Sealed Legal Settlements Raise Transparency Concerns, PNM Asks Panel To Reopen Power Line Case

May 23, 2019

Agreements Prompt Review Of New Mexico's Settlement SystemKRQE-TV, Santa Fe New Mexican, Associated Press

Questions about $1.7 million in payouts by New Mexico to settle legal claims have prompted a review of policies and procedures regarding such agreements.

KRQE-TV reports the settlements were made near the end of former Gov. Susana Martinez's administration. She has denied involvement in the agreements.

The cases included past members of the former governor's security detail and involved what one lawyer for the plaintiffs described as damaging personal information.

Details will remain secret since the settlements are sealed until 2023.

Open records advocates tell the Santa Fe New Mexican there's no legal basis for sealing settlements that long.

The attorney general's office has received complaints regarding the settlements, and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham's administration is developing new procedures to ensure reviews are done for all claims.

EPA Taking 1st Big Step To Clean Up Leaking Colorado MinesAssociated Press

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency plans to take the first major steps this summer to clean up wastewater flowing from dozens of old mines in southwestern Colorado.

The EPA said Thursday the work will include dredging contaminated sediment from streambeds, diverting water from tainted mine waste piles and covering up contaminated soil at campgrounds.

The agency first outlined the plan last June and finalized it Thursday.

This summer's work is aimed at keeping toxic heavy metals from flowing into rivers while the agency searches for a more comprehensive solution under the Superfund program.

The cleanup was prompted by a 2015 wastewater spill at the inactive Gold King mine near Silverton, which was inadvertently triggered by an EPA-led contractor crew. Rivers in Colorado, New Mexico and Utah were affected.

Politics, Killings Stifle Wolf Recovery Amid Hefty Price TagAssociated Press

Illegal killings and political resistance have undercut the return of two species of endangered wolves despite more than $80 million in government spending.

Wildlife officials warn the red wolves of North Carolina could be gone from the wild within a decade. In the Southwest, Mexican gray wolves continue to struggle despite recent gains.

Biologists say poaching has a big effect.

The Associated Press found that over the last two decades, more than half of Mexican wolf deaths and about one in four red wolf deaths resulted from gunshots or were otherwise deemed illegal.

Their recovery has been further hindered by opposition over attacks on livestock or game animals.

A third wolf type — the Western gray wolf — has thrived since reintroduction and could soon lose federal protection.

River Festival Organizers Face Opposite Water Level ConcernsFarmington Daily Times, Associated Press

Organizers of a festival celebrating the Animas River in northwest New Mexico say they were again concerned about the water level.

The Farmington Daily Times reported Wednesday that organizers of the three-day Riverfest in Farmington were concerned last year that there could be too little river water to hold certain events like rafting trips.

They were concerned this year that there could be too much water.

The San Juan Mountains snowpack has hovered near 300 percent of normal, causing a strong river flow.

Organizer Gloria Lehmer says the river level had recently creeped into the park, but now forecasts show moderate river conditions for the event this weekend.

Far From Border, US Cities Feel Effect Of Migrant ReleasesAssociated Press

A surge of asylum-seeking families that has strained cities along the southern U.S. border for months is now being felt in cities far from Mexico.

Immigrants are being housed in an airplane hangar and rodeo fairgrounds, while local authorities struggle to keep up with the influx.

U.S. immigration officials have eyed spots in states like Florida, Michigan and New York, to help process the migrants before they move on to their destination, which could be anywhere in the U.S.

And in border states, cities that are several hours' drive from Mexico are already seeing sometimes hundreds of migrants a day.

The situation is leaving local authorities and nonprofits with the task of providing shelter for a night or two, a few meals and travel assistance to help migrants reach their final destinations across the U.S.

Hearing Delayed For Former New Mexico Ex-Athletics DirectorAssociated Press

A hearing for former University of New Mexico athletics director Paul Krebs has been pushed back to August.

Krebs was due in court this week but attorneys in the case have been granted more time. Court records show a preliminary hearing is scheduled for Aug. 26.

A state district judge will decide whether there's probable cause for Krebs to face charges stemming from his use of public funds on a golf trip to Scotland.

Prosecutors have alleged that Krebs tried to conceal a $25,000 donation to cover the cost of the trip. They have accused him of fraud, money laundering, evidence tampering, making or permitting false public voucher and ethics violations.

Krebs has said the golf trip was meant to strengthen relationships with donors and that the university had not planned to pay for the donors' expenses.

New Mexico Candidates Diverge On Oversight Of White House - Associated Press

New Mexico Secretary of State and U.S. Senate candidate Maggie Toulouse Oliver says it's time for Congress to start impeachment proceedings against President Trump over concerns about obstruction of justice.

Toulouse Oliver said Wednesday in a statement that it's time to hold the president accountable for possible obstruction of justice and that there is more than enough evidence to move forward with the impeachment process.

The rival contender for the Democratic nomination is U.S. Rep Ben Ray Luján.

He takes credit for helping build the House Democratic majority that is seeking closer oversight of the White House through investigations, legal proceedings and subpoenaed testimony.

In a statement, Luján says impeachment proceedings still are a tool that can be used by Congress if the Trump administration continues to obstruct inquiries.

She Can Take It, But Not 'Him': Gender-Specific Nouns Nixed - Associated Press

The first woman to oversee New Mexico's multibillion-dollar mineral resources is proposing to do away with gender-specific pronouns such as "he," ''his" or "him" in state agency rulebooks.

Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard says her agency will hold a public hearing Friday in Santa Fe on the proposed changes.

Gender-specific pronouns would be replaced by more neutral or specific references.

Garcia Richard says current agency rules use "he," ''his" or "him" pronouns throughout to refer to her position. She says it's no surprise that some written wording has grown outdated at the 120-year-old agency.

The commissioner has final say on the language changes.

The State Land Office oversees energy leases across about 14,000 square miles of state trust land to help fund schools, universities and hospitals.

New Mexico Utility Asks Panel To Reopen Power Line Case - Associated Press

New Mexico's largest utility has petitioned state regulators to reopen the case on who will pay for nearly half the cost of the $85 million transmission line to the Facebook data center.

The Public Service Company of New Mexico filed a motion Tuesday asking the Public Regulation Commission to allow it to submit new evidence.

The commission said in mid-April that ratepayers could not be charged for the project, ordering the utility to bill Facebook $39 million for the line.

The commission last week declined to reconsider that order, basing the decision on existing evidence that includes statements from a utility executive that the line would only serve Facebook.

The utility says new evidence shows the project would benefit all customers by improving its network.

New Mexico Behavioral Health Program To Tackle Housing Needs - Associated Press

Officials in New Mexico's most populous metro area are teaming up to provide housing and intensive services for certain people with behavioral health conditions.

The goal is to reach those who are homeless or in precarious housing situations and have a recent history of frequent visits to the emergency room or detox facilities or multiple bookings into the Metropolitan Detention Center.

Bernalillo County will contribute $1 million annually for services and $2 million one-time dollars for capital investments.

The city of Albuquerque's one-time funding contribution of $2 million will help cover construction costs.

The New Mexico Mortgage Finance Authority also is contributing to the project.

HopeWorks, formerly St. Martins, is the social service provider that will own and operate the facility. Officials say a groundbreaking is scheduled this fall.

Official: Sandia National Laboratories Sees Surge In Hiring – Albuquerque Journal, Associated Press

A top official with Sandia National Laboratories says the Albuquerque-based weapons research and development facility expects to hire 1,900 new employees this year.

The Albuquerque Journal reports that Scott Aeilts told the Albuquerque Economic Forum on Wednesday that 1,100 of the hires will be for new positions and the rest will fill openings resulting from normal attrition.

Aeilts is associate labs director for mission services for Sandia, and he attributes the jobs surge partly to efforts to modernize and extend the life of the country's nuclear weapons.

Sandia also plans to employ a record 500 student interns this summer, with 60 percent of those coming from New Mexico schools, and Aeilts says all of the hiring is a struggle because the economy is very competitive.

Trump Signs Disaster Declaration For Navajo Nation - Associated Press

President Donald Trump has approved a disaster declaration for the Navajo Nation and directed that federal officials provide aid as reimbursement for expenses stemming from a major snowstorm and subsequent flooding in late February.

The White House announcement Wednesday said Trump on Tuesday ordered that federal aid be used to supplement tribal efforts in the affected areas.

Tribal officials said in a separate statement that tribal President Jonathan Nez signed an emergency declaration on Feb. 19 and that tribal officials asked Vice President Mike Pence and Federal Emergency Management Agency officials in early March for assistance.

New Mexico Military Museum To Prep For New Exhibits - Associated Press

The New Mexico Military Museum has temporarily closed its indoor space to prepare for new exhibits commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War and women serving in World War I.

The museum plans to reopen in July.

Until then, the outdoor World War I exhibit, the vehicle and equipment park and meditation gardens will remain open to the public.

Officials say the closure also will allow for renovations.

The New Mexico National Guard and the museum recently procured a traveling replica of the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C. It will be part of the new exhibit along with hundreds of photos from veterans' private collections.

The materials for the exhibit honoring women who served during World War I were recently procured from the American Medical Women's Association.

Navajo Nation Official Acquitted In $6M Theft Case - Gallup Independent, Associated Press

A Navajo Nation official has been found not guilty of theft in the transfer of $6 million of Ramah Navajo Chapter funds to investment firms.

The Gallup Independent reports a Navajo Nation judge acquitted Ramah Navajo Chapter President David Jose of all charges Monday.

Jose was accused of unlawfully transferring the funds to firms in Arizona and California in February 2017.

His attorney, David Jordan, argued that Jose was executing the chapter's wishes and three chapter meetings were held on the matter.

The attorney said Jose did not "wrongfully possess" the funds as if they were his own, so he could not be found guilty of theft.

Navajo Nation prosecutor Brandon Bitsui did not respond to the newspaper's request for comment Monday.

Interior Boss: No Monument Changes Planned, But Up To Trump - Associated Press

U.S. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt says he has no plans for additional changes to national monuments as recommended by his predecessor, but says it's ultimately up to President Donald Trump.

Trump in 2017 shrank two sprawling Utah monuments at the recommendation of former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.

The president has not acted on Zinke's proposal to shrink two monuments in Oregon and Nevada and change rules at six others.

During a Wednesday Senate Appropriations subcommittee meeting, New Mexico Sen. Tom Udall asked if there were plans to move forward on the other eight monuments.

Bernhardt replied: "I think the answer is no." He added he wouldn't take action without word from Trump.

Zinke left in January. The White House in March said further action on monuments remained under consideration.