MON: Conquistador Statue Removed, Mayor Keller Announces New Community Safety Department, + More

Jun 15, 2020

Monument To Spanish Conqueror Removed In New Mexico - By Cedar Attanasio And Morgan Lee Associated Press

Authorities have removed a bronze statue of Spanish conqueror Juan de Oñate in northern New Mexico amid a new wave of criticism of the memorial as an affront to indigenous people and an obstacle to greater racial harmony.

A forklift pried the massive bronze statue from a concrete pedestal to the sound of cheers. Oñate arrived in present-day New Mexico in 1598.

He is celebrated as a cultural father figure in communities along the Upper Rio Grande that trace their ancestry to Spanish settlers. But he's also reviled for his brutality toward Native Americans.

To Native Americans, Oñate is known for having ordered the right feet cut off of 24 captive tribal warriors that was precipitated by the killing of Onate's nephew. In 1998, someone sawed the right foot off the statue.

Removal of the statue was followed by a few heated roadside discussions about local colonial history, under the gaze of a half-dozen sheriff's deputies from Rio Arriba County.

Elena Ortiz, who organized a protest at the site for Monday night, said many people have grown uncomfortable with the Oñate statue.

A separate demonstration in Albuquerque was aimed at the removal of another Oñate likeness that is part of a caravan of Spanish colonists set in bronze outside a city museum.

Monuments to European conquerors and colonists around the world are being pulled down amid an intense re-examination of racial injustices in the wake of George Floyd's death at the hands of police.

Albuquerque city officials announced Saturday they will convene a council of community leaders and artists to consider the concerns about the public art piece as they look for "creative solutions."

Albuquerque Proposes New Agency Amid Calls For Police Reform - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller is proposing the creation of a new city department to focus on community safety as groups have been calling for elected leaders to defund the police department amid the latest national wave of protests over use of force.

Keller says the new department would be made up of social workers and other civilian professionals who would offer another option to dispatching police or firefighters and paramedics when people call 911.

The plan calls for reallocating funding. City officials don't have an exact price tag yet but estimate it will be in the tens of millions of dollars.

Keller formally announced the effort during an online news conference. He promised what he calls a civilian public health approach to community safety that is built on dispatching the right resources depending on the nature of the call. That could mean a social worker rather than an armed officer, he said.

Calls for reform — and politicians' vows to take action — have surged following the May 25 death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis. Floyd's death ignited protests around the world, with some of the early demonstrations being followed by violence, arson and vandalism.

The Albuquerque Police Department began implementing reforms years ago under a prior administration as part of a consent decree with the U.S. Justice Department. Federal authorities in 2014 issued a scathing report in response to a series of deadly police shootings in the city that pointed to patterns of excessive force, constitutional violations and a lack of training and oversight of its officers.

Mayor Keller To Announce New Community Safety Department Amid Calls For Police ReformAlbuquerque Journal, KUNM News

The city of Albuquerque is preparing to announce Monday the creation of a new public safety department following calls nationally and locally to defund and reform law enforcement.

The Albuquerque Journal reports Mayor Tim Keller is expected to announce Monday morning the creation of the Albuquerque Community Safety Department.

The Mayor says the new department will focus on meeting underlying community needs, such as behavioral health and homelessness.

The department will include social workers and violence prevention and housing experts among others. The team, rather than police officers, will be dispatched through 911 for certain non-violent calls.  

Albuquerque Chief Administrative Officer Sarita Nair said the city is not reducing funding for the Albuquerque Police Department or de-prioritizing crime fighting.  

New Mexico Begins Tribal Outreach Campaign Amid CoronavirusAssociated Press

New Mexico health officials have teamed  with Native American cartoonist Ricardo Caté to increase awareness about the coronavirus pandemic.

Caté is known for using humor to bring attention to serious topics. His cartoon, "Without Reservation," is published daily in the Santa Fe New Mexican and The Taos News.

The latest statewide data shows Native Americans account for more than 54% of all positive cases. In all, New Mexico has 9,845 confirmed cases, while the death toll stands at 440.

State health officials say tribal communities are particularly vulnerable to the new coronavirus because they have higher rates of diabetes, asthma, cancer and hypertension.

The Behavioral Health Services Division of the state Human Services Department and the New Mexico Indian Affairs Department partnered to create the campaign.

Officials say the goal is to use culturally relevant messaging on how tribal members can take precautions to protect their communities, families and elders.

Public service announcements will air on Native American radio stations and banners will be put up at water and food pick-up stations and testing areas. Fliers also will be distributed at each pueblo, tribe or nation in New Mexico, and posts will be made on social media.

Rescuers Relieved After Legendary $2M Treasure Found - By Mead Gruver, Associated Press

People who've had to rescue imperiled treasure seekers in the Rocky Mountains say they're glad to hear that the legendary Fenn treasure is found.

Retired Santa Fe art and antiquities dealer Forrest Fenn announced June 6 that a man who doesn't want to be named recently found the estimated $2 million chest containing coins, gold nuggets and other valuables.

Fenn wrote a cryptic poem he said led to the chest he hid in 2010. Fenn isn't saying where the treasure was hidden but several people seeking it have been rescued in Dinosaur National Monument on the Colorado-Utah state line.

Fenn, a decorated U.S. Air Force fighter pilot from the Vietnam War and a retired Santa Fe art and antiquities dealer, announced June 6 that a man from “back East” he didn’t know — and who didn’t want to be named — had found the antique chest containing coins, gold nuggets and other valuables.

New Mexico County Seeks Free Land From US Energy Department - Associated Press

A New Mexico county has asked the U.S. Department of Energy to relinquish a parcel of excess land at no cost to be used for housing and economic development.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reported Los Alamos County requested 4.8 square miles in White Rock for homes, businesses, light industry, and schools. 

The county offered to provide part of the land to Los Alamos National Laboratory to build support facilities. 

Less than 10% of the land would be developed, with most of that portion used for an increase in housing needed for the lab's workforce and to attract new businesses.

U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici of New Mexico drafted legislation in the late 1990s enabling free transfers of federal property to the county.

County leaders sent a 14-page proposal in December requesting the transfer.

The federal government owns 86% of the community's land, while the county controls the remainder, although only about a third of that area can be developed because of canyons, rocky hillsides and other rugged terrain, the proposal said.

New Mexico Reports 104 New Virus Cases, 4 New Deaths - Associated Press

New Mexico officials are reporting 104 new coronavirus cases and four additional deaths. 

State officials reported the new tally Sunday. They said testing has now confirmed 9,723 cases. 

A total of 435 New Mexico residents have died of the virus. 

Five counties — Bernalillo, Doña Ana, Sandoval, McKinley, and San Juan — each had more than 10 new cases. 19 new cases were also reported at the Torrance County and Otero County Detention Facilities combined. 

The four new deaths involved people over 60 who had underlying health conditions.

As of Sunday, the state's hospitals were caring for 162 people with COVID-19.

Watchdog Files Appeal Over Planned Nuclear Storage Complex - Associated Press

A proposed multibillion-dollar complex in southern New Mexico that would store spent nuclear fuel from commercial power plants around the U.S. is facing another legal challenge as opponents have filed an appeal in federal court. 

They are taking aim at the federal government's decision to dismiss numerous contentions that watchdogs had raised about the project. 

Holtec International is seeking a 40-year license from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to build what it has described as a state-of-the-art complex near Carlsbad to store tons of spent nuclear fuel in special canisters. 

Opponents are worried that the facility would end up a permanent dumping ground for the material.

The nonprofit group worries that a permanent facility would not be available until 2048. 

It also claims that the licensing process itself is questionable because it considered the possibility that the U.S. Energy Department would take ownership of the waste — a move illegal under federal law unless a permanent repository is available.

Albuquerque School District Seeking Feedback On Online K-12 - KRQE-TV , Associated Press

New Mexico's largest school district has asked parents for feedback after announcing plans to provide an online school experience in the fall for all grades because of the coronavirus pandemic. 

KRQE-TV reports that Albuquerque Public Schools has announced it is considering a K-12 online school instead of reopening classrooms in August to limit the spread of COVID-19. 

District officials say they expect to launch an online system to collect input on the idea. 

Officials say submitted comments could help the district gauge how many kids would take part and how many teachers would be needed. 

An online-only education is a new concept for the district, officials said, adding that it would likely rely on parents, especially for younger-aged students, but they recognize not every family would be able to do that.

The district is considering other options as well to begin the school year, including traditional in-school learning and a possible combination of in-school and distance learning, officials said.

ABQ RIDE Expands After Running Limited Service During Pandemic - KUNM News, Associated Press

Albuquerque's transit system has resumed or expanded service on 14 bus routes that had been curtailed or reduced due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

City officials said in a statement the changes, effective Saturday, included resuming two ART routes along the Central Ave. corridor with Saturday-type service but earlier start times. 

Officials said steps are being taken to increase sanitization and provide social distancing. Routes are begin run on limited schedules and at lower capacity so buses can be assigned to busier routes as needed.

 New Mexico Delegates, Officials Press For Plugging Oil Wells - Associated Press

As New Mexico's oil and gas industry struggles with lower prices and slowing production brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, some state officials and members of Congress are urging the U.S. Interior Department to allow operators to temporarily plug wells until prices stabilize. 

U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small's district includes part of the Permian Basin. The New Mexico Democrat is among those who have asked for more federal money to plug abandoned wells on state and tribal land. 

The state's Oil Conservation Division also supports the idea of a new fund that would give industry workers jobs plugging abandoned wells.

State labor officials estimate about 4,100 oilfield workers had filed for unemployment as of May 5, as companies cut operations and left the state.

While the industry is starting to rebound, Torres Small said there's still a long way to go and that the proposed federal rule making could provide regulatory certainty for operators and reduce the administrative obstacles to ceasing operations of oil and gas wells.

New Mexico Early Education Agency Forms Advisory Council - Associated Press

New Mexico's new Early Childhood Education and Care Department has named the members of its advisory council. 

The agency said Friday that the 40 members were chosen from a pool of more than 300 applicants. 

The selection team considered everything from an applicant's location to gender, ethnicity, culture and experience within educational settings. The parameters were set by legislation passed in 2019 that established the agency. 

Members of the advisory council include community organizers, executives who work with child advocacy groups, teachers, principals and others. 

Early Childhood Education and Care Secretary Elizabeth Groginsky said the diverse voices and perspectives reflected by the make-up of the council will be valuable.

The council will meet four times this year before submitting recommendations to the governor and the Legislature.