Grand Jury Indicts Former Head Of NM MLK Commission, ACLU Sues Abq Over Panhandling Ordinance

Jan 12, 2018

Grand Jury Indicts Former Head Of New Mexico MLK Commission- The Associated Press

The former director of New Mexico's Martin Luther King Jr. Commission has been indicted on more than a dozen charges stemming from allegations of financial impropriety.

A grand jury has indicted Kimberly Greene on charges of fraud, embezzlement, larceny, conspiracy and other counts. It wasn't immediately clear if Greene, who was removed by the commission in 2016, had an attorney.

Indictments also were filed this week against a former commission employee and the director of the nonprofit Educational, Research, Evaluation and Design Inc., or eREAD. A phone message left at the eREAD office in Albuquerque wasn't returned.

The indictments follow a lengthy investigation that first became public two years ago when agents with the New Mexico Attorney General's Office seized bank records, invoices, emails and other documents related to the commission's financial activities.

Lawmakers Tackle Crime As New Mexico State Finances Improve- The Associated Press

New Mexico lawmakers and Republican Gov. Susana Martinez are preparing to boost spending on public schools, early childhood education programs and law enforcement as state government climbs out of a financial crisis linked to fluctuations in energy markets.

Strategies for reducing property crime and violence, particularly in New Mexico's largest city, also are at the top of the agenda, as lawmakers convene Tuesday for a 30-day session.

New Mexico government income for the coming fiscal year is expected to surpass annual spending obligations by $199 million — new money that lawmakers in the Democrat-led Legislature want to direct toward public schools, early childhood education programs and the judiciary.

The governor wants to raise an additional $99 million to further bolster public education, prisons, business incentives and state spending reserves. Both spending proposals emphasize investments in early childhood education.

Navajo Nation To Open First Tribal Police Academy- The Associated Press & The Gallup Independent

The Navajo Nation will train its own police officers at its new Navajo Nation Police Academy.

Navajo Nation Public Safety Director Jesse Delmar says no other tribe has its own police academy.

Delmar says the Navajo Nation Police hired 20 recruits Wednesday who will be trained in Chinle, Arizona.

They could begin training as soon as February.

The Gallup Independent reports the Navajo academy will use curriculum based off of the Arizona Peace Officers Standards and Training curriculum.

Navajo Nation Police Chief Phillip Francisco says in the past, recruits have been trained at Arizona State Police academics.

He says being far from their families for about four months took a toll on the recruits.

US Poet Laureate Starts Rural Reading Tour In New Mexico- The Associated Press

The U.S. poet laureate has embarked on the first of several trips to bring her poetry to rural pockets of the country where she says book festivals rarely take her.

A tour of New Mexico marks Pulitzer Prize-winner Tracy K. Smith's first trip as part of a project she's launched in her role as the nation's 22nd poet laureate. Her tour began Thursday evening with a reading at Cannon Air Force Base outside Clovis.

On Friday afternoon, she visits the Santa Fe Indian School, where students from tribal communities across New Mexico and much of the United States board in dormitories and can take classes in Native American history, tribal languages and tribal government and as well as algebra, English and science. While Santa Fe itself is a cultural capital of the Southwest, many of the school's students hail from underserved communities on rural reservations.

Smith, 45, has not previously spent time in Native American communities.

Navajos, New Mexico University Reach Housing Partnership- The Associated Press

New Mexico's largest university and the Navajo Nation have teamed up to provide dormitory space for as many as 118 tribal students at a new campus housing development.

Officials announced the partnership Friday. The move comes after tribal lawmakers approved the use of nearly $1.5 million in supplemental funding for the effort.

Navajo President Russell Begaye said one of the primary reasons for the high dropout rate for Native American college students is financial distress. He says this will help alleviate some of the burden.

Navajo students will occupy two floors of the downtown Albuquerque development, known as the Lobo Rainforest.

The space will reflect the cultural and historical values of the Navajo Nation, which spans parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.

The tribe will determine eligibility for Navajo students who wish to live in the apartment-style units.

1st Trial Date Set In State Lawsuit Over Opioid Epidemic- The Associated Press

The first trial date has been set for a lawsuit by a state against pharmaceutical companies over the opioid epidemic.

Oklahoma is one of at least 13 states that have filed lawsuits against drugmakers, alleging fraudulent marketing of drugs that fueled the opioid epidemic.

State Attorney General Mike Hunter says a judge has granted his request for a May 28, 2019, trial date for the lawsuit against Purdue Pharma, Allergan, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Teva Pharmaceuticals and several of their subsidiaries.

The companies deny wrongdoing.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine's office says other states that are suing are Alaska, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Ohio, South Carolina and Washington state.

Lawsuits by Native American tribes and dozens of local governments are also pending.

ACLU Sues Albuquerque Over Panhandling Ordinance – The Albuquerque Journal

The American Civil Liberties Union and a private law firm are suing the city of Albuquerque over an ordinance aimed at curbing panhandling.

The Albuquerque Journal reports the federal lawsuit contends the pedestrian safety ordinance is unconstitutional and it seeks an injunction to prevent the city from enforcing the law.

The city council passed the ordinance unanimously in November although Councilor Klarissa Peña was absent and did not vote. It was signed by former Mayor Richard Berry and prevents people from asking motorists or passengers in cars for money at intersections.

Motorists and their passengers are also prohibited from interacting with people soliciting funds under the law.

The suit has five plaintiffs, including two who solicit funds from motorists, two who provide money and other items to people asking for donations on the streets and a woman who hands out political literature to people while they wait at red lights.

City officials said they can’t comment on pending litigation.

Judge Rules Fired Albuquerque Policeman Won't Get Job BackThe Associated Press

A judge has ruled that an Albuquerque police officer who was fired for repeatedly violating policies won't be getting his job back.

The Albuquerque Journal reported that the ruling brings an end to a yearslong fight between the city and ex-policeman Jeremy Dear.

There's a pending wrongful death civil lawsuit against Dear and the city over his fatal shooting of a 19-year-old woman in April 2014.

Second Judicial Court Judge Clay Campbell's ruling reversed a decision from the city's personnel board, which had voted to give Dear his job back. It reinstated a hearing officer's opinion that Dear should be fired.

Former Police Chief Gorden Eden says he considered Dear to be insubordinate for frequently failing to record his interactions with the public despite being ordered to do so.

Martin Luther King Jr. Day Events Planned In New MexicoThe Associated Press

Events in honor of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. have been planned throughout New Mexico in preparation for MLK Day.

Organizers in Albuquerque have scheduled Monday a "Pursuing the Dream" event at a Jewish synagogue to highlight the work done by anti-poverty activists and those working on police reform.

Joycelyn Jackson, president of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Multicultural Council, says the group wanted to tie King's legacy to contemporary issues affecting people of color today.

In Carlsbad, a weekend of events of church service and public gatherings are planned to highlight King's contributions. The Pecos River Village Conference Center's Carousel House, for example, will host an annual scholarship banquet in his name.

State High Court Answers Question Over Pre-Trial WitnessesThe Associated Press

The New Mexico Supreme Court says prosecutors are not obligated to present live witness testimony at pretrial detention hearings.

The ruling Thursday settles a question that had emerged among some prosecutors after voters approved a 2016 constitutional amendment to ensure dangerous or high-risk defendants awaiting trial remain incarcerated, and nonviolent suspects unable to afford bail are let go.

Some prosecutors further complained that, in addition to being unclear, bail and pre-trial detention rules that justices crafted after the voters' decision haven't worked as intended.

The Supreme Court delivered its ruling in response to a filing in which the Bernalillo County district attorney sought guidance on pre-trial evidence requirements in two separate cases — one involving a man who had been suspected in dozens of armed robberies and another involving a man charged with attempted murder.

New Mexico Statehouse Embarks On Anti-Harassment Overhaul - The Associated Press

Lobbyists are attending voluntary, state-sponsored training on how to prevent and report sexual misconduct, and New Mexico lawmakers will do the same next week.

It's part of a push by the Legislature to make the Capitol work environment safer amid a nationwide debate over sexual misconduct.

On Thursday, New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver provided an anti-harassment briefing from a human resources expert for about 40 lobbyists.

The Legislature is in the process of revising its anti-harassment policies after women began breaking their silence about sexual misconduct and harassment in the Capitol.

Legislators last attended sexual harassment training in 2004.

New anti-harassment policies and procedures could be adopted as soon as Monday, the day before the Legislature convenes.

Gov. Martinez Wants Broader Legal Immunity For PoliceThe Albuquerque Journal & The Associated Press

Gov. Susana Martinez's proposal to grant broader immunity to police in use-of-force lawsuits is being met with criticism from attorneys and others on both sides of the debate.

The Albuquerque Journal reports that Martinez plans to push for a measure during the upcoming legislative session that would provide somewhat of a legal shield for law enforcement officers sued for actions in the line of duty, so long as they were following their training.

Albuquerque has reached settlements in a string of lawsuits in recent years over police shootings.

An attorney who has litigated cases brought against police says the governor is attempting to score political points.

Another attorney whose firm often represents officers says the governor's approach won't work.

Albuquerque police's union president says he supports the concept of the governor's proposal.

Sunland Park Names Ex-Doña Ana County Official As ManagerThe Associated Press

A former Doña Ana County manager who was forced out last year amid a political fight is now the city manager of a New Mexico border experiencing a revival.

The Sunland Park City Council appointed Julia Brown this week as its city manager during a special meeting. Brown was offered a two-year contract with an annual salary of $95,000.

The appointment comes after Brown was fired as Doña Ana County manager in what she described as a conflict between her and County Sheriff Kiki Vigil.

It also comes years after Sunland Park saw a number of high-profile corruption cases involved elected officials.

Since then the city has fixed its finances and it has seen some of the lowest violent crime rates in the state.

New Mexico Hosts AMC's 'Better Call Saul' For Another SeasonThe Associated Press

New Mexico is hosting another season of AMC's "Better Call Saul."

Production work on the television series is underway in Albuquerque. The network had initially announced last year that the "Breaking Bad" spinoff would return in 2018 for a 10-episode fourth season.

Starring Bob Odenkirk, the series follows Jimmy McGill, who eventually becomes Walter White's lawyer Saul Goodman on "Breaking Bad."

Officials with the state film office say about 150 crew members and several dozen principal actors from New Mexico are a part of the production.

"Better Call Saul" season three was among the more than 60 film and television productions shot in New Mexico during the past fiscal year. Others included "The Night Shift," ''Longmire," and Netflix's "The Ballad of Buster Scruggs."

New Mexico Utility Concerned About Write-Off In Rate CaseThe Associated Press

New Mexico's largest electric utility says it's disappointed with a decision by state regulators to move ahead with a revamped proposal that includes a much smaller rate increase than initially approved.

A divided Public Regulation Commission voted Wednesday in favor of an order that would allow for a rate hike close to 2 percent.

The order also limits what Public Service Co. of New Mexico can recoup from coal-related investments and calls for reducing the utility's revenue by an additional $9 million.

Officials with parent company PNM Resources said Thursday the changes could result in a write-off of as much as $60 million and increase risks related to the utility's financial health.

The utility, the state attorney general's office and other parties that have been negotiating must sign off on the proposal. A decision is due Tuesday.

New Veterans Unit Remains Unopened Because Of Staff ShortageThe Albuquerque Journal & The Associated Press

Officials say a new $26 million memory care unit for veterans in Truth or Consequences remains closed three months after its grand opening because of staffing issues.

The Albuquerque Journal reports the Director of the Healthcare Coordination Division of the state's Department of Veterans Services Mitchell Lawrence said Wednesday that it's hard to recruit employees for the unit because many don't want to live in the city 75 miles (121 kilometers) north of Las Cruces.

The New Mexico State Veterans' Home needs to hire 17 certified nursing assistants before it can open the unit.

According to the job listing, the position pays about $16,000 a year.

State Personnel Office spokeswoman Emilee Cantrell says the agency is working with the veterans department to "initiate salary increases" at the veterans home.

Local Governments Won't Say What They're Offering Amazon - The Associated Press

Many state and local governments competing for Amazon's second headquarters are refusing to disclose the tax breaks or other financial incentives they are offering the online giant.

More than 15 states and cities, including Albuquerque, Chicago, Cleveland and Las Vegas, have turned down requests from The Associated Press to detail the promises they've made.

Many of them say they don't want their competitors to know what they're offering.

Public records laws vary, but governments that are courting businesses generally aren't required to disclose tax breaks and other incentives during the negotiating phase.

Open-government advocates want to see the details. They argue that Amazon is a special case, in part because of the large amount of taxpayer money at stake.