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TUES: Five candidates remain in Bernalillo County manager search, + More

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

Who will be the next county manager? - Rodd Cayton, City Desk ABQ

This story was originally published by City Desk ABQ 

Five people are in the running to become Bernalillo County’s next manager.

County commissioners will meet in a closed session Tuesday afternoon to discuss how the finalists fared in interviews and then they will vote that evening during their regularly scheduled meeting to select the top three.

The County Manager Search Committee selected Cindy Chavez, Marcos Gonzales, Thomas Hutka, Redmond Jones and Joseph Lessard as finalists. After reviewing applications, the committee chose them and five others for interviews.

County Manager Julie Morgas Baca is retiring June 30.

Commissioners have disagreed about how to go about replacing her. The disagreement over the process resulted in one commissioner storming out of a meeting and other commissioners being accused of violating the Open Meetings Act by discussing who to appoint to a selection committee out of the public view.

Commission Chair Barbara Baca has said the board is planning a special public meeting for next week at which the remaining candidates will appear in person to share their visions for doing the job.


  • Cindy Chavez is a supervisor in Santa Clara County, California, and chairs the board of the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority. She was also a candidate in the 2022 mayoral election in San Jose.
  • Marcos Gonzales is Bernalillo County’s economic development director. He has worked in the field since 2008 and been with the department since 2012. 
  • Thomas Hutka is town manager for Newington, Connecticut. He was previously city manager for Port Huron and public works director in Broward County, Florida.
  • Redmond Jones is deputy city manager in Iowa City, Iowa. He’s also been city administrator in West Branch, Iowa, and city manager in Groveland, Florida.
  • Joseph Lessard stepped down in October as city manager of Ashland, Oregon. He was previously a senior planning director at Texas planning firm Knudson LP and assistant city manager of Austin, Texas.

WHEN: 5 p.m. June 11
WHERE: Ken Sanchez Commission Chambers in BernalilloCounty@Alvarado Square, 415 Silver Ave SW VIRTUAL: GOV-TV, on the county’s website or on Bernalillo County’s YouTube channel

In the doghouse: A member of Santa Fe's K-9 unit is the focus of an internal affairs investigation — Associated Press 

As a puppy, there were high hopes for Ayke to help revive the Santa Fe Police Department's K-9 program. Now, four years later, the German shepherd is in the doghouse.

He has bitten more people than any other dog in the department's K-9 unit and is the subject of an internal affairs investigation into an attack in March on one of the department's own officers. The city also is defending against a lawsuit filed by an officer who underwent plastic surgery after being attacked during a 2022 training exercise, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported.

Police Chief Paul Joye declined a request by the newspaper for an interview, and the investigation is ongoing into the latest incident involving Ayke, who is one of four dogs used by the department.

Like other law enforcement agencies across the nation, the Santa Fe police force contends that K-9 units can be helpful when trying to detect illicit drugs or explosive materials or apprehend suspects.

Several states earlier this year were considering legislative proposals that would impose tougher penalties for harming or killing police dogs, with supporters noting that thousands of dollars are spent on training and that in many cases the animals are like family to their handlers.

Still, injuries caused by the animals have made headlines in Ohio, Utah and elsewhere in recent years.

The Marshall Project noted in 2020 that while there was no national database for tracking the use of K-9s, an investigation found that bites were documented in nearly every state. The nonprofit group also noted that excessive force lawsuits over dog bites are difficult to win, as police officers are often shielded from liability and federal civil rights laws don't typically cover bystanders who are bitten by mistake.

In Santa Fe, Ayke is still on the job. Deputy Police Chief Ben Valdez wrote in an email that the department is confident the dog doesn't represent a danger to the public.

In response to a question about the potential drawbacks of using the dogs, Valdez responded: "Police K-9s are a valuable asset for our community, when properly utilized there are no cons."

The police department purchased each of the animals for about $4,400 and paid $2,200 for their initial certification course, Valdez said. The department spends about $4,800 annually on dog food and another $2,000 on veterinarian care.

The department requires K-9 units to complete at least 320 hours of training per year and for handlers to undergo physical and psychological well-being testing. The police dogs are certified by the Arizona-based National Police Canine Association.

Every bite by a police dog must be documented, according to Santa Fe's policy. Those instances are reviewed to determine if policy was followed and if any corrective action for the handler is needed, Valdez said.

State to test alert sirens in fire-damaged county amid flash flood risk - Patrick Lohmann, Source New Mexico

State emergency response officials are beginning weekly tests of alert sirens in Mora County to warn of dangerous flash floods in the scar of New Mexico’s biggest-ever wildfire.

The 534-square-mile Hermits Peak-Calf Canyon Fire started in April 2022, but it continues to cause serious risks to lives and property two years after it was extinguished. The fire burned at such high intensity in some areas that the soil has become hydrophobic in some areas, and debris falls off mountainsides more easily due to the loss of vegetation.

There have been nearly 80 preliminary reports of flash floods and debris flows in the burn scar since June 2022, according to the National Weather Service, including two floods that killed four people in July 2022.

This week, forecasters again warned of flash flood risk in the burn scar, saying the arrival of between half an inch and 1.75 inches of rain created a “life-threatening situation.” The forecasters warned that debris flows could be expected across roads, and flash floods could pop up in ditches, creeks and streams.

NWS forecaster Randall Hergert said Monday evening that, as of 6 p.m., there had been no reports of flash flooding in the burn scar, “thankfully,” despite moderate to heavy rain in the area.

But the risks could loom for years. As a result, the state’s emergency department installed alert sirens in areas with the highest risk.

In a town hall meeting in early May, residents in the mountainous areas of the burn scar told Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham that they were worried the sirens weren’t working, because they’d experienced heavy rainfall without hearing them.

“Every single flood we’ve had, those are the sirens we need to notify the people. They’ve never gone off,” said Joshua Alcon, a resident of Cleveland, N.M. “I mean, that’s ridiculous.”

In response, the governor said she would task the state’s department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management with ensuring the sirens were functional and would go off when needed. Ali Rye, deputy secretary for the department, conducted a test of the sirens during the meeting that she said was successful.

And on Monday, the department announced it would begin weekly tests of the sirens in Mora County. They’ll begin every Wednesday at noon and last less than a minute, according to a department spokesperson.

“These weekly tests will ensure the system’s functionality and allow DHSEM to address any issues before an emergency occurs,” spokesperson Danielle Silva said.

The sirens are placed on county property and maintained by the state. Local officials activate the sirens, Silva said.

“In the event of severe weather, such as flooding, local entities will have the ability to use sirens to give residents a warning and provide them with time to take action to keep themselves safe,” Silva said.

The department also offered tips to people if they hear the sirens outside of the testing window, including staying inside, getting to higher ground and avoiding travel, if possible. They also cautioned people never to enter flooded areas in a vehicle or on foot. 

End of an era for Virgin Galactic commercial flights - Danielle Prokop, Source New Mexico

Virgin Galactic launched its seventh, and last flight with the Unity ship, out of the New Mexico Spaceport Saturday.

The four passengers on the commercial flight and two experiments from Purdue University and University of California Berkeley.

The four customers were Turkish researcher Tuva Atasever; SpaceX propulsion engineer Andy Sadhwani; former real estate developer Irving Izchak Pergament, and London hotel and resort investment strategist Giorgio Manenti.

At an apogee of 54.4 miles, the flight made it into the fuzzy line between the Earth’s atmosphere and space, defined by NASA as 50 miles above the Earth’s surface, but below the imaginary boundary of the Kármán Line, measured about 62 miles above the planet.

This flight, sent off with the cheers of several hundred observers, is the last commercial flight for at least two years.

In November Virgin Galactic laid off 185 employees, including 73 in New Mexico, as a strategy to pivot to building space planes with more seats, outlining a plan to fly several times a month when it returns in 2026.

The company has said the facility to build the crafts in Mesa, Arizona, is expected to be operational in 2024.

Virgin Galactic’s founder, billionaire Richard Branson, appeared at the launch site Saturday outside of Truth or Consequences. Branson joined Virgin Galactic CEO Michael Colglazier in heralding the future of the company.

“The new Delta-class of spaceship will be wonderful,” Branson said. “It will be like building aeroplanes so we can build one after the other, after the other, and in time start bringing the prices down and enabling more people to go to space.”