Soda Tax Vote Draws Crowds In Santa Fe, Monitor Cites Lack Of ABQ Police Scrutiny

May 2, 2017

Soda Tax Vote Draws Crowds In Santa Fe - Associated Press

Steady streams of voters were flocking to polling stations as Santa Fe residents decide whether to adopt a tax on sugary sodas and other sweetened beverages.

Retiree Patricia McNeill moved quickly through a line of more than 50 people Tuesday to cast her vote in favor of the tax at a church in the New Mexico state capital.

Clutching a sugary ginger lemonade, McNeill says she will be happy to pay a little more to help fund the expansion of pre-kindergarten.

Opposition to the soda tax also was on prominent display on street corners where sign-waving opponents urged people to vote no.

First grade teacher Kyla Proctor says it's not fair to add taxes to drinks and that heavy spending on political publicity was a waste.

Monitor Cites Lack Of Police Scrutiny In Use-Of-Force CasesAlbuquerque Journal, Associated Press

A federal court monitor says he's mystified and startled by the lack of scrutiny the highest-ranking officers in the Albuquerque Police Department give use-of-force cases.

James Ginger made the comments in his latest report on the police department's progress in overhauling how it trains officers to use force and handle encounters with people suffering from mental illness.

The Albuquerque Journal reports that the report was filed Tuesday in federal court. It covers the department's efforts from August 2016 through January 2017.

Ginger said his team noticed a palpable shift in the department's approach to reform but that supervisors and command-level officers made too many lapses when reviewing use-of-force cases.

The reforms are part of a 2014 settlement agreement reached between the city and the U.S. Justice Department.

Auditor Alleges $850K Stolen From Rural Water AssociationAssociated Press

The state auditor's office is accusing a former office manager of stealing $850,000 from a rural drinking water association that serves thousands of people in southeastern New Mexico.

State Auditor Tim Keller confirmed Tuesday that his office has forwarded information about the apparent theft from the Otis Mutual Domestic Water Consumers and Sewage Works Association to authorities.

No charges have been filed, but the auditor's office says the manager, who it did not name, has resigned.

Financial discrepancies were identified during preparation for the association's annual audit. Officials say the office manager's credit card was used for cash advances at casinos in New Mexico and other states starting in March 2015.

Keller says the money was meant for general operations and maintenance of the water system and may include both federal and state funds.

Native American Democratic Leader Eyes Seat In CongressAssociated Press

The outgoing leader of the New Mexico Democratic Party is running for an open congressional seat and hopes to become the nation's first Native American congresswoman.

Debra Haaland recently filed a statement of candidacy with the Federal Election Commission to run for the state's First Congressional District.

Haaland, a member of Laguna Pueblo, is seeking to succeed U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, an Albuquerque Democrat who is stepping down to run for governor. The open congressional race is expected to draw a number of candidates.

The University of New Mexico graduate ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor in 2014 but garnered national attention for becoming the first Native American on a major party's gubernatorial ticket in New Mexico.

Albuquerque Votes In Favor Of $4.4 Million Taser ContractAlbuquerque Journal, Associated Press

Albuquerque officials have voted to approve a $4.4 million contract with Taser International to provide 2,000 body cameras for city police officers.

The Albuquerque Journal reports the city council approved the five-year contract in a 5-3 vote Monday.

The vote comes after the city's Office of Inspector General issued a report in February that found the city used a fair and unbiased process to reach the no-bid contract deal with Taser.

In 2013, a $2 million no-bid contract with Taser led to a criminal investigation because a former police chief began consulting work for Taser while still on the city's payroll.

The investigation by the Attorney General's Office remains ongoing.

Perry says the new contract will help the police department remain in compliance with federal requirements.

'Considerable Progress' Cited In Negotiations On Coal PlantAssociated Press

Navajo Nation officials and the Navajo Generating Station's managing owner are expressing optimism about reaching an agreement soon to keep the coal-fired power plant operating through 2019.

The Salt River Project and the tribe say they've made "considerable progress" in negotiations on a replacement lease, which would preserve jobs and revenue for the Navajo Nation and the Hopi Tribe.

The plant's owners cited availability of less expensive power from natural gas when they announced in February they plan to close it in December 2019 when their lease expires.

The closure would be preceded by a decommissioning period that would involve shutting the plant down this year.

A replacement lease for operations through 2019 could delay decommissioning or allow the tribe or others to acquire the plant and keep it in operation.

Federal Budget Deal Includes Money For Transit Project – Albuquerque Journal

The budget deal that avoided a federal government shutdown includes $50 million for the Albuquerque Rapid Transit Project.

The Albuquerque Journal reports the money represents the first part of $69 million in funding for the development from Federal Transit Administration’s Smart Starts grant program. The transit project would qualify for more funding if the president and Congress agree on the proposed budget for next year.

City officials have counted on the federal funds for the $119 million bus rapid transit development, which will create a nine-mile dedicated corridor along Central Avenue for buses and stations. The project has been controversial, especially among business owners who say the ongoing construction is hurting them by curtailing customer access.

Soda-Tax Rivals Spend To Influence Final Vote In Santa Fe - By Morgan Lee, Associated Press

Voters in New Mexico's capital city are deciding whether to add a tax on sugary sodas and other sweetened beverages that would follow the examples of several cities from coast to coast.

Final balloting takes place Tuesday in Santa Fe, New Mexico, after weeks of intense advertising campaigns and door-to-door canvassing that have blanketed the city with fliers and yard signs.

The tax on beverage distributors would add about 25 cents to the cost of a can of soda. Proponents including Santa Fe Mayor Javier Gonzales say the tax is needed to expand high-quality early childhood education for 3- and 4-year-olds whose families cannot afford or find it. Opponents contend the tax would fall heavily on the working families it intends help.

Former Media Executive Jumps In New Mexico Governor's Race - By Russell Contreras, Associated Press

A former CBS and Univision executive says he will seek the Democratic nomination for New Mexico governor.

Jeff Apodaca, son of former Gov. Jerry Apodaca, told The Associated Press he is formally launching is campaign on Tuesday.

The 55-year-old Apodaca says he is running because he is "frustrated" with the state's current political leadership. Apodaca, who has never held political office, also says economic development and college investment to battle the state's poverty rate will be key themes of his candidacy.

Apodaca is now the second Democrat to announce a run to succeed Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, who can't run again because of term limits. Democratic U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced her candidacy in December.

No Republicans have entered the race for governor so far.

New Mexico Police Investigating How Man Got Nailed To TreeAssociated Press

Police in Albuquerque say a man has been found alive with his hands nailed to a tree in a forest.

They say officers received a call around 8:30 a.m. Monday about an injured man on the east bank of the Rio Grande.

Police say they found a man standing in front of a tree with his hands next to his shoulders and each of his hands had one nail through it.

The Albuquerque Journal reports the nails were about 3 inches long and the man wasn't bleeding when officers found him.

Police removed the man from the tree and took him to a hospital.

His name hasn't been released.

Police don't know how long the man had been in the bosque or how he ended up nailed to a tree.

Quebec Woman Wins '2017 Miss Indian World'Associated Press

A member of the Mohawk tribe has been crowned 2017 Miss Indian World at the Gathering of Nations.

The 23-year-old Raven Swamp, of Kahnawake, Quebec, Canada, received the honor this weekend out of 23 Native American women representing their different tribes. Contestants were judged on areas of tribal knowledge, dancing ability, public speaking, and personality assessment.

Dancers from across the United States, Canada and Mexico came to Albuquerque this weekend for the Gathering of Nations — one of North America's most prominent American Indian powwows.

The powwow featured a number of competitions for dancers, drummers and performers.

Miss Indian World will represent native and indigenous people as a cultural goodwill ambassador for one year.

US Wildfire Risk Is Above Average For Southwest, Florida - By Kimberlee Kruesi, Associated Press

Forecasters are predicting significant wildfire activity this summer across the southwestern U.S. and in Florida and Georgia, plus some parts of California and Nevada.

Officials with the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise said Monday in their 2017 summer fire outlook that heavy winter snow and spring rains will probably delay the onset of this season's worst wildfires.

The snow and rain is helping decrease the potential for wildfires in other parts of the country.

The risk of significant wildfires in northwestern states, Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Wyoming and most of Utah is expected to be normal or below normal from May through August.

Florida and southeastern Georgia are already facing an increase in wildfires because of persistent dry conditions.

New Management Takes Over New Mexico-Based National LabAssociated Press

The head of a new management team in charge of New Mexico-based Sandia National Laboratories says the mission of the sprawling weapons and research facility will continue to be national security along with the nonproliferation of nuclear weapons.

Director Stephen Younger discussed the lab's future during a news conference Monday that marked the takeover of the lab by National Technology and Engineering Solutions of Sandia, a subsidiary of Honeywell International.

The U.S. Energy Department's National Nuclear Security Administration announced the $2.6 billion management contract in December.

Lockheed Martin had operated Sandia, located in Albuquerque, for the past two decades and was among bidders that lost out to the Honeywell team.

Younger called it a rapidly changing time and said Sandia will remain flexible to respond to the nation's needs.

New Mexico Democrats Pick Santa Fe Man To Lead PartyAssociated Press

The new chairman of the state Democratic Party has plans to heal divisions within the party stemming from last year's presidential election.

Richard Ellenberg of Santa Fe was selected to serve as state party chairman Saturday over outgoing Vice Chairman Juan Sanchez III, a 25-year-old from Belen.

Ellenberg is a retired lawyer and was previously the chairman of the Santa Fe County Democratic Party.

The 69-year-old told members of the state party's central committee that he would work to create a more unified party. He pledged to do that by bringing together supporters of ex-presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton.

Ellenberg has also said he'll collaborate more with county parties around the state and deploy more resources to campaigns.

Ellenberg succeeds Debra Haaland, who did not seek re-election.

Parents Of Late Navajo Girl Continue Amber Alert PushDaily Times, Associated Press

The parents of an 11-year-old girl abducted and killed in a remote part of the Navajo Nation are continuing their push for a tribal Amber Alert system.

The Daily Times of Farmington, New Mexico, reports the parents of Ashlynne Mike recently spoke at an event to mark the anniversary of their daughter's death and called on the adoption of a Navajo Nation Amber Alert system.

Officials say in May 2016 Ashlynne Mike was lured into a man's van near her school bus stop and found dead the next day in a remote area near Shiprock, New Mexico. Tom Begaye Jr. of Waterflow, New Mexico, is facing federal charges in her death.

An Amber Alert wasn't issued in New Mexico until around 2 a.m. the morning after Ashlynne's disappearance.

3 Boaters Rescued From River In New MexicoKOB-TV, Associated Press

A kayaker and two people in a canoe have been rescued from the Rio Grande River in New Mexico.

KOB-TV reports the three people had been found Sunday by Rio Rancho Fire Rescue about 90 minutes after going missing.

Crews had been responding to the kayaker when calls about the other two people came in.

Deputy Chief Paul Bearce says Rio Rancho and nearby rescue departments train together specifically for situations like this.

He says being in the water this time of year can sweep somebody downriver very quickly.

Fire Burns Building At Santa Fe Art SchoolSanta Fe New Mexican

A fire consumed an empty building at the Santa Fe University of Art and Design Monday night.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports no one was injured in the blaze, which started around 8 p.m. The World War II-era building once housed barracks and part of it previously was used for the WGN America series “Manhattan.” The show, canceled after two seasons, focused on the creation of the atomic bomb.

The art school is scheduled for closure in 2018 and three university students are suing the school and its parent company, Laureate Education Inc., over those plans.

Officials with the Santa Fe Fire Department said they will launch an investigation into the fire Tuesday. Battalion Chief Eric Gonzales told the New Mexican it was too early to say if the blaze was due to arson.

Officers Cleared In Death Of Knife-Wielding New Mexico ManGallup Independent, Associated Press

Officers involved in the fatal shooting of a man in northwest New Mexico who police say was armed with two knives have been cleared of criminal wrongdoing.

The Gallup Independent reports Deputy District Attorney Earl Rhoads found the Gallup officers justified in their use of force against 29-year-old Alvin Sylversmythe. Rhoads informed police Chief Phillip Hart that the officers won't face criminal charges in a letter released Friday.

Four officers had responded in July to a report of a knife-wielding man threatening people to find Sylversmythe with a knife in each hand.

Rhoads says Sylversmythe ignored commands to drop the weapons and moved toward the officers before he was shot.

He says the officers' initial efforts to use nonlethal bean bag rounds against the 300-lb. man did not work.