State Will Focus On College Affordability, White Sands Closure Does Not Stop Visitors

Dec 26, 2018

College Affordability To Be Focus In New MexicoAssociated Press

The former leader of the Taos campus for the University of New Mexico has been picked by Democratic Gov.-elect Michelle Lujan Grisham to lead the state's Department of Higher Education beginning next year.

The governor-elect announced the appointment of Kate O'Neill as secretary of higher education to oversee the state's network of community colleges and public universities.

O'Neill served as CEO of the University of New Mexico at Taos for a dozen years until 2016. She takes over an agency grappling with recent state spending cuts.

O'Neill and Lujan Grisham said affordability for students will be a top priority for the administration. They discussed the importance of the state's lottery-funded scholarship program while acknowledging that it's not currently sustainable.

Lujan Grisham also announced appointments for the departments of transportation, cultural affairs and information technology.

University Of New Mexico Launches New Promotional VideoAlbuquerque Journal, Associated Press

The University of New Mexico has launched a new promotional video titled "State of Minds" as part of a $2 million, four-year branding initiative campaign that started in 2015.

The Albuquerque Journal reports that university officials hope the rebranding effort will attract new students as well as motivate current ones to continue their studies with the university.

Years of declining enrollment and state funding reductions have brought a sense of urgency to the university's need to boost enrollment.

University administrators reported that fall semester enrollment slid more than 7 percent, meaning student tuition and fee revenue would come in $9.7 million lower than expected.

University Chief Marketing and Communications Officer Cinnamon Blair says the new video cost about $209,000.

Departing New Mexico Auditor Defends EffortsAssociated Press

Departing Republican New Mexico State Auditor Wayne Johnson says his elected successor is interfering with an inquiry into whether the state attorney general's office followed proper bidding procedures for a public contract awarded to a private law firm.

Auditor-elect Brian Colón announced Wednesday in a news release that he will launch an investigation and internal review of conduct by Johnson. Colón is accusing Johnson of using his authority improperly for political gain and urged Johnson to relinquish his duties immediately.

Johnson on Wednesday said his office has unsuccessfully requested documentation about a state contract awarded to the Albuquerque-based law firm Robles, Rael and Anaya where Democratic Attorney General Hector Balderas and Colón have worked. Colón succeeds Johnson on Jan. 1.

Johnson says concerns about the contracting process were raised by an anonymous caller to a hotline for reporting government fraud, waste or abuse and that it is impossible to tell if state procurement rules were followed. Johnson said Colon is attempting to change the subject by threatening an investigation into his conduct in office.

Attorney General's Office spokesman Matt Baca says his agency is investigating complaints against Johnson originally filed with state campaign finance regulators.

Federal Shutdown Doesn't Keep Some From Visiting White SandsAssociated Press

The federal government's partial shutdown hasn't stopped some people from visiting White Sands National Monument though the site in southern New Mexico is closed.

The Alamogordo Daily News reports that hundreds of unauthorized visitors climbed over a fence to enter the monument since the shutdown started Saturday and that numerous cars were parked outside a perimeter fence Monday when people were seen playing on the dunes and taking selfies.

The visitors included Mihir Trivedi, who said he and his wife were on a trip from California to New Orleans and scheduled an overnight stop to visit the monument, which is 71 miles north of El Paso, Texas.

State highway workers were sent to the area Monday to erect "no parking" signs along U.S. 70 outside the monument.

New Mexico Governor's Social Spending Gets Greater Scrutiny - By Morgan Lee, Associated Press

An allowance for spending on social obligations by the governor of New Mexico is scheduled to undergo new scrutiny under a law that goes into effect Jan. 1.

The law allows for auditing of the so-called contingency fund for the first time and will automatically return unspent money to state coffers.

The law is among several that take effect Jan. 1 as Democratic Gov.-elect Michelle Lujan Grisham takes office.

The state supplies the contingency fund with $72,000 a year. The money has been used for decades at the governor's discretion through an unaudited account to pay for dinners and receptions, gifts for protocol meetings or spending on gestures of congratulations or condolences.

Termed-out Republican Gov. Susana Martinez published quarterly summaries of social spending by category without itemized receipts.

Dad Says Migrant Child Who Died Not Previously IllAssociated Press

The father of the 8-year-old Guatemalan boy who died in U.S. government custody says his son had shown no signs of illness before falling sick Monday, the same day he died.

That's according to Oscar Padilla, the Guatemalan consul in Phoenix, who met Wednesday with Agustin Gomez, the father of Felipe Gomez Alonzo. Guatemalan officials have identified Felipe as the child who died on Christmas Eve.

Padilla says Agustin Gomez told him Felipe wasn't sick when they were detained at the U.S.-Mexico border on Dec. 18 or in the five days to follow. Felipe was hospitalized Monday in New Mexico after a border agent noticed he was coughing. He was released from the hospital Monday afternoon, but taken back that night.

Gomez told the consul that he carried Felipe in his arms as they were taken to the hospital for the second and last time.

Federal Agency Is Screening Minors After Children DiedAssociated Press

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen says she's ordered "extraordinary protective measures" after the death of an 8-year-old Guatemalan child in immigration custody in New Mexico.

Nielsen said in a statement Wednesday that she had asked the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to investigate what she says is an "uptick in sick children crossing our borders." She also wants the U.S. Coast Guard to examine the medical programs offered by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the agency that detained the 8-year-old and his father for a week.

Nielsen also pledged that all children in the future will receive a "more thorough" medical screening after they are apprehended.

The boy, identified by Guatemalan officials as Felipe Gomez Alonzo, was the second child to die in CBP custody this month. Another Guatemalan child in U.S. custody, 7-year-old Jakelin Caal, died on Dec. 8 after she began vomiting. She and her father had crossed into New Mexico.

The Department of Homeland Security says it has completed new medical screenings of almost all the children in the care of the U.S. Border Patrol.

The department said Wednesday some children detained in more remote areas were re-screened by emergency medical technicians or Border Patrol agents. In other places, some children were taken to medical facilities.

DHS wouldn't say exactly how many children are in Border Patrol custody.

Guatemalan Boy Dies In US Custody In AlamagordoAssociated Press

An 8-year-old boy from Guatemala died early Tuesday in New Mexico while in U.S. Customs and Border Protection custody.

A Guatemalan official says he was told by the father of the boy that the two had been traveling from their home in the Central American country to Tennessee, and that his son had been in "perfect health."

Oscar Padilla, the Guatemalan consul in Phoenix, also confirmed Tuesday that the boy's name was Felipe Gomez Alonzo.

The consul says he interviewed the father, 47-year-old Agustin Gomez, by telephone.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection says the boy died shortly after midnight on Christmas.

CBP says the boy was taken Monday with his father to a hospital in Alamogordo, New Mexico, where he was diagnosed with a cold and a fever, and released.

The agency says the boy was returned to the hospital Monday evening with nausea and vomiting. He died hours later.

Customs and Border Patrol says it is conducting new medical checks on every child in its custody after this second reported death of a minor in their custody this month.

CBP said in a statement late yesterday that it is focusing its checks on children under the age of 10, and is considering requesting medical assistance from of other government agencies, like the U.S. Coast Guard, to care for children it is detaining.

Chicano Author, Illustrator Collaborate On Animal Adventure Associated Press

Celebrated Chicano author Rudolfo Anaya has teamed up with the Mexican-American street muralist known as El Moises to craft a bilingual children's book in English and Spanish about the harrowing adventure of a little owl who skipped school.

"Owl in a Straw Hat" from Museum of New Mexico Press is chocked full of references to northern New Mexico geography and homespun Hispanic tradition — from posole soup and pinon nuts to the "acequia" organizations that help irrigate fields and lend a special order to rural life in New Mexico.

Swirling illustrations chronicle adventures of a tiny owl named Ollie who longs to read on his own. He skips school and tangles with a cast of conniving animal characters in the hills and skies of northern New Mexico.

Anaya achieved lasting literary fame with the novel "Bless Me, Ultima" in 1972.