Thursday News Roundup: New Mexico Agency Sued In Whistleblower Case

May 8, 2014

New Mexico Agency Sued In Whistleblower Case - The Associated Press and Mother Jones Magazine

Two former Economic Development Department employees have sued the agency and its top executives, alleging they were wrongly fired for trying to expose wrongdoing such as contracting violations in Gov. Susana Martinez's administration.

Former department Chief Financial Officer Kurt Saenz and ex-International Trade Division Director Brent Eastwood filed their whistleblower lawsuit in February but it was unsealed and became public in state court records last week.

The lawsuit alleges Eastwood was directed to solicit money from Mexican business owners to create a "slush fund" for border area marketing.

Economic Development Secretary Jon Barela said Thursday in a statement the lawsuit's allegations are "baseless and malicious rantings from disgruntled employees" fired for sexual harassment and threatening workplace violence.

The lawsuit was first reported by Mother Jones magazine.


Protesters Vow More Pressure Over Police Shootings – The Associated Press, Russell Contreras

Critics of the Albuquerque Police Department are promising to crowd another City Council meeting to protest recent police shootings just days after rowdy demonstrators forced city leaders to call off their discussions.

Nora Tachias-Anaya says protesters are planning to attend a rescheduled council meeting today and will continue to criticize the Albuquerque Police Department.

On Monday, angry demonstrators took over the regularly scheduled City Council meeting, chanting for the ouster of the police chief, shouting at council members and causing so much disruption that the council president adjourned the meeting.

It was to discuss whether the police chief's position should be one selected by the council or by voters.

Albuquerque activists say they're looking to New Mexico's unique history of resistance to draw inspiration for their protests of the embattled Police Department.

For example, the move to issue a citizen's arrest of Albuquerque Police Chief Gorden Eden this week at a City Council meeting was modeled on the 1967 raid of a courthouse in New Mexico in which activists attempted a citizen's arrest of the district attorney.

They say the rowdy disruption of the council meeting also follows the tactics of the 1960s Mexican-American group, the Black Berets. That group tried to halt public events to draw attention to police brutality and poverty issues.

Albuquerque police are under tough scrutiny following a harsh report from the U.S. Justice Department over use of force.

BLM Tackles Emissions From Energy Exploration The Associated Press

The Bureau of Land Management is looking at updating decades-old regulations that govern venting and flaring across oil and gas country.

The agency is hosted a public forum in Albuquerque on Wednesday to gather public comment on what the new rules should look like. Two more meetings are planned in North Dakota and Washington, D.C.

The changes are aimed at limiting methane emissions from energy exploration.

Environmentalists say venting and flaring at well sites on public lands throughout the West have wasted resources and have resulted in the loss of potential tax revenues.

They point to a 2010 report by the Government Accountability Office that found the public loses up to $23 million dollars annually in royalties from the venting and flaring of natural gas.

New Mexico Reports Drop In Painkillers Dispensed The Associated Press

New Mexico health officials report a decrease in the amount of prescription pain relievers dispensed by pharmacies while the number of patients remained the same.

The Department of Health and the state Board of Pharmacy say the board's monitoring program shows there was a 10 percent decrease from 2012 to 2013 in the amount of prescription opioids such as morphine or oxycodone dispensed by pharmacies.

Health Secretary Retta Ward says the decrease in prescribed pain medications being dispensed is a step in the right direction because it reduces chances the drugs will be abused.

Largest NM Water Utility Issues Drought Advisory The Associated Press

If the dead lawns, blowing dust and dwindling flows in the Rio Grande don't offer enough evidence of the dry conditions, the largest water utility in New Mexico has issued an official drought advisory for its customers.

The Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority announced the advisory Wednesday. It notes that conditions across most of the county are classified as severe.

The utility is now authorized to take steps to increase public awareness and continue alerting customers to conservation programs.

Utility conservation officer Katherine Yuhas says water-waste and time-of-day watering rules are already in place and more billboard space around Albuquerque will be dedicated to encouraging conservation.

She says water use is down compared to the last two years.

The city of Santa Fe also reports its daily water use has decreased 5 percent this year.

Police: Los Lunas Man Now In Stable Condition The Associated Press

A Los Lunas man who fired more than 70 rounds at officers before he was shot by police last weekend is now in stable condition.

New Mexico State Police Lt. Emmanuel Gutierrez said Wednesday that Daniel Olguin's condition was upgraded.

The 41-year-old Olguin faces six counts of aggravated assault on a police officer. Authorities say three officers fired at him when he came out and aimed a rifle at them.

State police were called to help Los Lunas officers Friday night after receiving reports of an armed man holed up inside a residence because of a domestic dispute. A five-hour standoff resulted.

The officers involved included Sgt. Richard Matthews, a 15-year-vetern, Officer Shane Todd, a nine-year veteran, and Officer Michael Mariscal, who has been with the agency for five years.

State Worker Contract Dispute Could Cost $30MThe Associated Press

Gov. Susana Martinez's administration says most state workers will receive hourly pay raises from 13 cents to 50 cents to resolve a union contract dispute.

Risk Management Director A. J. Forte told the Legislative Finance Committee on Wednesday that salaries would be adjusted in June to reflect what employees should have been paid nearly six years ago.

The state Supreme Court ruled last year about 10,000 workers must receive retroactive pay increases because former Gov. Bill Richardson's administration didn't follow union contracts in distributing salary money.

The Martinez administration estimates workers could get from $2,000 to $3,000 in back pay.

Forte said some departments may face budget shortfalls and hold jobs vacant to save money because lawmakers didn't allocate enough for agencies to cover the potential $30 million settlement.

Candidates Airing More TV Ads In Governor's Race The Associated Press

The campaign ad war is heating up in New Mexico's race for governor.

Democrat Alan Webber started airing a television ad Wednesday, and Republican Gov. Susana Martinez launched her third English-language ad so far in the campaign.

Webber's ad takes a swipe at Martinez for speaking at a conference last year organized by a company owned by billionaires Charles and David Koch, who are supporters of conservative causes.

The Martinez ad stresses the governor's support for school funding and selling a state jet to save money.

Webber is among five Democrats running for governor. The others are Attorney General Gary King, Lawrence Rael and state Sens. Linda Lopez and Howie Morales.

The winner of the June 3 primary election will challenge Martinez in the general election.