Former Torrance County Sheriff Charged With Embezzlement, UNM Faculty To Vote On Union In Fall

May 2, 2019

New Mexico Authorities Charge Ex-Sheriff With EmbezzlementAssociated Press

State authorities have charged a former New Mexico sheriff with embezzlement amid accusations he spent thousands of dollars in taxpayer money on guns and other equipment for his own personal use.

Court documents filed by New Mexico State Police on Thursday show Heath White, of Torrance County, is facing felony charges that include embezzlement over $20,000, receiving stolen property and misusing public money.

White's term as sheriff ended in December.

An investigation into White began earlier this year after authorities said items purchased by the sheriff's department during his tenure could not be found.

Online court records did not immediately list an attorney for White.

A Torrance County magistrate court manager tells the Albuquerque Journal that White has been suspended from the Bench.

As Car-Sharing Picks Up In US, So Do Legislative BattlesAssociated Press

Car-sharing apps that allow people to rent out their vehicles to strangers are growing in popularity in the United States.

But the people who find cars to rent through apps like Turo and GetAround don't pay the taxes and surcharges that local government and airports tack on to traditional rental cars.

That's made them a target for rental car companies, airport authorities and local governments, which want the upstart apps to pay the same taxes and fees that come with rental cars.

California, Oregon and Washington passed legislation on car-sharing years before the industry took off, and Maryland did so last year. Bills governing the practice have been introduced in more than 30 other states, with the fight especially contentious in Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, New Mexico and Ohio.

At stake is hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue that cities and airports count on to pay for stadiums and convention centers or to fund police, fire and other general operations. They see it as a matter of fairness.

Turo says established rental car companies are trying to stifle competition.

Alarmed States Work To Avoid Vast Undercount In 2020 CensusAssociated Press

Many states are spending millions to make sure their residents fill out next year's census form.

One main reason is that activists and others fear that a question about citizenship that the Trump administration wants to add to the form could scare off Hispanics and other immigrants.

At stake are billions of dollars in federal money for health care, education and other services, as well as a state's representation in Congress.

New Mexico has launched a multimillion-dollar effort to ensure an accurate tally. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has warned that a 1% undercount could translate into more than $700 million in lost federal revenue over a decade.

Perhaps no state has more at risk than California, where no racial or ethnic group constitutes a majority and Hispanics outnumber whites.

California has budgeted about $100 million for education and media campaigns, a figure expected to rise to about $150 million.

New Mexico Students Recharge Rio Grande With Native Fish - By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press

With the Rio Grande flowing bank to bank, dozens of children are releasing native fish they spent months raising into the river as part of an ongoing conservation program aimed at linking classrooms with the outdoors.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has teamed up with schools in New Mexico, Texas, California and states on the East Coast to bring more awareness to river systems and the fish that inhabit them.

In New Mexico, the Rio Grande has lost two of its native species in recent decades and the endangered silvery minnow will have an uphill battle this spring after a year in which tens of thousands of them were rescued from stretches of the river that went dry.

Officials say the work done to help the minnow also will benefit the fish reared by the students.

University Of New Mexico Faculty To Vote On Union In Fall - Albuquerque Journal, Associated Press

Professors at New Mexico's largest university will head to the polls next fall to vote on whether to form a faculty union.

The Albuquerque Journal reports the scheduled vote comes after an all-faculty meeting on unionization drew more than 100 University of New Mexico professors to Popejoy Hall on Tuesday.

An agreement on union membership positions was reached Monday night between University of New Mexico attorneys and lawyers for the United Academics of the University of New Mexico.

A group of faculty had petitioned the labor board to form a faculty union in February.

University officials have said at least 40 percent of professors will have to cast a vote in the election for it to be valid and the union will form if it passes by a simple majority.

New Mexico Governor Signals New Approach To Pardons - Associated Press

The Democratic governor of New Mexico is taking a new and more holistic approach to requests for pardons and other forms of clemency.

Revised clemency guidelines appeared Wednesday on the website for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. Her Republican predecessor issued just three pardons during eight years in office, ruling out any clemency for people convicted of sexual offenses or repeatedly driving while intoxicated.

Lujan Grisham spokesman Tripp Stelnicki says the new guidelines provide the governor with more flexibility and discretion in issuing pardons. No pardons have been granted since she took office Jan. 1. Holdover applicants have been encouraged to re-apply.

The power to pardon resides solely with the governor. A pardon restores citizenship rights such as the ability to vote and run for public office without expunging public records.

Xcel Nearly Done With Grid Modernization Project In Roswell - Associated Press

A utility that serves customers across eastern New Mexico is close to completing a multiyear project aimed at improving the reliability and capacity of Roswell's power grid.

Xcel Energy announced Wednesday that the project includes a major upgrade to the Roswell International Air Center, where the city's airport, a university and industrial sites are located.

As the former home of Walker Air Force Base, the area was served by electrical systems that were developed by the military decades ago and did not meet modern demands.

The utility says upgrading the lines to a higher, standard voltage will provide more power for new and expanding businesses and also to nearby residential neighborhoods.

In all, Xcel says it has invested $35 million in the city's power systems over the past several years.

Padilla Seeks Dismissal Of Charges Over Coffeepot Recording - Albuquerque Journal, Associated Press

New Mexico's former tax chief says her due process rights were violated when investigators with the state attorney general's office used a coffeepot outfitted with a recording device to secretly record a conversation with her attorney.

The allegation is outlined in a court filing that seeks the dismissal of public corruption charges against Demesia Padilla.

The Albuquerque Journal reports the conversation happened before Padilla was arrested in December 2016.

The motion accuses the attorney general's office of outrageous conduct. Prosecutors argue they had a law enforcement interest in recording the agents' interview of Padilla.

The attorney general's denies surreptitiously listening in, saying the coffeepot recording device — which was on loan from the Albuquerque Police Department — stopped recording while Padilla was talking with her attorney.

A ruling on the motion could come later this month.

Report Dings Feds' Consultation With Tribes On Projects - By Mary Hudetz Associated Press

A group of U.S. lawmakers and tribal leaders are calling attention to a watchdog report that says federal agencies need to improve their process of consulting with tribes on major infrastructure projects.

The Government Accountability Office began its review of federal agencies at lawmakers' request following criticism three years ago over the approval of the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota.

A top complaint was that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers failed to properly consult with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe before initially approving a pipeline route that ran beneath a source of drinking water.

The GAO report says numerous tribes told federal officials that they were consulted only during the late stages of a project.

Rep. Raul Grijalva, an Arizona Democrat, said Wednesday he's sponsoring legislation that would establish a mandatory tribal consultation process for federal agencies.

New Mexico Forest Investigates Vandalism At Rock Art Sites - Associated Press

Officials with the Gila National Forest are investigating vandalism at prehistoric rock art sites within the boundaries of the southern New Mexico forest.

They pointed Wednesday to damage done at Chloride Creek on the Black Range Ranger District. The damage includes names that have been scrawled onto rocks that are laden with prehistoric petroglyphs and pictographs.

Officials say the forest is home to more than 200 recorded rock art sites and once damaged, such sites can never be repaired to their original condition.

They're asking visitors to be respectful. That includes not touching the rock art as oils from a single handprint can chemically affect the rock's surface.

It's also illegal to collect or disturb archaeological materials on public land without a permit from the appropriate land managing agency.

Hospital First In New Mexico To Join Mayo Clinic Network - Associated Press

A New Mexico hospital has become the first in the state to join the Mayo Clinic Network.

Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center in Santa Fe announced Monday it has become a member of the health care nonprofit group, and officials said the Santa Fe hospital will be able to use various resources within the widespread network.

The Minnesota-based clinic began the network in 2011 and currently operates about 40 health systems, including facilities in Arizona, Florida, Idaho and Montana.

Christus St. Vincent will be able to offer e-consultation with Mayo Clinic specialists and access the network's medical research and archived educational materials for patients and hospital staff.

Patients also can request second opinions from Mayo Clinic physicians at no additional cost.