Voters To Choose New Albuquerque Mayor, ABQ Gets Funds To Process Assault Evidence

Oct 3, 2017

Albuquerque Voters Head To The Polls To Choose Next Mayor – Associated Press

Voters are set to choose among seven candidates vying to become the next mayor of New Mexico's largest city.

Polls open Tuesday across Albuquerque in a nonpartisan race dominated by rising crime and pressures to revamp the Albuquerque Police Department.

If no candidate gets 50 percent, the top two vote-getters will face off in a November runoff.

Polls show Democrat and current State Auditor Tim Keller is leading the field. Former New Mexico Democratic Party chair Brian Colon and Republican City Councilor Dan Lewis are battling for the second spot.

This marks the first mayoral election in 20 years without an incumbent on the ballot.

Republican Richard Berry has been Albuquerque's mayor since 2009 and isn't seeking re-election to a third term.

New Mexico City Gets Funds To Process Sex Assault EvidenceThe Associated Press

New Mexico's largest city has been awarded a $2.5 million federal grant to address a backlog in the processing of DNA evidence kits from sexual assaults.

Albuquerque officials announced the funds from the U.S. Justice Department during a news conference Monday.

New Mexico law enforcement agencies have been grappling with a backlog of thousands of untested evidence kits. A review in 2015 and 2016 by the Office of the State Auditor found there were 5,440 untested kits across the state, with nearly 75 percent of those in Albuquerque.

The city launched an initiative in 2016 to identify and locate untested evidence. Officials say 1,000 kits have been evaluated so far and 300 have been found viable for further testing.

Statewide, the Department of Public Safety is expected to clear its backlog in less than two years.

Albuquerque Democrat Drops Out Of Congressional RaceThe Associated Press & The ABQ Journal

An Albuquerque Democrat says she has halted her campaign for Congress because of health concerns.

The Albuquerque Journal reports Annie Chavez, who worked as an aide to then-Sen. Jeff Bingaman, said Monday she dropped out "due to unforeseen health circumstances."

Chavez's departure leaves eight Democrats in the race — all seeking their party's nomination to succeed U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham.

Democrats have held the seat since 2009.

The remaining Democratic candidates are attorney Damian Lara; former U.S. Attorney for New Mexico Damon Martinez; Albuquerque City Councilor Pat Davis; former University of New Mexico Law School Associate Dean Antoinette Sedillo Lopez; Edgewood Town Councilor John Abrams; former state Democratic Party Chairwoman Debra Haaland; physicist Dennis Dinge; and John Flores, a former journalist and military veteran.

Tribes Share $130M In Federal Grant Funds For Public SafetyThe Associated Press

More than $130 million in federal grants is going to tribes to improve public safety and support youth programs.

The U.S. Justice Department announced the funding Tuesday on the Fort McDowell reservation. Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand is there for a meeting with tribes on violence against women.

Officials say the funding will help deliver culturally appropriate services to a population that too often becomes the victim of violence.

The 226 grants awarded to tribes across the country will address sexual assault, community policing, domestic violence and sex trafficking. They also will expand community policing, among other things.

Brand says supporting tribal partners remains a vital part of the department's mission.

Gun-Scrap Artwork Gets Santa Fe Showing After Mass ShootingAssociated Press

Artwork forged out of decommissioned firearms is going on display at a Santa Fe gallery in the wake of the deadly mass shooting in Las Vegas.

Former undercover CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson is promoting the free-admission show scheduled Saturday at the Center for Contemporary Arts in an effort to raise awareness and money for gun-buyback events.

New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence has decommissioned more than 150 guns this year in cooperation with local sheriffs by providing gift cards for food and gasoline in exchange for weapons.

The president of the advocacy group for gun-safety restrictions, Miranda Viscoli, said Monday that those guns have been turned into gardening tools and sculptures by student and professional artists. Gun-scrap artwork will be auctioned off next month at Form and Concept gallery.

New Mexico, Arizona Tribes Added To US Information ProgramThe Associated Press

Five Native American tribes with reservations in New Mexico and Arizona are among 15 nationwide being added to a federal program for accessing national crime information databases.

New Mexico tribes added to the Tribal Access Program include Mescalero Apache Tribe, the Pueblo of Acoma and Zuni Tribe while those in Arizona are the Colorado River Indian Tribes and the Yavapai-Apache Nation.

The Justice Department announced the additions Tuesday, saying they allow tribes "to more effectively serve and protect their communities by ensuring the exchange of critical data."

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said the program provides tribal governments with access to helpful information such as criminal background records, outstanding warrants, and domestic violence protection orders.

Rosenstein says that information helps solve crimes and makes communities safer.

Public Safety Agencies Prepare For Annual Balloon FiestaAssociated Press

Two dozen state, federal and local law enforcement agencies and other first responders will have a presence at the annual Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta when it kicks off Saturday.

The nine-day event draws hundreds of hot air balloon pilots and crew members from around the world along with tens of thousands of spectators. During morning mass ascensions, the crowd packs the launch field to watch as the balloons lift off.

Fiesta spokesman Tom Garrity says organizers will be hosting a briefing this week for all of the participating public safety agencies.

He said the mass shooting in Nevada has given organizers pause to test and review their approaches to see what can be expanded and improved in advance of this year's balloon fiesta.

Fort Defiance Woman, 2 Sons Get Prison For Health Care FraudAssociated Press

A Fort Defiance woman and her two sons have been sentenced to federal prison for health care fraud.

Prosecutors say Vestah Tikium was given a 33-month term while Terdell Dawes got a two-year sentence and her other son, Terrell Dawes, was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison.

The three also were ordered by a U.S. District Court judge in Phoenix to pay more than $3 million in restitution.

Tikium and her sons previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit health care fraud.

Prosecutors say the three defendants falsely billed Arizona's Health Care Cost Containment System for tens of thousands of medical transports that never occurred in 2013.

Tikium and her sons owned and operated Dine Transport, which provided non-emergency medical transportation for AHCCCS recipients on the Navajo Nation.

New Mexico Land Commissioner Cancels Run For CongressAssociated Press

A spokeswoman for New Mexico State Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn says he has canceled his campaign for Congress.

State Land Office Spokeswoman Kristin Haase said Monday that Dunn has changed his mind and will not seek the GOP nomination, without providing a reason.

Dunn, a Republican, had been a prominent contender to succeed U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, who is running for governor. Dunn was elected in 2014 to lead an agency that oversees state trust lands and leases that help fund schools, universities and hospitals.

It was unclear whether Dunn would seek re-election as land commissioner next year.

The governor's race has set off a game of musical chairs in New Mexico politics as Pearce and Democratic U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham of Albuquerque decline to seek re-election to Congress.

New Mexico Oil Producers Concerned About Permit BacklogAssociated Press

The cost of drilling for oil or natural gas on public and tribal land went up slightly nationwide thanks to a fee hike that took effect over the weekend, but New Mexico producers are more worried about a continued backlog in the processing of permits by the Bureau of Land Management.

The industry says the delays are costing New Mexico and the federal government taxes and royalties.

The New Mexico Oil and Gas Association estimates nearly $1.5 million in federal royalties and another $831,000 in state severance taxes are deferred daily due to administrative issues and that the delay of any revenue is critical as state lawmakers discuss budget priorities for the coming fiscal year.

The Bureau of Land Management earlier this year began shifting resources to tackle the backlog.

Gallup Woman Among Victims Of Las Vegas Shooting - Associated Press

The victims of a mass shooting at a music festival in Las Vegas left behind loved ones in many parts of the country, bringing the tragedy's effects far beyond the city where it occurred.

Details began to emerge Monday about some of the 59 killed and hundreds injured after a gunman opened fire on festivalgoers.

Lisa Romero-Muniz, a high school secretary from Gallup, was among the dead. Officials with Gallup-McKinley County Public Schools confirmed to reporters on Monday that Romero, 48, died sometime after a 64-year-old man fired multiple weapons.

Mike Hyatt, the district’s interim superintendent, said she was discipline secretary at Miyamura High School. He called Romero-Muniz an "incredible loving and sincere friend, mentor and advocate for students.”

Survivors included Romero-Muniz's husband, children and grandchildren, Hyatt said. A candlelight vigil in honor of Romero-Muniz was set for Monday night.

Auditor: School Oversight Lacks In Wake Of Fraud AllegationsAlbuquerque Journal, Associated Press

State Auditor Tim Keller says the situation at a New Mexico charter school involving allegations that a former business manager mishandled nearly $700,000 is part of a larger pattern of poor oversight at the state level.

The Albuquerque Journal reported Sunday that annual audits of La Promesa Early Learning Center did not detect any fraud or embezzlement. Keller says the allegations came to his attention when a school vendor called his office's confidential hotline in April to report a suspicious tax form.

Keller says the annual audits are not as exhaustive as forensic audits, which are used to uncover fraud and require special expertise. But he says the state Public Education Department needs to exercise more oversight throughout the year since annual audits can't catch every problem.

Few Details After Deadline For Coal Plant Ownership Interest - By Felicia Fonseca, Associated Press

A coal mining company looking to save the Arizona power plant it feeds says it's making progress in the search for new owners.

But few details came as a deadline passed Sunday to identify potential owners for the Navajo Generating Station near Page.

Peabody Energy spokeswoman Beth Sutton said Monday that private equity firms and power plant operators are interested. She wouldn't say who or how many, citing confidentiality agreements.

The power plant on the Navajo Nation is set to close in 2019 unless someone buys it. The current operator, the Salt River Project, says energy produced by natural gas is cheaper.

Lease negotiations with the Navajo Nation and environmental reviews could take years. And the environment for coal is tough with utilities increasingly switching to other power sources.

Navajo Teacher Sues Zuni Schools Over DiscriminationGallup Independent, Associated Press

A teacher is suing Zuni Public School District over claims the school district discriminated against her because she is Navajo.

The Gallup Independent reports Olivia Joe recently filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court over allegations she was treated differently than other teachers.

According to the lawsuit, the second- grade teacher was informed by family during a visit that a family member had died and the group began a traditional Navajo prayer. Court documents say another teacher and member of Zuni Pueblo interrupted the prayer and said it was a Zuni school.

The lawsuit alleges that employees can say Zuni traditional prayers in the school without harassment.

The Zuni Public School District denied the claims.

Joe is seeking an unspecified amount in damages.

New Mexico Gets Funding For Home Visiting ProgramAssociated Press

New Mexico has been awarded $3.5 million to continue providing home-visiting services to pregnant women and to parents with young children.

The funding comes from the Health Resources and Services Administration.

Gov. Susana Martinez says the funding will help provide valuable information, resources and skills to at-risk families to ensure their children grow up physically and mentally healthy and ready to learn.

The program targets pregnant women as early as possible, providing health education. One focus is prenatal care within the first trimester.

When mothers don't have a prenatal care provider, officials say home visitors can make appropriate referrals to link mothers with health clinics, hospitals, doctors and other social service agencies.

Since 2011, the number of children and families being served through home visiting has increased from 160 to 425.

New Mexico Native American Tribe Eyes Adobe RestorationLos Alamos Monitor, Associated Press

A northern New Mexico Native American tribe is seeking to raise money toward an adobe restoration project on their 800-year-old pueblo.

The Los Alamos Monitor reports Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo is hoping to pull together $3.5 million to restore adobe homes on the historic village north of Santa Fe, New Mexico.

The Owe'neh Bupingeh Plaza Restoration Project is an $11.5 million revitalization project that has already breathed new life into the heart of the community.

Since 2005, the Ohkay Owingeh Housing Authority has restored 34 of the adobe structures with federal funding. All of the restored buildings line the Pueblo's four main squares.

Ohkay Owingeh is included on the National Register of Historic Places and included in the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Supreme Court Declines To Hear NM Tree Clearing DisputeAssociated Press

The Supreme Court has left in place a lower court ruling that prevents New Mexico from greenlighting tree clearing on federal land in the state in the name of fire prevention.

The Supreme Court declined Monday to hear a dispute between New Mexico and the federal government.

The issue dates back to 2001 when New Mexico passed a law saying the U.S. Forest Service had failed to reduce the threat of forest fires by not clearing undergrowth and removing trees on Forest Service land. The law then gave counties in the state permission to do the work.

When Otero County moved to cut trees on land in the Lincoln National Forest without federal approval in 2011, the United States government sued. Lower courts sided with the federal government.