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WED: FEMA says leader overseeing NM fire compensation fund to step down, + More

Angela Gladwell (left) and David Maurstad talk about extended flood insurance policy coverage for victims of the Hermits Peak-Calf Canyon Fire in July. On Wednesday, FEMA announced Gladwell will be replaced as head of a claims office compensating fire victims, as part of a restructuring.
Megan Gleason
Source NM
Angela Gladwell (left) and David Maurstad talk about extended flood insurance policy coverage for victims of the Hermits Peak-Calf Canyon Fire in July. On Wednesday, FEMA announced Gladwell will be replaced as head of a claims office compensating fire victims, as part of a restructuring.

FEMA leader overseeing NM fire compensation fund to step down, agency announces - By Patrick Lohmann, Source New Mexico

Angela Gladwell, the director of the federal office overseeing nearly $4 billion in compensation for victims of a wildfire accidentally triggered by the federal Forest Service, is stepping down as part of what the agency describes as a restructuring of federal disaster response across the state.

The move comes amid sustained criticism of the performance of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which Source New Mexico and ProPublicahave reported on for the past year. The office didn’t pay its first claim until April, and through midsummer it had paid less than 1% of its allocation. The pace has picked up since, but many residents were in limboas they awaited checks to rebuild. FEMA faces two lawsuits over itsdecision not to pay for intangible losses, even though the state Attorney General maintains it should. And it faces other lawsuits claiming it has missed payment deadlines.

Calls from advocates and local elected officials for Gladwell to be replaced have increased in recent weeks.

Gladwell is a longtime FEMA official who was tasked to create the Hermits Peak-Calf Canyon Claims Office in late 2022. The office oversees compensation to victims of the wildfires that were ignited accidentally in early 2022 by the United States Forest Service. The blaze destroyed at least 430 homes and cost billions of dollars in damage and suppression costs.

On Wednesday morning, claims office spokesperson Deborah Martinez said FEMA is launching a new effort to consolidate recovery programs in New Mexico into a single operation, including the claims office, and that Gladwell would “transition to a new role” within FEMA as part of that change.

Martinez did not immediately respond to requests for comment on what exactly that consolidation means or how long Gladwell’s departure has been in the works, except to say that the office “is in the beginning stages” of the change and that more information would be forthcoming. Gladwell and other claims office officials have never mentioned a plan to consolidate federal disaster recovery operations here in numerous public meetings since the office was created.

“Shortly after the passage of the Fire Assistance Act in 2022, Angela Gladwell was appointed to the director role and successfully built a compensation program from the ground, assembling a team of locally hired staff with knowledge of New Mexico and the communities affected by the wildfires,” Martinez said.

FEMA will soon hire a chief operating officer to lead “on-the-ground long-term” recovery efforts, Martinez said. She did not respond to a request for comment on how the office will select this person, including whether he or she will be from New Mexico or hired from within the claims office.

A local group, the Coalition for Fire Fund Fairness, along with attorneys for thousands of victims have called for Gladwell to be replaced by someone who they said would better understand New Mexico’s culture and laws, like a former judge. The group’s founder, Manny Crespín, Jr., called FEMA’s announcement “welcomed news” and asked that the new leader not be “another FEMA bureaucrat.”

The Hermits Peak Fire Assistance Act allows FEMA to appoint an independent administrator to oversee the claims office. Instead, the office hired Gladwell, a FEMA employee for more than 25 years in Washington, D.C. In November 2022, after the office announced Gladwell as director, she declined to comment on why the agency didn’t hire an independent overseer.

Martinez said claimants need not worry about the effect of the change or Gladwell’s departure on their claims. They will continue to be processed without interruption, she said.

As of Dec. 21, the latest figures available from FEMA, the agency had paid $276 million of the $3.95 billion fund. That amounts to about 7% of the total, more than a year after the office was established. Fire victims have grown increasingly frustrated as money slowly trickles out of the fund. Recently, the community of Las Vegas mourned a former police chief who died while trying to return to his home in Rociada, one of the hardest-hit areas by the wildfire.

The claims office, under Gladwell’s leadership, has also faced several lawsuits from law firms who accuse the agency of missing legally required deadlines for payment offers and pushing victims to abandon their attorneys.

Antonia Roybal-Mack, a local lawyer representing hundreds of clients, said she welcomes the change of leadership. She credited ongoing advocacy by lawyers and residents and reporting by Source and ProPublica in bringing about the change, but she’s watching closely to see who takes over the new office.

“I think it’s a step in the right direction,” she said. “People in northern New Mexico – we need to now ask them to put a New Mexican in that position.”

According to law firm Singleton Schreiber, dozens of fire victims have waited longer than 180 days to receive offers of payment from the date the claims office “acknowledged” their claims. The firms also accuse FEMA of illegally waiting to start the clock on payment processing until they formally “acknowledge” claims, rather than from the date a claim is submitted.

Source and ProPublica also recently published an investigation into her office’s decision to not pay claims for the emotional toll of the disaster for fire victims. The claims office maintains that the federal legislation creating the fund allows only payments for financial, business and property loss. That decision is being challenged in court, as well.

Martinez, in her statement Wednesday, said the office will also soon release a “policy and program guide” with details about the types of claims that are being paid and guidance on documentation needed. The agency has recently acknowledged that the paperwork burden is too high for some claimants. It’s common among multi-generational families with long roots in the rural areas burned in the fire not to have clear titles or deeds in the correct names, among other challenges of proving legal ownership.

“The release of the (guide) marks a milestone in implementing compensation authorized by the Fire Assistance Act,” Martinez said. “Additionally, to simplify and expedite the process, the Claims Office will release checklists for the most common types of loss along with the documents needed for each of those losses.”

Activated carbon manufacturer to open up shop in Bloomfield - By Hannah Grover, New Mexico Political Report

The governor announced that a manufacturer of air and water purification tools will open a facility in Bloomfield.

Calgon Carbon boasts that it is the largest manufacturer of activated carbon in the world. It is based in Pennsylvania and has a parent company in Japan.

Calgon Carbon acquired two businesses—Benchmark Tank and Bloomfield Machine and Welding—in October and is keeping all 42 employees at those Bloomfield locations. It also plans to hire nine new employees this year and a total of 16 new employees over the upcoming years.

“This is an important project for Northwest New Mexico because it shows we can grow and diversify our economy and still invest in our existing workers,” Scott Bird, interim executive director at 4Corners Economic Development LLC, said in a press release. “We look forward to working with Calgon Carbon to meet their business needs so they can find success in the Four Corners Region of New Mexico.”

The company further plans to invest $94 million into the state over the next decade.

New Mexico will contribute $150,000 from the Local Economic Development (LEDA) job-creation fund to assist in the expansion and the company can further benefit from the Job Training Incentive Program. This program reimburses companies for a portion of the job training and also provides incentives for hiring high-wage workers.

According to a press release from the New Mexico Economic Development Department, the average salary at Calgon Carbon’s Bloomfield location will be between $60,000 and $90,000.

One of the products that the company produces is called Filtrasorb. Calgon Carbon says this Filtrasorb activated carbon can be used to treat PFAS contaminants in water. PFAS contamination has been documented in several parts of New Mexico including near Air Force bases and near Santa Fe.

That is one of the 700 distinct applications of activated carbon that Calgon Carbon’s technologies can be used in. That ranges from removing sulfur from flue gas at coal-fired electric power plants to purifying foods and pharmaceuticals, according to the company’s website.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said the Bloomfield location will support customers across the western and southwestern United States and will bring jobs to rural communities that often gets overlooked.

The facility, which will be located near Mesa Alta Junior High School, will be the primary manufacturer of activated carbon vessels supporting customers in the Western and Southwestern United States, according to the press release.

Bloomfield is located east of Farmington in San Juan County and has struggled with economic diversification for more than a decade. The small city in the northwest part of New Mexico has traditionally relied on the oil and natural gas sector as an economic base.

“We are certainly excited to have Calgon Carbon in our community and look forward to their expansion and stand ready to assist them in any manner we can. Bloomfield has long been a hub for industry in San Juan County and this will encourage other manufacturers to look at our community,” Bloomfield City Manager George Duncan said in a press release.

During the last downturn in the oil and gas sector, the city found itself in tough economic times and had to make some difficult budget decisions, including laying off staff and canceling a contract with the City of Farmington that allowed Bloomfield residents to ride the Red Apple Transit buses from one city to the other.

Bloomfield is also considered a community impacted by the closure of the San Juan Generating Station.

“This investment will expand a skilled workforce and increase wages in a part of the state that has seen a lot of job displacement,” Acting EDD Cabinet Secretary Mark Roper said in a press release. “It also puts Bloomfield at the center of a future-driven technology that helps diversify New Mexico’s economy.”

The Calgon Carbon announcement was one of several businesses Lujan Grisham highlighted. She also spoke about Mesa Film Studios, which is building a production facility in Albuquerque, and Maxeon Solar Technologies, which announced in August that it will be building a solar cell plant in Albuquerque.

“The message is clear, and we are hearing it again and again from companies worldwide:

New Mexico is where businesses want to be,” she said.

Two GOP state lawmakers file to impeach Lujan Grisham - Albuquerque Journal, KUNM News

Two Republican state representatives filed articles of impeachment against Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham yesterday — the opening day of the 2024 legislative session.

The Albuquerque Journal reports Representatives Stefani Lord of Sandia Park and John Block of Alamogordo are leading the longshot effort in the Democratic-controlled Legislature, where both chambers would have to vote to impeach the Democratic governor.

The resolution accuses Lujan Grisham of violating the state and U.S. constitutions, as well as her oath of office, when she issued a public health emergency last year prohibiting public open and concealed carry in Bernalillo County. The order was quickly narrowed to apply only to parks and playgrounds.

However, Block told the Journal, you “can’t unbake the cake” and that impeachment is the only “remedy” to the governor’s actions restricting firearms.

A previous effort by Lord and Block to oust the governor fizzled last year when they failed to secure enough support to call an extraordinary session to take the issue up.

APS narrows down superintendent finalists - Albuquerque Journal, KUNM News

And then there were three.

Albuquerque Public Schools has narrowed down the pool of finalists for the open superintendent position after nearly four hours of closed door interviews Tuesday.

As the Albuquerque Journal reports the remaining trio includes Chief Operations Officer for APS Gabriella Blakey, Chief of Academics and Schools for Metro Nashville Public Schools Mason Bellamy and former Des Moines Public Schools Superintendent Thomas Ahart.

Chief of Schools for APS Channell Segura was eliminated from the pool.

The candidates are vying to succeed APS’ current Superintendent Scott Elder, whose contract is due to expire June 30 after about 3 and a half years.

A final decision is scheduled for the end of the month – just after public forums introduce community members, students, and staff to the finalists.

The public forums will take place on Jan. 30 at the Berna Facio Professional Development Complex, 3315 Louisiana NE. They’ll include:

  • A public town hall from 9 a.m.-12 p.m. that will feature a student panel.

  • An employee forum from 5-5:45 p.m. for teachers and staff.

  • A general public forum from 6-8 p.m. to take questions.

New Mexico beats No. 16 Utah State 99-86 for second straight victory over ranked team - Associated Press

Nelly Joseph scored a season-high 26 points, Donovan Dent had 15 points and a career-high 14 assists, and New Mexico beat No. 16 Utah State 99-86 on Tuesday night for its second straight victory over a ranked opponent.

The Lobos (15-3, 3-2 Mountain West) had six players in double figures. Jaelen House added 14 points to help New Mexico end a seven-game losing streak to the Aggies.

New Mexico was coming off a victory over then-No. 19 San Diego State on Saturday.

"Donovan again, and those middle ball screens, he was finding guys," New Mexico coach Richard Pitino said. "Fourteen assists is pretty amazing. I thought offensively we were about as good as it gets and as efficient as we've been all year."

Ian Martinez scored 22 points and Mason Falsey had 19, but Utah State (16-2, 4-1) had its 15-game winning streak snapped.

New Mexico steadily pulled away in the first half, with the largest runs being 9-2 early and 7-1 later. The only area where the Lobos did not dominate was on the boards, where Utah State held a 17-12 edge, including 8-2 on the offensive glass.

"I thought Jaelen House controlled the game defensively," Aggies coach Danny Sprinkle said. "Completely disrupted everything. And I thought Donovan Dent controlled the game offensively with his ball screen offense."

The Lobos pushed the lead to 64-44 three minutes into the second half before the Aggies rallied behind Martinez, who scored all the points in a 14-2 run that trimmed the deficit to 73-62.

Utah State cut it to 79-72 before New Mexico pushed the lead back to 85-72 and the lead remained in double digits the rest of the way.

Despite going 2 for 9 on 3-pointers, the Lobos still shot 65% in the first half (20 for 31) and were the first team to top 50 in a half against the Aggies. New Mexico finished shooting 57% for the game.

Utah State missed all seven of its 3-pointers in the first half and was 12 of 28 overall from the floor.

Joseph made 11 of his 12 shots, helping New Mexico score 62 points in the paint.

"It certainly helped that Nelly was able to score down there," Pitino said. "He obviously hasn't shown an 11-for-12 night. I think that gave us some confidence to have that balance."

JT Toppin finished with 12 points for the Lobos, shooting 5 for 6.

"I think their bigs punked us," Sprinkle said. "They scored 62 points in the paint. You can tell they were trying to throw it in there from the jump. I thought Toppin and Joseph were tremendous."


With Utah State falling and Boise State also losing Tuesday, it has created a logjam of four teams atop the conference standings with one loss apiece.

New Mexico beat ranked teams in consecutive home games, the first time that has happened since 1993, and pulled the Lobos within a loss of the league leaders.


New Mexico beat ranked teams in consecutive game for the first time since 1993.

"It's great for our program to get back-to-back wins against ranked teams," Pitino said. "That's special."


The Aggies are home to Fresno State on Saturday.

New Mexico is at Air Force on Saturday.

New Mexico governor outlines broad legislative agenda for crime, education and climate amid protests - By Morgan Lee, Associated Press

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham outlined an ambitious legislative agenda designed to rein in violent crime, improve public education, expand access to affordable housing and address concerns about climate change and drought in a State of the State speech Tuesday.

The speech marked the start of a 30-day legislative session that determines spending priorities for the coming fiscal year amid a multibillion-dollar surplus in general fund income. It was interrupted repeatedly by shouting from dozens of protesters in the state House gallery calling for solutions to climate change and a cease-fire in Gaza amid the Israel-Hamas war.

The second-term Democratic governor announced a new proposal to embed experts in low-performing public schools to provide greater support for students, as legislators have expressed frustration with academic proficiency and high school graduation rates that lag below national averages.

"All of us, including our school districts, all of us have to be accountable for the results that we desire," Lujan Grisham told a joint session of the state House and Senate. "We need to guarantee that the Legislature's billions in public education are going to the right places and leading to better outcomes."

Republicans in the legislative minority want a different approach that fosters greater school choices and competition, pitching a proposal to provide tax credits to low-income families who send children to private school.

In response to jeers from protesters, Lujan Grisham called on the sergeant of arms to restore order — but also suggested a round of applause to "embrace differences of opinion."

"Even though it's a disruption ... the world is complicated," she said.

Escorted from the Capitol, one group of protesters chanted, "Global war is a war of the rich upon the poor. Stop the bombing and the siege. Palestine will be free."

Protester Zephyr Jaramillo, a member of Youth United for Climate Crisis Action, said she joined the protests in defense of sacred land and aquifers. The 22-year-old with ties to the Native American communities of Isleta and San Felipe pueblos accused the governor of putting the interests of industry ahead of residents in promoting carbon-storage and hydrogen projects.

Lujan Grisham announced a proposal to dedicate $170 million from a state financial trust to help develop energy storage projects involving batteries, geothermal electricity production that harnesses underground heat, and hydrogen as a cleaner-burning alternative to fossil fuels. Some environmentalists call hydrogen a false solution because it frequently relies on natural gas as a fuel source.

The state expects to draw in a record-setting $13 billion during the fiscal year that starts July 1 — exceeding annual spending obligations by nearly one-third.

Leading Democratic legislators are calling for a restrained increase of 5.9% in annual general fund spending totaling $10.1 billion, warning of a slowdown in surging income linked to oil and natural gas production. They want to dial back on borrowing for construction projects, while expanding savings and endowments to help sustain critical government programs in the future, including child care and preschool.

Lujan Grisham is recommending a more robust annual spending increase of nearly 10%. Her new spending priorities include a $500 million plan to expand housing assistance and spur residential construction — along with an additional $40 million to launch a statewide effort to reduce homelessness.

House Democrats on Tuesday emphasized a commitment to improving public safety — including tighter gun restrictions — along with increased spending on early childhood education and legislation designed to attract new investments in clean-energy enterprises that may rein in climate-warming pollution.

"We are at a pivotal moment in New Mexico history — record revenues mean great opportunity, and also a tremendous responsibility to deliver for the people of our state," Democratic House Speaker Javier Martínez of Albuquerque said at a news conference Tuesday.

Lujan Grisham has emphasized her support for a broad package of public safety initiates designed to address gun violence, retail crime and hazing. Gun-control proposals would provide a 14-day cooling off period for gun purchases, restrict features on assault-style rifles that make them more deadly and raise the minimum age to 21 for purchases of semiautomatic rifles and shotguns.

On Tuesday, she also called on legislators to approve mandatory treatment for addiction for people who repeatedly enter the judicial system for using illicit substances, and she highlighted a proposal to ban panhandling.

"Something must shift," Lujan Grisham said. "We need responsible, accountable and compassionate action that makes a lasting difference. And that means getting these individuals the treatment that they need and, quite frankly, that they deserve."

Republicans in the legislative minority are cautioning against legislation that might infringe on gun rights, while supporting changes to the state's pretrial detention system that would give authorities more leeway to incarcerate some defendants pending trial. Lujan Grisham also voice support for pretrial detention reforms.

New Mexico overhauled the system, starting in 2017, to eliminate money-bail and ensure dangerous individuals can be jailed pending trial.

Republican state Sen. Craig Brandt of Rio Rancho said he has met with Democratic officials including the governor on a bill that would bolster laws against organized crime, provisions he says might be used combat illegal sales of guns to minors.

Answering to concerns about climate change and fossil fuels, Lujan Grisham wants the state to provide tax credits toward the purchase of electric vehicles. Another proposal would underwrite development of a strategic new source of water for industrial uses — harnessing treated water that originates from the salty byproducts of oil and natural gas drilling.

The entire Legislature is up for election in November.

Nella Domenici files to run for seat her father, Senator Pete, held for six termsBy Andrew Beale,Source New Mexico

Nella Domenici, the daughter of longtime U.S. Senator Pete Domenici, filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission announcing her run for Senate as a Republican.

The filing on the FEC website shows Domenici submitted the paperwork Tuesday morning.

Paul Smith, managing director for Rival Strategy Group, confirmed to Source NM that the filings are accurate, and Rival is working as lead strategists for the campaign. Rival’s other clients include Republican Congressional candidate Yvette Herrell and Sandoval County Commissioner Jay Block, who is running as a Republican for state senate.

She faces other Republicans, including former Bernalillo County Sheriff Manny Gonzalez, in the primary on June 4. The winner of the primary will challenge Sen. Martin Heinrich, who is seeking a third term in the Senate.

Domenici is the daughter of long-serving U.S. Senator Pete Domenici, a Republican who represented New Mexico from 1973-2009. He was the longest-serving U.S. Senator in New Mexico history, and his final election in 2002 marked the last time a New Mexico Republican was elected to the Senate.

After serving six terms in the Senate, Domenici declined to run for a seventh, citing health issues. He passed away from complications of abdominal surgery in 2017.

Few details were available Wednesday about Nella Domenici’s campaign, and neither Domenici nor her campaign could be reached for comment. Ashley Soular, a spokesperson for the Republican Party of New Mexico, said she did not have any information about Domenici’s campaign.

Nella Domenici has spent her career in business and finance.

According to her LinkedIn page, she currently serves on the board of three companies: consulting company Cognizant Technology Solutions, investment-management firm AllianceBernstein, and medical data company Change Healthcare.

Source NM reached out to all three companies but did not receive a response by press time.

From 2020-2021, Domenici was Chief Financial Officer for Dataminr, a social-media analysis company that courted controversy prior to Domenici’s tenure by helping police spy on social-media users (the company said it ended the practice in 2016).

Domenici holds a J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center and an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School. A press release from Cognizant announcing her appointment to the Board of Directors last year says she has “significant experience in strategic finance management, corporate strategy and operations, and capital markets.”

The Domenici family has a complicated political legacy in New Mexican and national politics.

As senator, Pete Domenici advocated for healthcare coverage for mental illness, sponsoring the Mental Health Parity Act to require insurers to provide equal coverage for mental illnesses. In 1988, he bucked Republican party leadership when he voted to pass the Civil Rights Restoration Act over the veto of then-President Ronald Reagan.

Domenici faced sharp criticism from environmentalists over his staunchly pro-oil and pro-mining stances, with the League of Conservation Voters calling him “strikingly anti-environmental.” In 2006, a Republicans for Environmental Protection congressional scorecard gave him a -2, tied for the lowest of any U.S. Senator, singling out his support of oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Domenici secretly fathered a son in the 1980s with lobbyist Michelle Laxalt, who was also the daughter of a Senate colleague, publicly admitting to the fact in 2013. That son, Adam Laxalt, served as Nevada’s Attorney General from 2015-2019, and unsuccessfully ran for governor in 2018 and U.S. Senate in 2022.

In 2020, Laxalt co-chaired Nevada’s Trump campaign and, following Joe Biden’s win in the state, helped lead the Nevada GOP’s unsuccessful efforts to overturn the legitimate election results, and asked a judge to throw out 3,000 Arizona ballots including some cast by active-duty military service members.

Domenici had nine children total, including Laxalt and Nella Domenici.

Nella Domenici’s campaign has registered a website, but as of publication it only reads “Guest Area” and “Please enter password below.”

Relative political unknown John Thomas Roberts also filed papers Wednesday to run for U.S. Senate. Roberts, a Republican from Anthony, ran for New Mexico State Senate in 2020, losing 66-34 to Democrat Joseph Cervantes.

New Mexico Supreme Court rules tribal courts have jurisdiction over casino injury and damage cases - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

The New Mexico Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled that tribal courts have jurisdiction over personal injury and property damage cases brought against Native American casinos, ending a long battle that saw pueblos and other tribes advocate for protecting sovereignty when such legal claims arise.

The decision stemmed from a 2016 lawsuit in which an employee of an electrical company claimed he was severely injured while making a delivery at Pojoaque Pueblo's casino. The state Court of Appeals had reversed a lower court ruling that initially called for the case to be dismissed.

The tribe then asked the state Supreme Court to settle the question over jurisdiction.

In its ruling, the court pointed to previous decisions in two federal cases that effectively terminated a provision in tribal-state gambling compacts that waived sovereign immunity to allow jurisdiction to be moved from tribal court to state court for some damage claims.

One of those federal cases involved a personal injury claim involving the over-serving of alcohol at Santa Ana Pueblo's casino. The other was a slip-and-fall lawsuit brought in state court by a visitor to the Navajo Nation's casino in northwestern New Mexico.

Attorney Richard Hughes had filed a brief on behalf of Santa Ana and Santa Clara pueblos, with seven other pueblos signing on. He told The Associated Press on Tuesday that the ruling was significant and long overdue.

"We've been fighting state court jurisdiction over these cases for 20 years and so it's the end of a long struggle to keep state courts out of determining tribal affairs," he said.

He and others have argued that nowhere in the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act did Congress authorize state courts to exercise jurisdiction over personal injury claims.

The New Mexico Trial Lawyers Association did not immediately return a message seeking comment on the ruling.

Those who have advocated to have state courts hear personal injury cases contend that the people suing tribal gambling operations could face an unfair disadvantage in tribal court.

Some experts expect personal injury lawyers to opt for arbitration before heading to tribal court, but Hughes said tribal courts are "perfectly competent to handle cases like this in a very fair and equitable fashion."