State Paid $900,000 To Settle Claims Against Police Chief, New Energy Law Prompts Legal Challenge

Aug 27, 2019

State Paid $900,000 To Settle Claims Against Police Chief - Associated Press

The state of New Mexico is acknowledging it paid out $900,000 to settle a lawsuit accusing former State Police chief Pete Kassetas of discriminatory and lewd behavior along with retaliation against those who complained.

The General Services Department on Monday released financial terms of a settlement agreed upon in December 2018 during the final weeks of the administration of Gov. Susana Martinez.

The lawsuit was filed by former Deputy Chief Michael Ryan Suggs, Lt. Julia Armendariz and Sgt. Monica Martinez-Jones. It described distress and mental anguish from a hostile work environment.

Allegations against Kassetas include instances in which he pulled down his pants and showed his behind to staff after drinking on the job and sending a deputy Cabinet secretary a picture of a person's testicles.

New Mexico's New Energy Law Prompts Legal Challenge - By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press

Several environmental and consumer advocacy groups are challenging New Mexico's new landmark energy law.

The groups filed a petition with the New Mexico Supreme Court on Monday, arguing that provisions within the law signed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham earlier this year erode the state's ability to regulate utilities and put electric customers at risk of paying unchecked costs.

Aside from mandating emissions-free electricity by 2045, the law charts a course for the closure of the coal-fired San Juan Generating Station by 2022. It includes a financing mechanism aimed at easing the economic consequences of closing the power plant.

Mariel Nanasi with New Energy Economy says the groups support renewable energy but that regulatory oversight will be important as New Mexico's electricity market evolves over the next two decades. 

New Mexico Ride-Share Driver Facing Voluntary Manslaughter - Albuquerque Journal, Associated Press

A New Mexico judge has ruled the case against a ride-share driver accused of fatally shooting a passenger earlier this year will move forward on a single count of voluntary manslaughter.

According to the Albuquerque Journal, prosecutors asked Judge Neil Candelaria to find probable cause to support a second-degree murder prosecution against driver Clayton Benedict.

But Candelaria says the evidence only supported a voluntary manslaughter charge.

Albuquerque police have said the shooting happened March 17 after Benedict picked up 27-year-old James Porter and a friend and an altercation broke out along Interstate 25.

Benedict's attorney argued Monday that his client acted in self-defense.

The Journal says Benedict could face up to seven years in prison if convicted of voluntary manslaughter.

Las Cruces Schools Facing Possible Legal Fight From Ex-Chief - Las Cruces Sun-News, Associated Press

A southern New Mexico school district now headed by the recently fired state secretary of education may face a legal fight from its former superintendent.

The Las Cruces Sun-News reports the Las Cruces Public Schools recently released an unredacted resignation letter from outgoing Superintendent Greg Ewing that signaled he intended to file a complaint with the New Mexico Human Rights Commission.

Ewing's attorney alleges in the letter that a school board member created a "hostile work environment."

The school district declined to comment.

Ewing submitted his resignation via letter dated Aug. 9 amid infighting with school board members.

The board later appointed Karen Trujillo as the district's interim superintendent. She was fired six months into her job as public education secretary by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.

Group Hit By Abuse Claims To Open New Mexico Migrant Shelter

An Arizona-based company plagued by abuse and mistreatment allegations is planning on opening an Albuquerque facility to house migrant teens.

An email recently sent to some Albuquerque residents said VisionQuest will shelter up to 60 minors who entered the U.S. illegally without their parents. The planned facility awarded by a federal contract would be located along the city's historic Route 66 near the University of New Mexico's main campus.

The letter signed by Michael Vos of the Albuquerque consulting firm says VisionQuest will shelter boys from ages 11 to 17 for up to 90 days.

VisionQuest spokesperson Amanda Burton confirmed to the Albuquerque Journal the company plans to open the Sam Mahan Center in January.

VisionQuest has faced allegations of mistreatment dating back to 1987.

State, Nonprofits Brainstorm Overcoming 2020 Census Hurdles - Associated Press

New Mexico officials are pulling out all the stops to encourage 2020 Census participation.

At a conference Monday at Isleta Pueblo, state officials said they want to overcome roadblocks that have made the rural Southwest state's Native American and Hispanic populations among the toughest in the nation to count.

New Mexico stands to lose millions of dollars in federal funding without a complete count of its population.

Outreach efforts to boost participation include promotional recordings in Native American languages, and outreach to military veterans and oilfield workers who live in temporary "man camps."

Still, state officials and nonprofit leaders acknowledge that limited broadband access in certain areas and distrust of the government among communities of color present significant challenges.

Federal officials are planning to place emphasis on telephone and online questionnaires.

Beer Can Enthusiasts Coming To New Mexico For 'CANvention' - Albuquerque Journal, Associated Press

Hundreds of collectors of beer cans are coming to New Mexico for a "CANvention."

The Albuquerque Journal reports the Brewery Collectibles Club of America is scheduled Thursday to begin their three-day national gathering at the Albuquerque Convention Center celebrating different types of beer cans.

The club says the event attracts collectors from around the world who come to trade, buy and sell vintage or craft beer cans. In addition, the club says the gathering is a chance for attendees to taste beer from local brewers in Albuquerque.

The annual gathering began after collector Denver Wright, Jr., in October 1969 placed an ad in a St. Louis newspaper asking anyone who collected beer cans to contact him.

Six collectors responded and they held an event in Denver months later.

New Mexico Supreme Court Blocks Changes To Election LawAssociated Press

The New Mexico Supreme Court has determined parts of a new election law that would have altered the terms of certain elected officials are unconstitutional.

The court ruling Monday blocks some of the election changes enacted by state lawmakers earlier this year from taking effect.

Lawmakers aimed to shift the election timing for some judges and county officials so not all the elections would fall in the same year.

State Administrative Office of the Courts spokesman Barry Massey said in a statement that shifting elections would have caused some judges to serve longer terms than allowed by the state constitution.

The eight district attorneys who filed one of three challenges to the law also claimed it would have caused officeholders to serve six-year terms or be ousted without an election.

Sandia National Laboratories Director To Retire In December Associated Press

The director of Albuquerque-based Sandia National Laboratories is retiring.

The Albuquerque Journal reports that 67-year-old Steve Younger has been on the job for two years and that he told employees Monday that he will retire Dec. 31.

Sandia is a federal installation involved in the nation's nuclear weapons program and international nonproliferation efforts.

Younger said the National Technology and Engineering Solutions Board of Managers is searching for his successor.

Younger unveiled his retirement plans several months after Sandia announced it expects to hire 1,900 employees this year, including 1,100 to fill newly created positions at the lab.

Younger formerly was associate director at Los Alamos National Laboratory and he began working with nuclear weapons in 1982.

GOP Oil Lobbyist To Seek Southern New Mexico US House Seat – Associated Press

A Republican oil lobbyist and member of one of New Mexico's wealthiest families has announced she is running for Congress in what is expected to be a closely watched U.S. House race.

Claire Chase told The Associated Press on Tuesday she will seek the GOP nomination for the state's southern congressional seat currently held by Democratic U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small.

Torres Small defeated Republican Yvette Herrell in 2018 to flip a traditional Republican-leaning district.

The 36-year-old Chase says she intends to run a different race than Herrell, who faced criticism for refusing to debate Torres Small

Herrell and Las Cruces businessman Chris Mathys also are vying for the GOP nomination.

Chase, a Roswell, New Mexico, native, is married to Chance Chase. His grandfather is oil and natural gas tycoon, Mack Chase.

People Across Southwest Longing For Seasonal RainstormsAssociated Press

Around the Southwest, people are longing for seasonal rainstorms like a lost summer romance.

The weather pattern characterized by a shift in wind patterns and moisture being pulled in from the tropical coast of Mexico arrives like clockwork each year. It starts in mid-June and runs through September. Rain usually tags along.

But this summer is different. The Southwest is parched.

The Flagstaff airport is seeing its driest monsoon season in 120 years. Las Vegas has barely recorded any rain. St. George in southern Utah had none in July and August.

Meris Carmichael wants to lure the rain to Arizona in a tongue-and-cheek way. She's been encouraging people to wash their cars — a perverse weather guarantee to ruin a shiny auto exterior with muddy raindrops.