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MON: Bernalillo County Manager resigns, + More

Bernalillo County headquarters at Alvarado Square in Downtown Albuquerque, NM.
Nash Jones
Bernalillo County headquarters at Alvarado Square in Downtown Albuquerque, NM.

Bernalillo County Manager resigns - By Nash Jones, KUNM News 

Bernalillo County announced Monday that, after nearly a decade managing the local government, Julie Morgas Baca has submitted her resignation to commissioners.

The County Manager be staying on until the end of June. Commission Chair Barbara Baca said in a statement that this marks the end of the fiscal year, so should help contribute to a “smooth transition.”

Commissioner Walt Benson praised Morgas Baca for her leadership during the pandemic, a cyberattack and the transition of the county jail’s healthcare provider. He wrote in a statement that he was “ sad to see her leave” before the end of her contract.

Commissioner Steven Michael Quezada is calling on his colleagues to create a public hiring process for Morgas Baca’s replacement. He pointed to Albuquerque Public Schools’ “rigorous” recent national search for its next superintendent as a good example.

Quezada says the process should include forums for public input, like town halls and information sessions. He says Bernalillo County residents should have a chance to set the qualifications for the position.

He urges members of the public to get involved once a hiring process begins.

Alc Baldwin to stand trial this summer on a charge stemming from deadly 'Rust' movie set shooting - Associated Press

A New Mexico judge has set a trial date for Alec Baldwin on an involuntary manslaughter charge stemming from the 2021 deadly shooting on the set of the Western movie "Rust."

The scheduling order entered Monday calls for jury selection to begin July 9, with the trial starting the following day with opening statements by special prosecutors and Baldwin's defense attorneys. The proceedings are expected to last eight days.

Baldwin, the lead actor and a co-producer on the film, pleaded not guilty in January, the day before he was scheduled to be arraigned. A grand jury had indicted him after prosecutors received a new analysis of the revolver he was using during filming, renewing a charge that prosecutors originally filed and then dismissed in April 2023.

Baldwin was pointing the gun at cinematographer Halyna Hutchins during a rehearsal on the set outside of Santa Fe when the gun went off, killing her and wounding director Joel Souza.

Baldwin has said he pulled back the hammer — but not the trigger — and the gun fired. The subsequent analysis concluded that "the trigger had to be pulled or depressed sufficiently to release the fully cocked or retracted hammer of the evidence revolver."

The revolver also is the subject of testimony in the case of Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, the weapons supervisor who is on trial for involuntary manslaughter and a charge of tampering with evidence. Her trial resumed Monday in Santa Fe with testimony from an FBI firearms expert.

The proceedings against the armorer hold implications for Baldwin, who faces up to 18 months in prison if convicted.

Baldwin remains free pending trial under conditions that include not possessing firearms, consuming alcohol or leaving the country. Baldwin can have limited contact with witnesses when it comes to promoting "Rust," which has not been released for public viewing. Baldwin is prohibited from asking members of the "Rust" cast or crew to participate in a related documentary film.




$20 million for state liability fund passed in New Mexico budget - Danielle Prokop, Source New Mexico 
Officials from the New Mexico agency that insures state government departments said they have budget tools to shore up a shortfall in the fund used to settle lawsuits brought against the state.

In early budget discussions during the 30-day legislative session, officials from the General Services Department asked for more than $44 million dollars in one-time money.

General Services has a wide range of responsibilities such as managing offices, print services and liability for state government. Its duties also include making sure parties are paid after a lawsuit is settled with the state.

Within the department, the Risk Management Division disburses settlements involving state agencies, whether awarded by a jury or settled by parties with public money. These settlements can range from property damage, injury from accidents, to alleged misconduct in whistleblower lawsuits and wrongful death.

The Legislative Finance Council said in its December budget request for the 2024 session that the Risk Management Division fund is short of projected liability by$86 million.

In the executive budget recommendation, the request was split between $24 million for the General Services Department and a one-time ask from the Children, Youth and Families Department for $20 million. The child welfare agency is anticipating nearly $17 million payouts for upcoming settlements, according to presentations in January before lawmakers.

New Mexico lawmakers approved a $168 million dollar budget for the General Services Department in House Bill 2, closely matching the $168 million dollar ask in the governor’s executive budget recommendation. There were no special appropriations granted on the liability fund to CYFD or the Risk Management Division.

However, the state budget allows the General Services Department to request up to $15 million from other state funds to make up for unanticipated claims expenses. That money is in addition to increased premiums, or the assessments the department makes when calculating how much it may be required to pay out from the fund.

The agency will also receive a $20 million transfer this year from the newly-created $512 million Government Accountability Trust Fund. The Government Accountability Trust Fund, passed in House Bill 196, is not a recurring fund, but can be expensed with approval from lawmakers in future sessions.

“This enables GSD to establish a budgetary mechanism for covering estimated settlements over multiple years,” said Jeannette Chavez, the head of the Risk Management Division, who oversees the liability fund.

Six state agencies are responsible for the vast majority of payments paid by the Risk Management Division. Roughly 86% of settlements are paid on behalf of the University of New Mexico Hospital, New Mexico Department of Corrections, CYFD, Department of Public Safety, New Mexico Department of Transportation.

The sixth agency is New Mexico State University, which paid $8 million dollars in June 2023 to settle hazing allegations on the basketball team.

In January, Chavez told Source NM she will sit down with the six agencies in late April and early May.

In those meetings, Chavez said she hopes to “open more communication lines,” with those agencies, and ensure they’re learning from settlement.

“Let’s say a case settles, and there’s some recommendations associated with that settlement,” Chavez said. “I’m going to make it happen that the defense counsel is actually talking with the agency about those recommendations, using our subject matter, legal experts to the best of our ability.”

Chavez expects to present to lawmakers further in the interim before the 2025 session on potentially tightening state laws, which a Legislative Finance Committee report recommended in September last year.

“I need to really get a good understanding of what’s happening here,” said Chavez, who started in October 2023. The position was vacant for over a year before Chavez joined the agency.

Arizona regulators reject proposal to assist Navajo communities impacted by coal-fired power generation - Hannah Grover, New Mexico Political Report 

Utility regulators in Arizona rejected proposals from an Arizona utility to provide assistance to coal-impacted communities, including in Navajo communities in northwest New Mexico.

The rejection of the assistance from Arizona Public Service Company, the majority owner and operator of the Four Corners Power Plant, comes as the Arizona Corporation Commission approved significant rate hikes that will result in the average customer spending an additional $10.48 per month for electricity.

According to groups like the Sierra Club, this rate increase is substantially caused by the continued use of coal-fired generation, including the Four Corners Power Plant.

“Unfortunately, what we’re witnessing is just how out-of-touch the ACC is with utility ratepayers, the public, and our communities,” Sandy Bahr, director of the Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter, said in a press release. “To enable APS to raise its rates to prolong the livelihood of obsolete expensive and dirty power plants, impose charges on solar customers, and deny Coal Community Transition funding for coal-impacted communities goes directly against the best interests of ratepayers, our air, our water, and our communities, and ignores affordable transition planning that is urgently needed.”

APS had proposed a substantial package to help communities, especially Native American communities, in the areas where the utility owns coal-fired generation.

That included $100 million in direct financial support to the Navajo Nation as well as $2.5 million per year in transmission revenue sharing with Navajo Nation and extending electrical service to Navajo households within 4,000 feet of APS distribution lines free of charge. The utility also proposed $250,000 annually for five years to help the Navajo Nation with economic development in the areas around the Four Corners Power Plant. Additionally, the proposed package included $20 million to help expand electrification to houses and buildings on the Navajo Nation and committed the utility to buying 600 megawatts of electricity from renewable energy projects that will be built on the Navajo Nation.

The utility and Navajo Nation have entered into an agreement in terms of coal community transition funding, which was also included in the 2019 rate case. The ACC approved part of that funding in the 2019 case and the remainder was included in the application for a rate increase that the ACC ruled on this week.

But, in a 4-1 vote, the Arizona Corporation Commission rejected the proposed aid on Thursday.

Commissioner Anna Tovar proposed increasing the assistance to coal-impacted communities even more than APS had suggested, but the commission also voted against her amendment on a 4-1 vote.

Tovar, in a filed proposed amendment, wrote that the Navajo Nation as well as the Hopi tribe were underpaid for coal resources while shareholders and ratepayers have “greatly benefitted from relatively low-cost power provided by coal-fired power plants.”

Coal-impacted communities, she argued, have faced the “heavy burden of air pollution, water contamination, and public health impacts caused by the plants, as well as depletion of precious groundwater supplies.”

“While communities benefited from revenues associated with mining royalties, they also became economically dependent on coal to the exclusion of growth of more diverse industries. Such economic dependence is common across coal communities nationwide and has led to (Coal Community Transition) funding in many diverse jurisdictions,” she wrote.

This decision contrasts similar cases that New Mexico utility regulators have faced. In New Mexico, the Energy Transition Act guaranteed assistance to coal-impacted communities, though the state experienced challenges in distributing the money.

Proponents of assistance to coal-impacted communities say that ratepayers have benefited from reliable, affordable electricity while the communities where the power plants are located bear the environmental consequences and, in the case of the Navajo Nation, may not even have access to electricity.

“It’s extremely disappointing that we finally have a utility stepping up to support communities where it is closing down coal plants, and now politicians are getting in the way and forcing these communities to endure even more economic hardship,” Nicole Horseherder, executive director the Navajo grassroots community group Tó Nizhóní Ání, said in a press release. “We have given the Commission everything they need to determine what transition aid looks like. But in the end, they have shown they firmly believe they have no obligation to communities that bore the cost of producing Arizona’s power.”

The Four Corners Power Plant is the sole remaining coal-fired generating station in New Mexico and operates only part of the year. While it is located in New Mexico, the majority of its power is shipped out of state.

The plant is currently scheduled to close in 2031, however some of the owners are considering earlier retirement options.

ABQ gets the state’s first electric car sharing station - Elizabeth McCall,City Desk ABQ

This story was originally published by City Desk ABQ.

Members of Albuquerque’s Public Service Company of New Mexico, the Land of Enchantment Clean Cities Coalition and Sol Housing celebrated the launch of an Affordable Mobility Platform and the first electric vehicle car share program in the state at a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Thursday.

New Mexico was one of eight states selected for this platform and it’s based at the PAH! Hiland Plaza apartments at 5000 Central Ave. SE, a housing complex designed for the deaf, deaf-blind and hard of hearing communities.

“It combines some great things, sustainability and electric vehicles, but also a speciality ride share program for individuals who are suffering from visual and auditory disabilities,” said Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller.

Created by FORTH, the Affordable Mobility Platform is a nationwide car-sharing program that is placed at affordable housing locations. At the PAH! Hiland Plaza apartments, there are two electric vehicles charging stations with two electric vehicles available to the apartment’s residents and the public. After someone uses the vehicle, they return it to the charging station so it is available for the next user.

Julie Nelson, a resident at PAH! Hiland Plaza, who is hearing and sight impaired, said she’s excited for what this will do for the future.

“I have tried to work as hard as I can to better our earth and efforts with climate change initiatives,” Nelson said. “I know there might be bugs in the system but when you compare gas vehicles to electric ones, there really is no question. This is really the sign of the future and I hope this encourages other folks to buy electric vehicles.”

Albuquerque’s Sustainability Officer and Deputy Director of Policy, Ann Simon said this initiative’s innovative, technology driven and equitable approach helps achieve the city’s climate goals while also addressing social equity.

Stansbury talks infrastructure issues at roundtable - By Nicole Maxwell,New Mexico Political Report

Democratic U.S. Representative Melanie Stansbury discussed infrastructure issues and grants that could help fix those issues during a roundtable discussion at Rio Rancho City Hall on Thursday.

Stansbury said she and her office have been working with the Biden administration to find ways to help local governments and tribal entities access federal funding for infrastructure projects.

“There are lots of existing pots of money out there and many of our local governments already have very sophisticated grant finding application processes and then we have other communities that are frankly, overworked and understaffed and don’t have those resources,” Stansbury said.

Some of the funding sources Stansbury mentioned came from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act.

“A lot of people don’t realize that (the Inflation Reduction Act) included also billions of dollars in funding for water projects, clean energy projects, economic development partnerships, opportunities to retrofit homes for energy efficiency, it just has a whole slew of different kinds of programs that that can both benefit residents of your communities as well as invest in infrastructure that cities and villages may want to invest in,” Stansbury said.

Many attendees said the problem was not the availability of funding, but rather that the grant application process could be daunting to navigate.

Stansbury replied that one of the reasons for this roundtable was to find out what issues the local government or tribal entities needed to address to access the funds as well as tell them that funding was available.


Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s Infrastructure Advisor Rebecca Roose spoke about funding available at the state level and updates including HB 232 which would set up an Infrastructure Planning and Development Division within the New Mexico Department of Finance and Administration.

The Legislature passed the bill, and it currently sits on Lujan Grisham’s desk.

“So you’ve heard the congresswoman talk about the difficulty navigating all the funding sources, figuring out how to navigate state funding plus federal funding (and) how to most effectively use your capital outlay planning process,” Roose said. “This new division is building on some existing components within DFA and adding new capacity and it’s likely to be the group at DFA that manages the match fund as well.”

The New Mexico Federal Matching Grant helps local government or tribal entities to be granted funds to help them pay match funds on federal grants.

A match fund is what the local government or tribal entity is expected to pay to meet eligibility for federal grants. For example, a federal grant could require a county applying for a federal grant for a project to come up with 15 percent of the total funding of the project.

The New Mexico Federal Matching Grant would help that county pay the required match funds.


The annual federal budget process involves earmarks, now called Community Funded Projects, which are submitted by members of Congress to the House Committee on Appropriations, which will decide if the projects should be written into the appropriations budget.

This is similar to the state capital outlay process in which local government or tribal entities submit their Infrastructure Capital Improvements Plan and the legislature decides how much, if any, funding should go to the projects on the submitted lists.

Stansbury suggested, as a former state legislator, that ICIP’s be submitted in the summer since state legislators do not know what the budget may look like until two weeks or so into the regular session.

“ At that point, then… many of the legislators sort of prioritize… what came in the door first and who they made commitments to,” Stansbury said.

Attendees included representatives from Sandoval County, Rio Rancho, Santa Ana Pueblo, Southern Sandoval County Arroyo Flood Control Authority and the governor’s office.

Stansbury said she plans to hold more roundtable discussions about infrastructure throughout 2024.

Shorter breaks approved for next year’s school calendar - Rodd Cayton,City Desk ABQ

This story was originally published by City Desk ABQ.

Albuquerque Public Schools students will see shorter Thanksgiving and spring breaks next year, as the Board of Education approved a slightly different academic calendar for the 2024-2025 school year.

There will also be more five-day weeks of instruction. Students will begin school on Aug. 7 and May 30, 2025 will be the last day of school.

The unanimous vote came after board members modified a staff recommendation to shorten Thanksgiving Break from a full week to three days. The change was precipitated by members’ concerns about student nutrition and more time outside the classroom.

The school year will begin on a Wednesday, allowing for two days of professional development right before classes begin.

The calendar includes 184 days of instruction, which exceeds the 180 now required by state law. That’s two more instructional days than this year, allowing each school day to be shortened by 15 minutes.

The change means that teachers will not be beginning and ending their work days at the same time that students are starting and ending classes. All K-12 teachers will have 15 minutes built into their paid hours to cover morning or afternoon supervision of students.

Other changes include a single day off for Labor Day; this year, it was a two-day break. Students will also get Election Day off.

There are six professional development days built into the calendar, along with two additional parent-teacher conferences during the school year for grades 6 to 12.

Spring Break, March 17-21, will be aligned with the University of New Mexico’s break. It’s also shortened from this school year’s eight-day break.

Dr. Channell Segura, the Chief of Schools, said the calendar committee placed a priority on minimizing disruption to instructional pacing and that students will have 27 uninterrupted five-day weeks in 2024-25, three more than the current school year.

Segura said the calendar was developed based on feedback from students, staff, families, and the community, along with state requirements. More than 13,000 people took part in a December calendar survey.

“We have worked in tandem to make sure that we are meeting the rule of law as well as listening to community feedback, which has been a lot and we’re grateful for that,” Segura said. “Part of it is we want to please everybody, but we can’t. A development of an instructional calendar for a district this large is a heavy lift—especially when that legislation is up in the air, and there could be additional changes.”

College and Career High School will operate under a different calendar, which is aligned with that of Central New Mexico Community College.


The board also approved the conversion of Duranes Elementary School into an early childhood center and the relocation of its students to two other campuses this fall.

The approved boundary changes mean Duranes students will move to Cochiti and Reginald Chavez elementary schools. The move is part of an APS “right-sizing effort” as the district deals with declining enrollment. According to the agenda, there are now 191 students living in the Duranes attendance area—a number that is projected to fall to 148 by the 2027-2028 school year.

The board approved the changes without much debate, after district staff explained some details of the plans for the transition. Kizito Wijenje, executive director of APS’ Capital Master Plan, said that Cochiti and Reginald Chavez will continue to send their students to the same middle and high schools; Garfield Middle School and Valley High School for the former and Washington Middle School and Albuquerque High School for the latter.

K-5 staff at Duranes will be given priorities in terms of new assignments, said Dr. Gabriella Durán Blakey, the district’s chief operations officer. She said families with children at Duranes will also have priority when it comes to transfer requests to other schools.

Blakey said that staff hosted meetings to discuss the proposed boundaries and their impacts to all three school communities. She said that community members have been open to the changes.

Board President Danielle Gonzales, whose district includes Duranes, said she has met with parents, school staff and others and hosted a community conversation on the topic.

“Across the board, I heard support and agreement,” she told her colleagues.

Wijenje said a March meeting will inform families about the next steps in the process.