts, public defenders offer options to people looking to clear warrants — KUNM News, Albuquerque Journal

People who want to clear any outstanding warrants still have until the end of November to take advantage of a safe surrender event at Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court.

TheAlbuquerque Journal reports the Home for the Holidays virtual safe surrender event gives people with misdemeanor warrants, “favorable consideration from the court” when they turn themselves in.

Metro court Judge Joshua J. Sanchez said the safe surrender program works well for all parties involved.

It saves the city money having to arrest someone with an active arrant, he said, and it gives the individual a chance to clear their record, and most importantly, he said, it helps to ensure people can spend the holidays with their families rather than, quote, “unnecessarily spend(ing) time in jail for low-level warrants that could have been easily addressed.”

A spokesperson for the court said a previous event in the past helped to clear more than 250 warrants and bring in more than 2500 dollars in fines.

The official warned though that not all warrants qualify for the safe surrender program, and urged those with questions to call the metro court for more information.

State encourages shopping local on Saturday with small business tax holiday - By Nash Jones, KUNM News

As holiday shopping ramps up after Thanksgiving, the state of New Mexico is encouraging people to seek out local small businesses Saturday before buying their gifts from big box stores.

On Small Business Saturday, the state Tax and Revenue Department allows New Mexico businesses with 10 employees or less to sell certain items tax-free. Those include clothes, toys, electronics and furnitureamong others, as long as the sticker price is under $500.

The department said ina statement that, while small businesses in New Mexico may not have everything on a shopper’s list, “stopping there first gives business owners, entrepreneurs, artists, growers, and makers an opportunity to grow their business and support the local economy.”

To help shoppers know where to look, the state Tourism Department has createda holiday gift guide of local businesses that are“New Mexico True Certified” through its department.

Albuquerque police cadet and husband are dead in suspected domestic violence incident, police say - Associated Press

The husband of an Albuquerque police cadet shot and killed her before taking his own life, authorities said Wednesday.

Investigators say the scene at an apartment in a northeast area of the city indicates 32-year-old Taylor Hagan was shot to death by Briton Hagan on Tuesday afternoon.

Briton Hagan, 41, died at the scene.

Police Chief Harold Medina says Taylor Hagan was a current member of the police academy. Fellow cadets learned of her death late Tuesday.

Her body was transported to the Office of the Medical Investigator with an honor guard.

Mayor Tim Keller called her death a tragic loss and urged people to look out for warning signs of domestic violence and abuse.