Schools And Governments Falling Behind On Pensions, Police Chief Reinstated Amid Investigation

Jun 13, 2019

Analysts Say Schools Falling Behind On Pension ObligationsAssociated Press

A major credit ratings agency says that pension obligations are outpacing contributions at an unusually fast rate for school districts and local governments across New Mexico when compared with nationwide averages.

Analysts with Moody's Investors Service told a panel of state lawmakers on Thursday that most local governments and their workers in the U.S. are not contributing enough to "tread water" and avoid increases in unfunded pension burdens. They say the difficulties are much worse than average in New Mexico.

New Mexico lawmakers this year increased taxpayer contributions to two major pension plans by 0.25% of annual salaries and delayed the accrual of pension benefits for new school workers.

Moody's analyst Heather Correia says truly tackling pension problems requires significant increases in contributions, reduced benefits or both.

Parched US Southwest Gets Reprieve As Snowmelt Fills Rivers - By Dan Elliott Associated Press

A welcome surge of melting snow is pouring out of the Rocky Mountains and into the drought-stricken rivers of the southwestern U.S.

Enough snow fell last winter to delay a water shortage in the region, but the runoff is threatening to push some streams over their banks.

Much of Colorado, Utah and Wyoming had above-average snowfall. As it melts, an abundance of water is rushing into the Colorado River, the Rio Grande and other waterways.

It's a big change after a desperately dry 2018.

Federal officials said last winter there was a better than 50% chance of a shortage in the Colorado River in 2020. That could have meant less water for Arizona, which has low-priority rights.

Officials now say the shortage might be put off until after 2021.

Ex-High School Coach Accused Of Sex Abuse Sent Back To JailAssociated Press

A former New Mexico high school coach accused of sexual encounters with students has been sent back to jail after the judge said he showed "absolute disdain" for his pretrial release conditions.

Judge Jason Lidyard on Tuesday ordered 30-year-old Dominick Baca jailed until his trial.

The former Pecos High School assistant basketball coach was charged last year with sexual penetration and sexual contact involving two teenage girls.

Prosecutors have now charged him with more than two dozen counts of violating his house arrest and tampering with his ankle monitor.

Prosecutors say Baca traveled to Albuquerque 15 times and attended the state high school basketball tournament.

His attorney, Thomas Clark, told the judge that Baca admitted he failed to comply, but his client was left unsupervised for seven months.

Man Gets 2nd Life Sentence For Prison Gang Plot, KillingAlbuquerque Journal, Associated Press

A man who authorities say is the leader of a prison gang has been given a second life sentence plus 10 years for his role in the killing of an inmate and the failed plot to kill two New Mexico prison officials.

The Albuquerque Journal reports Anthony Ray Baca was sentenced Wednesday in federal court for the death of 34-year-old Javier Molina, who was stabbed 43 times by Syndicato de Nuevo Mexico gang members.

Molina was killed in his cell at the Southern New Mexico Correctional facility near Las Cruces.

Baca also was convicted for conspiracy to kill two top state corrections department officials, including Secretary Gregg Marcantel.

Baca's second life sentence will run consecutively.

Baca's attorneys are appealing the conviction.

US Considers More Options For Detaining Transgender Migrants - By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press

About 300 migrants who identify as transgender have been booked into the custody of U.S. immigration authorities since Oct. 1, marking the highest number since officials began keeping track in 2015.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is considering opening a second permanent facility where transgender migrants can be detained amid the influx of Central Americans crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.

The agency's Enforcement and Removal Operations field office director Corey Price says all options are being reviewed.

Price on Wednesday led the first media tour of the agency's only permanent transgender detention unit. The rural New Mexico unit opened in 2017.

He acknowledged a second unit would be a significant investment given the higher costs associated with transgender detainees.

The agency has been criticized for the deaths of two transgender women.

New Mexico Regulators Punt Facebook Transmission Line Ruling Albuquerque Journal, Associated Press

New Mexico regulators have punted on a decision to force the state's largest utility to charged Facebook for half the cost of a new transmission line.

The Albuquerque Journal reports the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission voted 5-0 on Wednesday to defer the issue of Public Service Company of New Mexico cost recovery for a transmission line. That line would power Facebook's new data center south of Albuquerque.

That decision lets Menlo Park, California-based Facebook off the hook for a $39 million bill that the commission had said utility should directly charge the social media giant to finance the project.

Earlier this year, the commission ordered the utility to charge Facebook for nearly half the cost of the project.

The utility then asked the commission to reopen the case.

New Mexico Woman Gets Prison Term For $816K EmbezzlementAssociated Press

A New Mexico woman who pleaded guilty to embezzling more than $800,000 from her employer has been sentenced to 18 months in federal prison.

Prosecutors say 54-year-old Lori Whitaker also must pay about $816,000 in restitution.

They say Whitaker changed her plea to guilty in May 2018 and was facing up to a 20-year prison sentence in the case.

Whitaker, a former resident of Carlsbad, was an office manager for the Otis Mutual Domestic Water Consumers and Sewage Works Association.

The non-profit association provides potable water and a wastewater system to more than 4,300 people in Otis, New Mexico.

Whitaker allegedly transmitted funds between March 2015 and February 2017 as part of a scheme to defraud the association.

Prosecutors say the 75 wired transactions ranged from $416 to nearly $16,000.

Village Restores Police Chief Amid Harassment Investigation — Gallup Independent, Associated Press

A New Mexico village's police chief has been reinstated, while a village manager and two female employees who alleged sexual harassment have been fired.

The Gallup Independent reports the Village of Milan Board of Trustees terminated Manager Paul Peña almost a month after he placed Police Chief Patrick Salazar on administrative leave.

Peña says he placed Salazar on administrative leave after two female employees of the Milan Police Department made allegations of sexual harassment, retaliation, discrimination and hostile work environment. It was not known if Salazar was the target of their complaint.

But the board voted Thursday to fire Peña and reinstate Salazar pending an investigation. The board also appointed Carlos Vallejos as deputy police chief, who then fired the female employees.

Salazar says he's happy to be back.

Man Arrested In Albuquerque Killing Of Native American WomanAssociated Press

Albuquerque police have arrested a man in the 2017 killing of a Native American woman who was fatally stabbed and found in a ditch.

Police and court records say 31-year-old Andrew Garcia Jr. was arrested Monday and remained jailed Wednesday on suspicion of murder in the killing of 39-year-old Audra Wills.

Her death stirred concern among advocates for people experiencing homelessness and the Native American community in Albuquerque.

Police say two friends of Garcia, 30-year-old Eric Emerson and 33-year-old Damaris Marquez, were arrested on suspicion of tampering with evidence.

Court records don't list defense attorneys who could comment on the allegations.

Deputy Police Chief Art Gonzalez said the arrests capped "a long and arduous investigation," and he credited the lead detective for persevering.

Mom Of Española High School Student Hit With Stun Gun Sues—Associated Press

The mother of a New Mexico high school student with special needs who was hit with a stun gun by a sheriff's deputy is suing.

The woman filed a lawsuit this week in the state's First Judicial District and accused the Rio Arriba County sheriff's deputy of assault, battery and false imprisonment of her 15-year-old boy.

The May 10 episode at Española Valley High School has attracted the attention of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico and state Attorney General Hector Balderas.

According to a lapel video, Rio Arriba County sheriff's deputy Jeremy Barnes used a stun gun on the boy after he refused to follow orders and called the deputy a homophobic slur.

Rio Arriba County Manager Tomas Campos declined to comment.

New Mexico Offers Shelter, But Dorms Stay Vacant— Associated Press

No migrants have stayed at state fairground dormitories in Albuquerque six weeks after New Mexico began offering the facilities as a possible temporary shelter for asylum-seeking families.

Expo New Mexico spokesperson Oona Gonzales on Wednesday said that the state remains on standby if the fairground dormitories are needed by migrants as they seek out their final destinations elsewhere in the U.S.

In May, a film production company briefly worked out of dormitories that are equipped for up to 60 people, but otherwise the dorms have been available.

New Mexico and Albuquerque last week filed suit against the Trump administration to stem the quick release of migrants that has strained public and charitable resources in southern New Mexico communities, including Las Cruces and Deming.

Flood Warning Issued For San Juan River In New MexicoAssociated Press

A flood warning is in effect along the San Juan River in rural northwestern New Mexico due to releases of runoff from Navajo Dam.

The National Weather Service said Wednesday its warning is in effect between Navajo Dam and Bloomfield in San Juan County until Thursday evening.

According to the weather service, that river was cresting Wednesday morning but was expected to gradually fall below flood stage.

The county Office of Emergency Management says there's a possibility of minor flooding that "it is not expected to be a great impact."

The office says it is discouraging recreational activities on the river due to swift flows, debris and impassible bridges.

The dam is 55 miles east of Farmington.

Groups Sue To Force Federal Protections For Prairie Chickens—Associated Press

Three conservation groups are suing the federal government to force it to protect the lesser prairie chicken and its habitats.

The lawsuit was filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia by the Defenders of Wildlife, the Center for Biological Diversity and WildEarth Guardians.

The lawsuit alleges that the U.S. Interior Department's Fish and Wildlife Service has not done enough to protect the bird. The groups want the agency to determine whether the lesser prairie chicken is a threatened or endangered species.

The Interior Department said it cannot comment on pending litigation. The bird was listed as threatened in 2014 but a federal court overturned the designation.

The bird roams parts of New Mexico, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas and Colorado, but the groups said fewer than 38,000 remain.