THURS: PED Suspends Los Lunas School Board, Emhoff To Campaign With Stansbury + More

May 27, 2021

New Mexico Education Agency Suspends Los Lunas School BoardAssociated Press

The Los Lunas school board has been suspended by the New Mexico Public Education Department over allegations that multiple board members violated ethical standards and procurement and public access laws.

State officials made the announcement Wednesday, saying that it first warned the board about violations in November and that training for board members followed in January and February.

Despite those efforts, the agency said certain unnamed board members persisted in engaging in improper conduct.

Board member Frank Otero said an email to The Associated Press that he wanted to assure people he was not among those accused of wrongdoing.

The other members did not immediately respond to emails seeking comment.

Los Lunas Superintendent Arsenio Romero said he couldn’t comment on the allegations but said in a letter to staff that he planned to work with Education Secretary Ryan Stewart to ensure that the school district complies with all orders and actions by the state agency.

With the suspension, the board members are not allowed to contact school staff or use school equipment or facilities and they cannot use the board’s attorney to represent them.

The Public Education Department said it has credible evidence that one or more board members knowingly misrepresented information in public meetings, violated the state public records law by not producing records as required and bypassed procurement procedures by demanding contracts for goods and services be awarded to certain vendors.

Other claims include falsifying allegations about financial misconduct, interfering with personnel matters and demanding that family members be hired.

State officials said the information about the violations also was sent to state police and the state auditor's office.

Doug Emhoff To Campaign With Democrat In New Mexico Contest – Associated Press

Doug Emhoff, Vice President Kamala Harris’ husband, is campaigning Thursday with a Democratic congressional candidate in New Mexico. It's his first such trip on behalf of a candidate.

Emhoff will appear with Melanie Stansbury, the Democrat running in Tuesday’s special election for New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District. The safe Democratic district came open after Rep. Deb Haaland became President Joe Biden's Interior Department secretary.

Biden recently endorsed Stansbury, noting her background as a state representative and scientist and declaring in a statement that “she has the grit and determination to deliver real results for all New Mexicans.”

Emhoff’s visit marks his first campaign travel for a candidate, and one of the first forays into campaign politics for the Biden administration; the president and Vice President Kamala Harris have stayed away from political events since taking office. Emhoff, however, joined new Democratic National Committee chair Jaime Harrison for his first virtual fundraiser in March.

He is otherwise a prolific surrogate for the Biden administration, frequently traveling to sell the president's COVID-19 relief plan and his infrastructure proposal to the American public.

Navajos Voice Concern Over Plan To Transfer Uranium Waste – Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

U.S. nuclear regulators are considering a licensing change proposed by a uranium company that would clear the way for 1 million cubic yards of waste to be transferred from a mining area in western New Mexico to a mill site a short distance away as part of a cleanup effort.

But indigenous activists and nuclear watchdogs say the proposal doesn’t go far enough in protecting the area and surrounding Navajo communities from more contamination.

The deadline to comment on a draft environmental review of the proposal was Thursday.

Federal environmental regulators have been working with the Navajo Nation for several years to address contaminated sites near the community of Church Rock.

The mine waste that would be moved to the mill site is made up of soil, vegetation, rock and other debris of varying levels of radioactivity. Officials say the higher-level waste would be disposed of elsewhere.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission's review found that there would be only small environmental effects to surface and groundwater supplies, soil and air quality. However, the commission noted high impacts when it comes to environmental justice given that residents in the surrounding area and the Navajo Nation more broadly have been grappling with the legacy of uranium mining and contamination for decades.

Federal officials during previous public meetings and in documents have highlighted that past, namely what was the largest release of radioactive material in U.S. history.

United Nuclear Corp. operated the Church Rock uranium milling facility from 1977 to 1982.

In 1979, the tailings disposal pond breached its dam, sending more than 93 million gallons of radioactive and acidic slurry into an arroyo and other drainages.

Three times the radiation released at the Three Mile Island accident in Pennsylvania, the contamination from the breach in New Mexico affected water supplies, livestock and downstream communities.

Lawyer: Las Cruces Resident Denies Threatening To Kill Biden – Associated Press

A defense lawyer for a New Mexico man accused of threatening to kill President Joe Biden says texts the man sent were taken out of context and were “simply political expression."

According to court records, 39-year-old John Benjamin Thornton of Las Cruces was arrested Monday and a criminal complaint alleged he violated federal law by threatening in communications in interstate commerce to injure another person.

Thornton's phone was in Las Cruces when the texts were sent May 18 to people in Florida and Texas, the complaint said.

Bernadette Sedillo, a assistant public defender representing Thornton, said Thursday that he denies allegations made in the complaint by an FBI agent.

“It is very early in the case, but once the facts bear out, they will show a completely different picture," Sedillo told The Associated Press via email.

“The messages attached to the criminal complaint are a few sporadic texts out of many that are out of context," Sedillo added. “This was simply political expression and was never a true threat made by Mr. Thornton."

Española Journalist Sues Sheriff, County For Harassment And Retaliation - KUNM News

The Rio Arriba County Sheriff's office is being sued for allegedly harassing and retaliating against a journalist who reported on police misconduct.

The lawsuit filed Wednesday by the ACLU of New Mexico and Rothstein Donatelli law firm for Tabatha Clay, who reported in the Rio Grande Sun that a deputy un-lawfully tased a minor.

According to the suit, the Sheriff’s office responded to Clay’s article by denying her records and dispatch reports, and that officers threatened to arrest her at the scene of a car crash, forbid her to enter a courthouse with reporting equipment, and then attempted to intimidate her by parking outside her apartment at night.

The lawsuit brings claims against the Rio Arriba County Sheriff's office, the Board of County Commissioners, Sheriff James D. Lujan, and former Deputy Jeremy Barnes for retaliation and violation of Clay’s First Amendment rights. 

Through the ACLU Clay said, “I’m bringing this suit to send a clear message to the sheriff and deputies that their attempts to bully reporters into giving up their First Amendment rights won’t go unanswered.”


Rothstein Donatelli LLP is a financial supporter of KUNM.

Paxton Media Group Buying Landmark Community Newspapers - Associated Press

Paxton Media Group is buying Landmark Community Newspapers, including all 47 newspapers in the Shelbyville, Kentucky-based chain.

The sale, announced Wednesday, will give Paducah-based Paxton about 120 publications in 14 states, including 20 in Kentucky. Paxton also owns WPSD-TV in Paducah.

Landmark's Kentucky publications include Elizabethtown, Shelbyville, Shepherdsville, Lebanon and Bardstown.

Paxton owns The Paducah Sun and the Owensboro Messenger-Inquirer. The sale will bring its statewide total to 37 newspapers.

"We are very excited to add these newspapers into the PMG portfolio," Jamie Paxton, PMG president and CEO, told news outlets. "PMG believes strongly in the value of local newspapers and the vital role they play in the communities that they serve. We appreciate Landmark choosing us to be the new stewards of these important community assets."

The purchase is part of PMG's continued effort to acquire community newspapers near the company's own papers, said Mike Weafer, publisher of the Messenger-Inquirer and group publisher for the Kentucky-Indiana region.

"Landmark has a clustering of newspapers that are very geographically connected to Paxton papers," he said. "So there is a lot of synergy that can be had with that."

The purchase also includes a Landmark publication in New Mexico, the Las Vegas Optic. Landmark also has papers in Florida, Indiana, Iowa, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia.

Paxton Media Group will take over operations in early June, with a transition period regarding systems and procedures, Paxton said.

US Wildlife Managers Propose Protections For Rare ChickenSusan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

U.S. wildlife managers on Wednesday proposed federal protections for the lesser prairie chicken, saying its habitat across five states is in danger of becoming more fragmented and the effects of climate change and drought are expected to take a further toll on the species in the future.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Wednesday said it will consider public comments and scientific information over the coming months before making a final determination.

Once listed as a threatened species, the chicken’s habitat spans parts of five states — including a portion of New Mexico’s oil-rich Permian Basin. Environmentalists have been pushing to reinstate federal protections for years.

Landowners and the oil and gas industry have been working on voluntary conservation programs. Still, federal officials say threats remain. They're proposing to list the northern population as threatened and those in eastern New Mexico and the southern Texas Panhandle as endangered.

The Fish and Wildlife Service in 2014 classified the bird as a threatened species, but the agency was forced to remove it from the list two years later following court rulings that determined the agency failed to properly consider the voluntary conservation efforts.

Navajo Nation Reports Six New COVID-19 Cases, 4 More Deaths

The Navajo Nation on Wednesday reported six new confirmed COVID-19 cases and four additional deaths.

Tribal health officials said the latest figures pushed the total number of cases since the pandemic began more than a year ago to 30,793 on the vast reservation that covers parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.

The known death toll now is 1,306.

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said people must continue getting vaccinated, wear face masks and practice social distancing. 

"The Navajo Nation went from having one of the highest per capita infection rates in the country to some of the lowest daily infection numbers we have seen on a consistent basis" Nez said in a statement. 

"We are not out of the pandemic and we can expect to see new daily cases for some time until we get more and more of our people vaccinated."

Wyoming Smokejumper Critically Injured In New Mexico - Associated Press

Officials in Montana have released the name of a wildland firefighter who was critically injured while fighting a fire on private land in southwestern New Mexico, near the U.S. Mexico border.

Tim Hart of Cody, Wyoming, was injured Monday following a hard landing after parachuting into rocky terrain in the Animas Mountains, said Marna Daley, a spokesperson for the Custer Gallatin National Forest in Montana.

"The Forest Service's first priority is to provide for him and his family right now," Daley told The Billings Gazette  on Wednesday. 

Hart, a three-year member of a Hotshot crew based in West Yellowstone, Montana, was hospitalized in critical condition Tuesday in El Paso, Texas, the Forest Service said.

The fire was burning in rugged terrain along the Continental Divide and its cause was under investigation, the U.S. Forest Service said.