Forced Resignation Hits National Hispanic Cultural Center, State May Not Allow More Gas Wells

Jan 4, 2019

Forced Resignation Hits National Hispanic Cultural Center Associated Press

The National Hispanic Cultural Center of New Mexico is among the state agencies hit with forced resignations as Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham begins her term.

Rebecca Avitia, the center's executive director who is credited with turning around the long-struggling center, was told to resign after Thanksgiving. The new administration declined as offer to keep her until a new leader was selected.

Lujan Grisham spokesman Tripp Stelnicki said Avitia was an exempt employee and the governor asked all exempt employees to resign.

Avitia told The Associated Press she opted not to reapply for her position after receiving a letter ordering her to resign. She later wrote on her Twitter feed she decided not to reapply because “my heart is calling me to work in our community beyond the specific mission of the NHCC.”

Under Avitia, the Albuquerque-based center nearly tripled the number of events it held and saw revenue grow to $1 million last year despite decreases in state aid.

The $56 million center opened in 2000 after more than 20 years of work by activists. But the center saw nine executive and interim executive directors until Avitia took over. She was the center's longest-serving executive director.

Police Report 1-Year-Old Girl's Body  Found At Albuquerque HomeAssociated Press

Albuquerque police say they have found the body of a 1-year-old girl after her father told relatives that she had drowned in a bathtub last month.

Police had been searching for the girl and her family since at least Wednesday after receiving the report, saying the parents were last seen in Farmington.

Police spokesman Gilbert Gallegos said in a statement Friday that officers had found the body of Anastazia Zuber at an Albuquerque home.

He says that officers also located the girl's parents, David J. Zuber and Monique Romero, and that they are facing charges that include child abuse resulting in death.

Two other children found with the parents have been placed in the custody of the state Children, Youth and Families Department.

New Mexico Governor Suspends Student Testing System - Associated Press

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is ordering the suspension and rapid replacement of the state's current standardized academic exams for students.

The newly inaugurated Democratic governor on Thursday signed executive orders that suspend the current testing model and said a new assessment system should be in place by August with federal approval.

The orders hold major implications for teacher evaluations that were more closely linked to student test scores under preceding Republican Gov. Susana Martinez.

Lujan Grisham says it is still too soon to say whether standardized questionnaires will continue to play a role the assessments of student progress. She wants a "bottom-up" approach to developing new evaluations in consultation with teachers, parents and experts in education.

Conservationists Buy Southern Colorado Ranch For Open Space Associated Press

Conservation groups have reached a deal to buy and protect a southern Colorado ranch that includes the landmark Fishers Peak near Trinidad.

The Trust for Public Land and The Nature Conservancy said Friday they will buy the Crazy French Ranch from the French Trinidad Co. for $25.5 million. The public will have access to the land once the two groups, along with state and local officials, settle on a management plan.

The rugged ranch covers 30 square miles near the New Mexico border and is home to elk, deer, black bears, mountain lions and bobcats.

The conservation groups say state agencies have pledged $14.5 million toward the purchase, including $7.5 million from lottery proceeds. The conservation groups will launch a drive to raise the remaining $11 million.

New Mexico May Reconsider Decision On More Natural Gas WellsAssociated Press

New Mexico oilfield regulators are considering whether to reopen a decision to ease restrictions on natural gas well locations for a Texas-based company operating in the northwest corner of the state.

Newly arrived state Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard announced Friday a special hearing of the state's Oil Conservation Commission at her request on whether to reconsider an approved application from Hilcorp Energy to increase the well density for some areas. Hilcorp had no immediate comment.

Longstanding density limits have prevented the company from tapping more of a formation called the Blanco-Mesaverde gas pool.

Approval of the application late last year prompted an outcry from conservationists and a rebuke from the previous land commissioner.

Snow Strands Rural New Mexico Residents In Homes For Week Santa Fe New Mexican, Associated Press

Snow in a rural area southwest of Santa Fe has left residents stranded in their homes for a week.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports residents on Red Rock Road on the rugged western edge of Santa Fe County have been unable to leave their driveways because the road has up to 4 feet of snow in some places.

Some residents say they feel resentful that they haven't been able to count on the county government to plow them out.

Santa Fe County officials say they're doing what they can to help residents, prioritizing getting emergency services to residents who need urgent medical care.

County emergency manager Martin Vigil says the county has reached out to Public Service Co. of New Mexico about possibly using the company's snowcat.

Grant Program Aims To Deter Mexican Wolf, Cattle ConflictsAssociated Press

Arizona ranchers can now apply for grants as part of an effort to research measures that could prevent conflicts between livestock and Mexican gray wolves.

The Arizona Game and Fish Department announced Thursday that the livestock loss board unanimously approved the grant program at its meeting in November.

Arizona ranchers applying for the funds are required to provide a match either in cash or in-kind and/or third-party funds. They must also document the method to avoid conflict being used and its effectiveness.

The board is charged with addressing the killing of livestock by Mexican gray wolves. As part of its role, the board reimburses livestock producers whose cattle were lost to the endangered predators.

The wild population of Mexican wolves in Arizona and New Mexico reached a high of 114 wolves in 2018.

Some Minimum Wage Workers In New Mexico Get Earnings Boost - Associated Press

The minimum wage in New Mexico's Bernalillo County has increased for workers whose jobs lie beyond the limits of a municipality.

According to the county, the increase takes the minimum wage in unincorporated areas from $8.85 per hour to $9.05 per hour for employees who don't earn tips. Officials say the change is the result of a cost of living increase.

The wage change went into effect on Jan. 1.

In southern New Mexico, Las Cruces' minimum wage also increased at the start of the New Year, going from $9.20 per hour to $10.10 per hour.

New Mexico Governor Gets Donations Linked To Racino Bids -  Santa Fe New Mexican, Associated Press

Newly elected Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham's campaign received more than $25,000 in donations from individuals and companies with ties to a group seeking New Mexico's sixth and final license for a horse racetrack and casino in Clovis.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports that a company linked to another group that's also vying for the license made a donation of more than $5,000 late in the campaign.

As governor, Lujan Grisham now has control over the state Racing Commission. She could allow the commission to issue the lucrative license or block it from doing so through appointment of new commissioners.

Campaign ties between the governor and at least three of the groups seeking the license mean a commission decision selecting the winning group could be viewed as politically tainted.

New Mexico Lawmakers Seek Popular-vote System For President - Associated Press

Democratic New Mexico legislators haven't given up bringing their state into a movement to elect future U.S. presidents by popular vote.

Four lawmakers have introduced a bill to place New Mexico into an inter-state compact that requires Electoral College voters to cast ballots for the national popular vote winner. States representing 270 electoral votes must join for the compact to function.

The Santa Fe Democratic Party on Wednesday announced a forum on the initiative. The bill's sponsors are state Sens. Mimi Stewart and Carlos Cisneros, along with Reps. Gail Chasey and Daymon Ely. An identical 2017 bill won approval by the state Senate but not the House.

Donald Trump is one of several presidents to win election while losing the popular vote by garnering the most Electoral College votes.

Navajo Legislation On Tribal Energy Company Withdrawn - Gallup Independent, Associated Press

Navajo Nation Council legislation to allow a tribal-owned energy company to become a for-profit corporation was withdrawn before it could be considered.

The Gallup Independent reports that the bill sought approval for a federal charter for Navajo Transitional Energy Company to purchase the Navajo Generating Station and the Peabody Kayenta Coal Mine.

Delegate Benjamin Bennett said he withdrew the bill from the council agenda Monday, the last day of a two-day special session because legislative staff concluded the bill required passage with a two-thirds vote.

Because the bill was listed on the agenda as only needing a majority vote, it was listed last. That meant it likely couldn't be considered until Monday night, and opponents who wanted to view consideration of the bill said they couldn't stay that long.

Agency: 3 More Flu Deaths In New Mexico As Activity Spikes - Associated Press

Health officials say flu activity in New Mexico has sharply increased in recent weeks and that there have been three additional flu deaths in the state, raising the total so during the current flu season to four.

The Department of Health on Dec. 17 reported the death in a person from Lincoln County in south-central New Mexico and on Thursday said there since have been deaths of people from Santa Fe, Rio Arriba and Mora counties in northern New Mexico.

The department says all those who died were over age 50.

Officials urge people who haven't gotten flu shots to get one, particularly if they're among those most at-risk for flu-related complications or live or work with people in at-risk populations such as the elderly and young children.

Roswell Aids Passengers After Plane Makes Emergency Landing -  Roswell Daily Record, Associated Press

Roswell city officials and staff at the city's visitors center made inconvenienced passengers feel welcomed and comfortable after an American Airlines plane had to make an emergency landing at the Roswell International Air Center.

The Roswell Daily Record reports American Airlines indicated that 147 passengers and six crew members were aboard a direct flight Wednesday morning to San Diego from Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport.

But a smoke alarm in the cargo area of the plane required the plane to be diverted to Roswell. Passengers and crew remained in Roswell for more than seven hours until a new plane could arrive and be boarded to take them to their destination.

American Airlines spokesman Ross Feinstein says the situation was caused by a faulty sensor, and no injuries or difficulties to passengers or crew were reported.