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Monday, August 31, 2015

Duran Resignation Gamed Amid Criminal Charges, Will Guv's Machine Be Brought Into Picture? The Subplot of AG Balderas And Auditor Keller, The Legal Beagle Take.Plus: The Second Term Curse 

Balderas and Duran
Geez, what are we going to blog about today? Anything going on? Okay, let's dig in. . .

Who will replace Dianna Duran if she resigns as secretary of state? That vacancy would be filled by Gov. Martinez so the office would stay in Republican hands for the immediate future. If Duran does quit, the secretary of state's race would go on the 2016 general election ballot to fill the rest of Duran's term which expires in 2018, according to elections expert and ABQ Dem state Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto.

Resignation seems a very plausible possibility as Gov. Martinez was quick to throw Duran under the bus in the aftermath of Attorney General Hector Balderas leveling criminal charges against the SOS late Friday. (Full criminal complaint here.)

(Looking down the road, impeachment by the Legislature is also a threat that Duran could confront if the criminal charges advance. No one expects it to get that far.)

Unlike when State Auditor Tim Keller announced an investigation of Demesia Padilla--Martinez's secretary of taxation--the Guv nor her political machine did not label Balderas a political hack as they did Keller. The detailed criminal complaint pointing to a gambling addiction illicitly fueled by campaign cash by the 60 year old Duran was enough to chasten even the most partisan Republican. (More on Duran's campaign cash here). Besides, Duran, the first GOP sec. of state sine the 30's, is not a member of the Martinez inner circle.

Alligators immediately jumped at the fresh serving of red meat, pointing out that McCleskey Media Strategies run by Martinez's powerful political consultant Jay McCleskey, was the media consultant for Duran in her successful 2014 re-election bid and that former GOP State Senator Rod Adair served as an administrator and spokesman for Duran. One of the Alligators weigh in:

Balderas may think bringing down Duran is a big enough feather for a future Democratic primary and he doesn't bring into the picture the Governor's Machine. Former GOP State Rep. Dan Foley, who has deep ties to the Machine, was on TV recently praising Balderas for his involvement in the APS scandal. Why would Hector get bloody with Jay when his buddies are popping you up? However, where does Dianna Duran go as she tries to save herself? That question may give the Martinez Machine some jitters.

Adair was fired by Duran for reasons never specified.

Someone has to stick the knife in when this stuff happens. This time its reader Greg Lennes:

In her re-election campaign Secretary of State Duran ironically had the support of a bogus group, New Mexicans for Honest Leadership. Maybe we can now call the group New Mexicans for Dishonest Leadership! New Mexicans for Honest Leadership's sole source of cash of $130,000 was from Advance New Mexico Now, a super PAC run by the Republican operative Matt Chandler, who is now a district court judge, recently appointed by Governor Martinez.

And that's how you follow the trail.

LEGAL BEAGLE TAKE

The Legal Beagles have picked up the scent and are ready with analysis of the Duran story:

Joe, the criminal complaint is extensive. The most significant components were the conversion counts, particularly because the contributors to the committee confirmed the funds were specifically for the campaign committee and not for Duran's personal use. The justification for the conversions allegedly being to cover gaming losses. In addition, the count alleging Duran fabricated an expenditure by applying it to an individual in a campaign report who confirmed no involvement with the campaign is also quite damaging because it not only was intentional but is also tantamount to identity theft.

These counts go directly towards intent and are straight forward in the ability to prove beyond a reasonable doubt. Although just allegations, they appear to be documented well enough that securing a conviction on those counts is a reasonable expectation.

There are questions not answered by the charging documents such as who else in the SOS office knew about these actions, and where did she learn how to do this? These were fairly complex efforts to move the funds into her private accounts and one wonders if she had some guidance.

ROTTEN BEAMS

Gov. Martinez is starting to feel the brunt of the second term curse. Institutions all around her seem to be crumbling like rotten beams. The SOS--charged with enforcing campaign ethics--is caught up in one of the most alarming campaign ethics breaches in state history; there's the aforementioned probe of the state taxation secretary; the ABQ public schools superintendent is embroiled in a sex scandal as that institution wobbles and the state's largest police agency--APD--continues to operate from behind a stone wall, fending off lawsuits while under a Dept. of Justice decree (how about the latest on that cop on cop shooting? Incredible.) In other words, the days of blaming Bill Richardson are long gone.

The Governor's potentially precarious political position will be put on the line as she leaves the state more to campaign on the national stage. She better leave plenty of fire extinguishers in Santa Fe before she jets out of here.

DEMS AND DURAN

The Duran scandal doesn't speak well of the Dem Party's opposition research. Duran has been planted at the casinos sinking her campaign cash into the slots for over five years, according to the AG's criminal complaint. But when Dem Maggie Toulouse Oliver got beat by Duran in '14 the issue never surfaced. Maybe Oliver takes a look at another run for the office. Balderas has given her the opposition research that she could have used in '14 and that now makes putting the office back in the Dem column a no-brainer.

But what do you suppose if this corruption outbreak had happened with the Dems in power? Independent analyst and foamier City Councilor Greg Payne puts it this way:

If this state of affairs at APS, the APD and the secretary of state's office was happening under Democrats the Martinez Machine would be smearing them big time and linking them to all the scandals. That's not happening to the Republicans because the Democrats still have consultants and office holders without the killer instinct who are happy to wait until the Republicans go away. The problem for the Dems is they might not go away in '16 or '18 if the Democrats don't do their job. They have taken a pass on a prime opportunity--the SOS and APS scandals--by failing to link them directly to Gov. Martinez and instead treat them as stand alone events and not systemic corruption. 

THREE IN A ROW

This is the third secretary of state in a row to end up in legal trouble. Mary Herrera--whio came before Duran--was investigated by Attorney General King but did not face charges. Rebecca-Vigil Giron had charges brought against here by King but they were dismissed.

Does the Legislature need to take a look at the structure of the office and see if we need more permanent, nonpolitical appointees in there that could depoliticize the place? Or are the cynics right and corruption is too ingrained in the New Mexico DNA for any fix? Or put an inspector general in each of the statewide offices as was once suggested?

THE SUBPLOT

An ongoing subplot of La Politica is the positioning off State Auditor Tim Keller and Balderas for a possible shot at the '18 Dem Guv nomination. This is Balderas' first big bite out of the corruption apple but unlike Keller he has not taken a direct hit on the Guv or her machine, There is a difference and how Balderas handles the charges against the state taxation secretary that Keller put on his desk will be closely watched. Ditto for the Keller probe of corruption allegations dealing with the purchase of Taser lapel camera videos by APD. The Duran probe is a headliner for Balderas but it is relatively low lying fruit (unless it leaps past the SOS's office).

Also a number of readers ask. . .

Why did the AG come with his big news on a late Friday afternoon, the traditional time to bury a news story? He also did that when he was state auditor and decided to look away from a probe of the Martinez administration's involvement in the controversial racing lease for the Downs of Albuquerque. He issued his final report on a late Friday. We don't if this is a game of footie with the Fourth Floor or not but as a number of readers pointed out, it is odd.

GOTTA GO

The ABQ school board meets for the third time today to resolve the fate of APS Superintendent Luis Valentino. The question there is not if he goes but how. His position is untenable as is Duran's. As for possible replacements for Duran, the GOP Alligator list includes Amy Orlando, a BFF of Susana's who was the '14 GOP AG nominee; GOP State Reps Sarah Maestas Barnes and Kelly Fajardo and ABQ City Attorney Jessica Hernandez, the onetime attorney for the Guv's office.

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Friday, August 28, 2015

The Summer of '15: The Reading Was Not On The Lighter Side 

The APS School Board met for over four and half hours Thursday morning but announced it still has not decided the fate of APS Superintendent Luis Valentino. The board will meet for a third time on the matter at 7 a.m. Monday. And that brings us to our latest column for the ABQ Free Press. . . .

The reading material for the Summer of '15 was definitely not on the lighter side for New Mexicans. Try as they might to beat the heat and escape into the plot of a mindless novel or seek relief in the magazine pages of pop culture, there was really no way out. The wreckage of this summer will be long-lived and long-remembered.

We start with that mine waste spill into the Animas River in the Four Corners. It alarmed local residents who depend on its waters as well as armchair environmentalists nationwide who eyed the eerie, orange tainted river via their TV screens. The EPA, which caused the spill that originated at Silverton, Colorado, will be mired in the mess for years. Investigations and reparations are de rigueur with such disasters but what about accountability?

Then there was the summer unraveling of new Albuquerque Public Schools Superintendent Luis Valentino. The deputy superintendent he brought to town may be his own undoing. And it should be. Jason Martinez was not subjected to a criminal background check before he started punching the clock. Then the shocker hit the headlines. Valentino had put in command a man who faces trial in Colorado on charges of sexually assaulting children. No, that's not summer fiction but the brutal reality of failed leadership.

Prior to the sex scandal Martinez and Valentino were busted for playing politics over a contract with a Colorado firm that had questionable ethical ties. Valentino suspended APS chief financial officer Don Moya who opposed their hanky-panky. The sex scandal was like instant karma for Moya but yet another nightmare for Albuquerque whose luck picking superintendents over the years is summed up by the saying: "If I didn't have bad luck, I'd have no luck at all."

The summer news dump doesn't stop there. Two Albuquerque police officers were bound over for trial on second degree murder charges for the notorious fatal shooting of homeless camper James Boyd. Sure, you could see it coming but the preliminary hearing at which a judge found probable cause to have the officers stand trial was an undeniable low point in the history of the APD and the city. The saving grace may be that hitting that low point is the only way we can start clawing our way back to higher ground.

The sorry summer kept delivering even more fodder for the glass is only half-full crowd.
Google, one of the most important companies on the planet, announced that it was moving to California the aerospace company it had acquired in Moriarty only a year ago.  Gov. Martinez was on hand to celebrate Google's entry into the state but nowhere to be found when the firm packed up and headed down I-40. It was the latest in a very long line of economic disappointments that have haunted the state in what historians will no doubt look back on as an epic bad news era. And that doesn't include the drumbeat of horrific crimes that plagued Albuquerque this summer.  This list is depressing enough without bringing that to the table.

A chief characteristic of this peculiar era in New Mexico has been the lack of accountability, but now the misdeeds are so egregious that they can no longer be ignored by the body politic (or at least the judiciary) or enabled by a public that has grown apathetic, acquiescent and exhausted by the nonstop negativity.

Who is ultimately responsible for that Animas spill and will heads roll? Who will be held accountable for the hiring of the new APS superintendent whose incompetence could have endangered school children? The superintendent himself? The school board that hired him? Who in the upper reaches of APD will ever lose their job over the scandals that have plagued the department all these years under Mayor Berry? So far, no one. Who will be held accountable for the loss of not only Google but the multi-year failure to address the economic problems of this state? The Governor? The Mayor? No one? Will accountability finally surface from the wreckage that was the Summer of '15?

Thanks for stopping by this week.

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Thursday, August 27, 2015

More APS Drama Today And It Seems More To Come; Our Continuing Coverage, Plus: That Other Crisis; No Firing For APD Officer's Illegal Database Check 

Luis Valentino (Brose ABQ Journal)
  • The APS School Board met for over four and half hours Thursday morning but announced it still has not decided the fate of APS Superintendent Luis Valentino. The board will meet for a third time on the matter at 7 a.m. Monday.
One of the city's most sensational scandals in its history will deliver more drama today but it is far from clear whether it will be the closing act.

The ABQ School Board meets this morning to settle the fate of embattled ABQ Public Schools Superintendent Luis Valentino. The surprise would be if he is actually permitted to stay in the Duke City.

Jason Martinez, the man Valentino hired as his deputy superintendent, languishes in a Denver jail facing charges of sexually abusing children as well as assaulting his boyfriend The charges were never disclosed to APS and the public because Martinez's criminal background check was derailed. The stunning display of incompetence will haunt Valentino for the rest of his career and further tarnish the image of a city already reeling from the APD crisis and the going nowhere economy.

Despite the gravity of the charges and the loss of trust and confidence, Valentino pleaded his case to the media only hours before the board was slated to meet. He wants to hang on when the community wants him hanged (figuratively speaking, of course). As they would say over in Texas, Valentino is now as welcome in ABQ as a porcupine at a nudist colony.

Once Valentino is out of the way the pressing issue will be those charges from APS Chief Financial Officer Don Moya that Gov. Martinez and Sec. of Education Skandera told Valentino to hire Jason Martinez, a charge Moya levels in a lawsuit and that the Guv's office calls "absurd."

In his media rounds Valentino has been giving cover to Guv Martinez and Skandera, saying he was solely responsible for the hire. The one person who has not been heard from is Jason Martinez which brings us to this Legal Beagle's take:

Jason Martinez is going to be locked up with no bond or very high bond since he is going to be considered a flight risk for not notifying the court of his out of state move. Likely that means he stays in jail until trial or a plea deal. Meanwhile, he obviously knows a lot about the push to bring in that Denver firm on a sole source contract deal that Moya opposed. Can he link that contract back to Gov. Martinez/Skandera and if so what is it worth in terms of getting him a bit of a break on his situation?

Interesting stuff. Of course, anything Jason Martinez might say will be called into question given his background. But the relationship--if any--between the Martinez administration and Jason Martinez has yet to be fully explored. When and if it is, will there be surprises?

GREASY MOTIVE?

ABQ activist Barbara Grothus comes with her take on Facebook:

It looks to me like the impetus to hire Jason Martinez was based on the interest of Skandera and or the Governor to push a contract with another of their scam service providers. Surely they did not know of the sexual assault charges against him. No doubt the contractor pushed his guy their way, and their primary interest was to get a contract "greased" as we have seen already in the APD contract for Taser. It blew up on them, and now they are doing their best to cover this with the tired "Richardson crony" wallpaper. If this can be substantiated, it is incredibly damaging all around. 

The ABQ Teachers Federation breaks its silence on the APS scandal with this statement from union president Ellen Bernstein:

Given the facts that have emerged and the still-unanswered questions of this case, I do not believe that Dr. Valentino can recover from this crisis. If he does not take the initiative himself and resign, I anticipate the Board will come to the same conclusion and fire him.

VERONICA OR NOT?

Veronica Garcia
Robert Behrendt, Ed.D, writes:

Joe, Michael Corwin's recommendation on your Wednesday blog to bring in former Secretary of Public Education Veronica Garica to fix the mess Governor Martinez and her appointee Hanna Skandera have created would be unwise. In my interactions with Veronica Garica, as a former Education Performance Auditor for the Legislative Finance Committee (LFC), I can say that she was just as political, but not as ignorant, as the current players in Santa Fe. 

However, the larger issue in New Mexico is that both the legislature and the governor's offices have failed to manage the New Mexico public and higher education systems in an effective way. Hopefully, the scope of the attorney general's APS investigation will expand to include an investigation by State Auditor Timothy Keller. I seriously doubt that New Mexico legislative appropriations and executive expenditures on education have impacted students as much as adults who are employed in, and profit from, public and higher education. The current mess has brought the New Mexico educational crisis to a head. In the interest of public accountability, I would recommend that lawmakers seriously consider statutory changes that would make the higher education and public education secretaries elected, rather than appointed, positions.

THAT OTHER CRISIS

Meanwhile, resolving the long-running crisis at APD continues to run up against a culture resistant to change. The news:

An APD officer who admitted to a federal crime then lied about it, won’t be fired. Officer Regina Sanchez ran an illegal background check for a friend. Sanchez ran a check through a federal criminal database on a woman who had a restraining order against the brother of the officer’s boyfriend and then gave that information to him. He then showed up to the woman’s house with a handgun. Sanchez was suspended for 40 hours. This is not the first time Sanchez has been in the spotlight. In 2013, Sanchez was one of the extramarital lovers of former APD officer Levi Chavez and testified when Chavez was put on trial for the murder of his wife. Chavez was acquitted.

A reader comments:

I just can't believe this. She commits a federal crime, puts a domestic violence victim in danger, and APD Chief Eden allows her to keep her job. Let me repeat, she violated federal law! What is Eden thinking? The US Attorney should step in and charge her. APD has no leadership. 

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Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Susana's Travel Schedule, A Macho County Clerk?, APS Crisis Coverage And Our Wednesday Bottom Lines 

Did someone screw up Susana's schedule? Don't you think she should have traveled to northern California--where Google is located--before the company announced it was pulling its aerospace company out of Moriarty? The news:

Gov. Martinez and a group of economic development officials are visiting northern California for a round of business meetings. Martinez and the others are meeting with executives from a number of companies as part of an effort to attract business to New Mexico. The governor is traveling with representatives from the private, nonprofit group Albuquerque Economic Development and the city of Rio Rancho.

Speaking of business development in ABQ, let's see. In the past few days, there's been a murder in the parking lot of the Village Inn on the city's westside, a "gruesome" stabbing at a home in the NE Heights, a shooting in the parking lot of the Rio Rancho Chili's  a woman hit by a stray bullet while walking in the South Valley and a dead body was seen floating down the Rio Grande near Central Ave.

Hey, Susana, are there any companies out there in sunny Californian that make bullet proof vests? Send them our way. . .

MACHO CLERK?

Can a a man get elected Bernalillo county clerk? We don't believe it has happened before, but Dem Roman Montoya, the deputy county clerk, says he is going to give it a try. He has lined up some support from the liberal wing of the party. Real estate broker Linda Stover announced earlier she will also seek the Dem nomination next June. She is the wife of former APD Chief Bob Stover. Current County Clerk Maggie Toulouse Oliver is term-limited. We won't say no R's need apply, but it's been a long time since the GOP took the post.

JEFF GETS LUCKY?

Can Jeff Varela, son of legendary Santa Fe Dem State Rep. Lucky Varela replace dad in the House? He'll try. Lucky, retiring after 30 years, says Jeff has his full backing and has been a help to him at the Roundhouse. Jeff Varela is a human resources specialist who in the past worked for state government as personnel director. A hand-off to a relative isn't a no-brainer so everyone will watch to see if Jeff gets a primary opponent. No R's need apply in the heavy Dem district.

APS CRISIS COVERAGE

Peggy Muller-Aragon
Michael Corwin is a longtime critic of the Martinez administration who writes this about the APS crisis:

As a parent of a student in APS I cannot help but think that the current train wreck involving Governor Martinez, Secretary of Education Skandera, APS Superintendent Valentino and the former Assistant Superintendent Jason Martinez was long in the making. 

Governor Martinez, in order to gain control of the state's largest school district, launched a hit campaign to destroy APS school board member Kathy Korte who opposed Skandera's failed education agenda.  Before that, a political committee connected to Governor Martinez targeted then APS Superintendent Brooks with mass mailings. And before that Martinez targeted ABQ Rep. Sheryl Williams Stapleton, an APS employee who opposed her efforts. 

After watching Martinez's puppets on the APS Board--Duran, Muller-Aragon, and Maestas--launch a media offensive to defend Valentino and subvert the board's process for investigating Valentino's misconduct, there can be no doubt that Governor Martinez and Skandera's denials of involvement in this scandal are flat out false. The four other APS board members not on Governor Martinez's payroll must right this ship. For the sake of my son, his fellow students, and their teachers they should bring in former state education secretary Veronica Garcia to fix this mess. Garcia will not fall prey to the Fourth Floor and unlike Skandera, Garcia understands what it is like to be in a classroom and to run a school. It is time to retake our school district.

We wondered here Tuesday what percentage of ABQ' school-aged children now attend private school. A reader pointed us to the website of ABQ Economic Development where it's reported that 13 percent of ABQ's some 118,000 students attend private or parochial schools.

WATER WORRIES

Reader Joe Barela in Rio Rancho writes in reaction to Gov. Martinez's handling of the toxic waste water spill into the Animas River:

Joe, I find it interesting that Governor Martinez is suddenly taking an interest in the quality of our state's water. As I recall she was against lining the holding ponds at all the state's dairy's. 

MADISON MAIL

Reader Kevin Bersell writes:

Hey Joe, Isn't it interesting that the state email system was set up in a way that rejected mail from the Democratic Party but apparently you could use it to subscribe to Ashley Madison? Makes you wonder doesn't it? Details on the email blockade here and on subscribing to Ashley Madison here.

THE BOTTOM LINES. . . 

Today come from Peruvian Nobel prize winner Mario Vargas Llosa:

In one of the best essays in the book, Culture, Politics and Power, Vargas Llosa explores the decline of our political sphere. Sullied and sometimes exposed by tabloid journalism, politics is estimated to be a “mediocre and grubby activity that puts off the most honest and capable people and instead mainly recruits nonentities and rogues…” The best, as a result, are no longer attracted to it.

Your #1 political stop year in and year out. This is. . .

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Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Explosive Charge in Whistleblower Lawsuit: Gov. Martinez And Education Boss Skandera Had Hand In Hiring Disgraced Deputy Superintendent Who Faces Child Sex Assault Charges; Our Coverage Of The APS Crisis And ItsPolitical Implications 

Jason Martinez
Governor Martinez, soon to be head of the Republican Governor's Association, there's a message for you when you get back from your business trip to California this week: "The home fires are burning."

For the first time in her nearly five year tenure the flames of scandal are lapping directly outside the Fourth Floor of the storied Roundhouse where Martinez holds forth. A whistleblower lawsuit says:

Gov. Martinez and state Education Secretary Skandera had a hand in the hire of the disgraced former deputy superintendent of APS. The chief financial officer for APS has filed a lawsuit against his employer, alleging a civil conspiracy against him and violations of his whistleblower rights. A spokesman for Skandera denied the allegations, saying he is an employee who “has an ax to grind.” Don Moya’s lawsuit alleges that embattled APS Superintendent Luis Valentino originally offered Moya the position of deputy superintendent. Valentino rescinded the offer after a meeting with Susana Martinez and Skandera on June 12, according to the suit. The lawsuit also alleges that Valentino hired Jason Martinez as his deputy “at the urging of Skandera and Governor Martinez.” Jason Martinez never completed a required criminal background check and abruptly resigned from APS last week. Jason Martinez was facing child sexual assault charges in Colorado from 2013. He faces a trial in October in Denver district court.

The Governor knows this is a biggie so her office unloaded both barrels on Moya:

Skandera & Martinez
Governor Martinez dedicated her career to prosecuting child predators and these are completely false allegations by a former Bill Richardson crony who has no credibility. Governor Martinez never even heard of [Jason Martinez] his name until this scandal broke. This allegation is so false and over-the-top that we will be filing a complaint with the state bar against the lawyer and challenge her partner--who is an elected official--to agree to resign from office when he is unable to substantiate this absurd claim about the governor.

The lawsuit was filed by attorney Katie Ferlic. State House Minority Leader Brian Egolf is a member of the Santa Fe law firm--Egolf, Ferlic and Day. By linking Egolf to the suit by saying he should resign from the House if it doesn't pan out may seem like a supreme stretch but the Governor is making an effort to politicize the lawsuit from the get-go. However, keep in mind. . .

that this is a political statement by the Governor's office. It is not a statement by the Governor. Why is she not being quoted herself? Her integrity is being directly challenged yet they huff and puff about destroying people's careers, a long-standing tactic of this administration and its Machine. Well, you don't need to be one of our Legal Beagles to know why the Governor is careful not to have that statement come directly from her lips.

Is that statement covering up genuine worry? Imagine Gov. Martinez having to be deposed about the hiring of the alleged pedophile. Maybe the powers-that-be at APS move to shut Moya up quickly and settle his lawsuit, but maybe Moya wants more than money and this thing starts winding its way through the lengthy judicial process.

The questions: How serious is this for Martinez and her Machine? Does Moya have more proof that the Governor steered the Jason Martinez hiring, other than saying soon-to-be-gone APS Superintendent Luis Valentino told him (which is a pretty solid start in itself)? What about that contract that Moya fought against and that disgraced Jason Martinez was so insistent on getting through APS? Did the Governor's administration know about that? Have any role in it? Finally, Will that picture of Jason Martinez on today's blog become Susana's Willie Horton? Stay tuned. . .

P. S. If you're Hanna Skandera right about now you're getting a tiny bit concerned about your relationship with Gov. Martinez. Is everyone up there still on the same page? Just askin'.

WHO IS THIS GUY?

Valentino
Just how did we end up with the now scandal-ridden Luis Valentino as our APS superintendent?

Attorney General Balderas says he is "concerned" that the man Valentino chose as deputy superintendent--Jason Martinez--had not completed a criminal background check when he was hired. Valentino, according to the APS human resources head, shooed away questions about that required check. It has since been revealed that Jason Martinez faces trial in Colorado on charges of sexually assaulting children--as well as assault with a deadly weapon stemming from a domestic violence case. Balderas says he will initiate a "safety assessment" to see if any "protocols" were breached in the Jason Martinez hiring.

That's all well and good, Hector, but the attorney general could do an equal if not greater public service by delving into how the APS board actually hired Valentino and how Valentino hired Martinez. With that whistleblower lawsuit from Moya, Balderas already has plenty of fodder (maybe start with interim APS superintendent and GOP ABQ City Councilor Brad Winter who played a key role in the Valentino selection?).

Was there indeed undue outside political interference that played a role in the Valentino/Martinez hiring disasters? The attorney general can tip toe around the elephant in the room or learn how to hunt elephant. Then there's always State Auditor Tim Keller who at every twist and turn seems to be looking over Balderas' shoulder.

VALENTINO EXIT?

The rumor mill has Valentino resigning before the APS board meets again Thursday to discuss his fate. That would mean yet another "interim" superintendent and the search for a third permanent Super in a year. An online petition demanding Valentino's removal has over 1,300 signatures.

Now Senior Alligator analysis on the APS disarray:

As on many other issues in Albuquerque, one asks where is the community leadership is in the APS scandal. I suspect that our "elite" leaders have already abandoned the public school system for the Academy, Sandia Prep, Hope Christian, Pius X or charter schools. They have left us to fend for ourselves at the mercy of a fragmented political system.

It would be interesting to know the percentage of ABQ's school-age children who are now enrolled in private schools. No doubt the public school system has grown less important to  parents who have the resources to send their kids to private schools--or desperately amass those resources to avoid the troubled system.

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Monday, August 24, 2015

Vaya Con Dios, Valentino? APS Board Stalls On Dealing With Scandal Plagued Super, Plus: Another Love Tap For Susana, Big Bill Swallows The Hill Pill And Some Tax "Hoodoo" 

Valentino
What's so complicated about dumping an APS school superintendent who hired as his deputy a man facing charges for sexually assaulting kids? Apparently more than meets the eye for the embattled ABQ School Board. It wrestled with the question for over five hours Sunday but could only decide to not decide and slated another meeting for Thursday morning to settle the matter.

The sex scandal that has engulfed APS Super Luis Valentino has spread outrage over the city. Besides being extremely troubling to parents, it is yet another blow to the city's efforts to attract economic and business planners to the city and sell its virtues. Employers want a functioning school system not one that has the stability of a wooden shack in an earthquake zone.

While few may see anything less than a resignation or firing of Valentino as the only viable way out, former APS board member Robert Lucero says the current board could be gun shy over spending the big dollars it would take to buy out Valentino's multi-year contract. Instead, he told us, they could reprimand Valentino and then hire a new deputy superintendent with the clear intention of watch dogging Valentino. Maybe, but cutting off the legs of the superintendent doesn't exactly inspire confidence, either.

In days gone by a man in Valentino's position might voluntarily resign and take a reasonable financial settlement, knowing he had done wrong. It would be the honorable thing to do and salvage what is left of his reputation. For the good of the community, think about it, Luis.

LIKE A SICK DOG

Ched Macquigg, a longtime critic of APS and dismissed by the APS establishment as a gadfly, nevertheless has been vindicated by the ongoing scandals. His take:

It's like having a sick dog in the house--every time you think it’s over, it's throwing up again somewhere else. The ethics, standards and accountability crisis is the dark side of the leadership of the APS. It needs to end; at once and forever. It is time for an independent examination and review of ethics, standards and accountability in APS. Let the chips fall where they may.

Maybe State Auditor Tim Keller can somehow stick his nose under that tent? Or the attorney general?

Social media has been abuzz over the APS scandal. Jessica Martinez tweeted:

Regarding the @ABQschools debacle I'll say this--somewhere Winston Brooks is sipping a margarita & laughing his ass off.

Brooks, as you may recall, preceded Valentino as APS Super and was also engulfed in scandal when the APS board bought out his contract only one year ago.

THE OTHER SCANDAL

Moya
The sex scandal followed on the heels of the Moya scandal. That's the one where APS Chief Financial Officer Don Moya was put on administrative leave by Valentino when Moya intervened over a questionable APS contract deal that Deputy Superintendent Martinez was working to ram through. Reader Betty Whiton writes:

There should be a "Don Moya Whistle-Blower Award" given out for honest, ethical work in APS. He discovered a problem with a company that Valentino wanted, and rather than listen, Valentino tries to fire him. Valentino brings on Jason Martinez, an alleged pedophile, book-hustler, disgraced educator and pays him $160K while trying to fire a hardworking, ethical CFO who did his job. He, like Brooks, are unfamiliar with technology, grammar, and ethics. . . It appears that Valentino is not only incompetent, but corrupt and unethical, threatened by a responsible CFO, and has an alternate agenda.

ANOTHER LOVE TAP

The newspaper sends yet another love letter to the Governor, this time as she prepares to become the chair of the Republican Governors Association in November. That's how you sell newspapers? Yawn. Meantime. . .

Former Governor Big Bill says he has patched up his differences with Hillary (and Bill) and endorsed her prez candidacy. Well, he does like Cuba.

Back to the newspaper and Susana, ABQ attorney Jeffrey Baker is less diplomatic than we are:

The Albuquerque Journal has made it official--it is Susana Martinez’ butt boy. The Journal has its head so far up Susana’s skirts that it cannot see daylight. How is the fact that Susana Martinez will become chair of the Republican Governor’s Association in November worthy of a front page Sunday story in August? But there is an irony – inside the Sunday Journal is an ad for Senator Domenici’s policy conference in Las Cruces, where Governor Martinez is listed as having been invited to speak about regional economic development. Any bets on whether she shows up? What will she say about regional economic development, other than the region (except New Mexico) is developing?

TAX HOODOO

A reader writes of our Friday post in which we point out that a recent state revenue report says that 2013 corporate income tax cut is costing a whale of a lot more money than the Dems who supported it at the time claimed it would:

Thanks for your piece on the huge difference between what Gov. Martinez and Republicans (and Democrats in support) said the 2013 corporate tax cut would cost in lost revenue and what the actual costs are proving to be. The paragraph you quoted from  the revenue report is bad enough, but the slippery non-explanation in the paragraph immediately below the one you quoted is actually worse, to wit:

"Due to strengthening economic fundamentals in the state during FY14, the source of the error remains unclear. Analyzing actual FY14 taxpayer data would provide a more accurate estimate of the bill’s impact on CIT collections; however, TRD notes it will not have this data until 2016. Due to confidentiality restrictions, access to taxpayer-level data and further analysis is limited to TRD. Because of the volatile and nebulous nature of CIT collections, it is not yet possible to disaggregate this error and attribute it to either forecasting error or to an error in the estimated revenue impact of HB 641."

I hope you will pound on this obvious hoodoo from now until November, 2016. This is a Big Dang Deal--especially since the numbers only get worse in the future and go on forever. Martinez's political donors bought an absolutely scandalous steal on this and you may be the only voice with the independence and integrity to give it the permanent airing it deserves.

Thanks for that. We pounded the table on this when the Dems caved and supported the corporate cut. We said it could cost them control of the House for the first time in 60 years. They argue back that they lost the House in '14 for "other reasons." Maybe that's what they'll say if they lose the senate next year.

Thanks again for making us NM's #1 political web site. It's a kick.

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Friday, August 21, 2015

Summer In Santa Fe: Bean Counters Confront Commodity Chaos; Jumping Around On A Hot Tin Roof 

The chaos in the world commodity markets has the Santa Fe bean counters jumping around like cats on a hot tin roof, offering estimates on state revenue that could change as fast as the 10 day weather forecast. But Santa Fe and in particular the then-majority House Democrats of 2013 can blame themselves for some of the handwringing over the latest revenue estimates so dependent on where the crashing oil price ends up next year.

It was 2013 when the legislative Dems caved to Gov. Martinez and approved a  controversial corporate income tax. The Dems went on to lose the House in '14 to the R's for the first time in 60 years. In a little noticed section of the latest state revenue report we learn just how far off Santa Fe was back then in estimating the cost of that corporate cut:

House Bill 641 made several changes to the corporate income tax code. The fiscal impact report initially estimated that the changes would result in a revenue loss of $7.2 million in FY14. However, actual revenue in that fiscal year missed its forecast by more than the estimated $7.2 million cost. In FY14, net corporate income tax revenue was subject to a six- month forecast error of $82.2 million (41.8 percent), and an 18-month error of $143.4 million (72.2 percent).

That's a lot of revenue out the door, sports fans.

You probably won't want to tackle it on a summer weekend but when you get a chance the report linked above from the Department of Finance and the Legislative Finance Committee is chock full of such nuggets. Here's a couple from newsman Bruce Krasnow that really bottom line what is happening in our enchanted land:

New Mexico continues to lag the U.S. in the post-recession recovery, and employment in the state remains 3 percent below the pre-recession peak. Data suggests that earlier evidence of job growth was overly optimistic and the economy has begun contracting, notably in the manufacturing and construction sectors,” according to the economists.

And the population trends show that workers are in fact moving to other states where there is more opportunity. The trend of state-to-state out migration from New Mexico has grown, with approximately 25,000 people leaving [between] 2013 and 2014. This is the first net decline in New Mexico’s population in over 60 years.”

Okay, you ate your vegetables. Now go enjoy the pool. That includes the bean counters. They did a pretty good job, despite the commodity chaos.

Thanks for stopping by this week.

Reporting from Albuquerque, I'm Joe Monahan and. . .

This is the home of New Mexico politics.

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Thursday, August 20, 2015

State Senate Summer Doings, APS Happenings, Clash Over Teen Curfew Coming And The Byzantine Capital Outlay Process 

Both parties are using the summer months to line up contnders for the battle for control of the NM senate in '16, and the recruitment efforts may have produced a familiar name. Dem insiders say former two-term Rio Rancho Mayor Tom Swisstack is prepping to take a run at incumbent GOP State Senator Craig Brandt. Swisstack, a deputy BernCo manager for public safety, isn't talking yet but R's are monitoring the situation. They say Brandt;s district is pretty solid R and while Swisstack is a big name they are optimistic that they can hold the seat. . .

Former APS School Board member Kathy Korte--ousted from her post in the last school board election by the Guv's Machine--is still following the education action. She has a pointed opinion on that proposed contract with a Denver firm that got new APS Superintendent Luis Valentino in hot water:

The IT contract was to "audit" the technology areas of the district, including SIS -- Student Information Systems. Whomever has control of the SIS system has control of student data -- all those tests. If the state gets control of the student data, that data can be manipulated. If the APS student data is manipulated to appear "reforms" are working, then that's 2/3 of the state's student population. There is something fishy with all of this. Martinez-Skandera are right to know that if they can win friends with the people who can hand them the data, they can win a victory before they leave in 2 years.

APS did not sign a contract with the Denver firm but the incident revealed Valentino playing footsie with education secretary Skandera via text message and prompting the conspiracy theories about the goal of that contract. APS chief financial officer Don Moya was placed on leave by Valentino after questioning the contract.

CURFEW CLASH

The sensational crimes this summer involving teens has prompted Gov. Martinez to announce that she will ask the Legislature in January to give cities the power to implement teen curfews, even though a previous ABQ curfew in the 90's was found unconstitutional. Reader Alan Wagman adds:

Juvenile curfews cut crime? According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the juvenile crime rate peaks on school days at 3:00 p.m. in the afternoon and peaks on non-school days at 8:00 p.m. The rate then plunges sharply all night long from these peaks. By 11:00 p.m. on school days, the juvenile crime rate drops to the level of 7:00 in the morning. By 11:00 p.m. on non-school days, the juvenile crime is about equal to the level at 11:00 in the morning -- but only because the rate has dropped all night to a low point at 5:00-6:00 a.m. and then climbed again. See more here:  

And Israel Chavez, a candidate for the ABQ city council in the October election and who at 23 is not that far away from his own teen years, says this:

A curfew takes a superficial approach instead of tackling the issues head on. We need to look deeper at this than a curfew. Where is the legislation to crack down on drug dealers who are targeting youth in schools, or legislation to provide meaningful rehabilitation to our children that fall through the cracks? It's time to get to the root of our problems. 

Chavez is running against longtime GOP Councilor Brad Winter in NE Heights District 4.

ABQ Dem State Rep. Javier Martinez seems ready to lead the opposition to a teen curfew. He writes:

Why aren’t we connecting youth to entrepreneurship and STEM field opportunities? We’re making huge investments in Innovate ABQ - let’s channel our youth’s creativity and energy into our business innovation strategies. A curfew is unenforceable. APD is a mess, without enough officers and a litany of questions regarding its internal procedures. A curfew is also ineffective and simply criminalizes young people. Young people are the solution, not the p
roblem.

BYZANTINE METHOD

We're still not seeing a serious effort to reform the Legislature's byzantine capital outlay process despite this story continually making the rounds:

New Mexico lawmakers appropriated more than $1.1 billion for more than 2,800 capital outlay projects from 2010 through 2014. But less than half the money has been spent. . . The capital outlay bill is one of the top priorities of each legislative session because it pays for hundreds of state and local projects. . . But many critics, including scholars who study how states pay for brick-and-mortar projects, say New Mexico's politicized process for selecting local projects is flawed. . . Once New Mexico authorizes money, oversight to ensure the dollars are spent efficiently appears to be lacking. 

Hey, that's over $500 million just sitting there. Hello, Santa Fe?

THE BOTTOM LINES

We misspelled the Animas River as "Animus" and a reader writes:

Several times you have referred to the deadly toxic materials spilled into the "Animus" River... I mean, given the mind-set of so many Four Corners conservative types, that's an understandable mistake, but it's actually the Animas river, Spanish for Spirits or Souls. Animus is a vindictive, hate-filled attitude. 

Gracias, Señor.

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Wednesday, August 19, 2015

What's Next? A Trial Or A Plea? Historic Hearing Ends With Murder Charges Against Officers In Boyd Slaying Moving Forward; We Have The Winners And Losers From The Hearing Of The Decade 

(ABQ Journal)
A sensational trial by jury or a quiet plea bargain to make it all go away? That's the big question in the aftermath of Tuesday's historic court decision sending two ABQ police officers to trial on murder charges for the killing of homeless camper James Boyd.

The fatal shooting during a stand-off was captured on police lapel camera video.  It shocked the nation and put APD and the city on the defensive. And that's where they remain after an intense preliminary hearing where a judge found "probable cause" that a crime had been committed and bound the defendants over on murder and lesser charges. We asked former BernCo Chief Deputy District Attorney Pete Dinelli for analysis:

Either side now has the option to propose a plea agreement where the state is guaranteed a felony conviction and the defendants try to avoid any and all jail time and seek a suspended sentence. The odds for a plea could be put at 50-50.

Besides murder the officers--one now retired--will be arraigned on voluntary manslaughter and aggravated assault and battery charges. Those lesser charges could play a major role in any plea deal that might be struck. If there is no plea agreement and we get a trial by jury, Dinelli says:

A big question is will the defense attorneys become far more aggressive at the trial alleging the defendants were victims of APD mismanagement and APD training failures? Also, will the defendants run the risk and testify at trial and throw themselves upon the mercy of a jury saying they feared for the safety of themselves and others and that their actions were reasonable and justified?

WINNERS AND LOSERS

In a story of this magnitude there are clear winners and losers and only our Legal Beagles have them. They start with the winners:

James Boyd--It’s tempting to say that James Boyd is a winner because he may receive some sort of posthumous justice and his shooting death wasn’t rubber-stamped “self-defense” by APD like so many others. Unfortunately, the system failed him and his life ended. The judicial system didn’t fail him. These winners are part of the reason why:

Pro Tem Judge Neil Candelaria--A registered Republican, some wondered if Candelaria would lean toward law enforcement. He didn’t. Candelaria controlled the courtroom from the outset and called the hearing as evenly as any judge could have. Feelings about two APD officers facing murder charges aside, no one can say they didn’t get a fair day in court.

BernCo District Attorney Kari Brandenburg – APD went after Brandenburg and her family hard when she decided to pursue murder charges. Her political stock took a hit and Brandenburg eventually recused herself, but the DA didn’t drop the case. The ruling vindicates her decision to prosecute and represents a rare act of political courage in a city increasingly known for its acquiescence and apathy.

Special Prosecutor Randi McGinn--She picked up where Brandenburg left off, even as other lawyers shied away from the case. McGinn went into the hearing with a reputation as one of the top trial attorneys in the state. Defense attorneys Luis Robles and Sam Bregman also had similar reputations. But even teamed-up against her, the two guys didn’t stand a chance. McGinn has few matches in a courtroom.

APD reform advocates--For years they’ve been standing in front of the City Council during public comment begging that something be done about APD. If those in power had actually listened and taken action--rather than dismissing them as cranks--James Boyd might still be alive, and officers Keith Sandy and Dominique Perez might not be facing prison.

THE LOSERS

Now the Legal Beagles bring you the losers list:

The obvious losers are former APD officer Keith Sandy and current officer Dominique Perez who now face second degree murder charges and substantial jail time. But they are far from alone.

APD--Even after the damning report from the Department of Justice regarding excessive force and unjustified police shootings not one APD officer stepped forward and said that things could have been handled differently. Officer after officer took the stand at the hearing and claimed the shooting death of James Boyd was somehow justified. The “new” APD still looks an awful lot like the old APD.

Chief Gordon Eden--He announced immediately after James Boyd was killed that the shooting was “self-defense.” That was before the public saw the video and the chief had to backtrack. At the hearing Eden took the witness stand and announced he couldn’t comment on APD’s report of the Boyd killing because he hadn’t read it and didn’t know its contents. There’s a lot this chief doesn’t know.

Defense Attorney Sam Bregman--He played to the courtroom TV cameras like they were a jury. They weren’t. Judge Candelaria, who Bregman should have been playing to, must have had enough by the end of the hearing. When Bregman tried to grandstand one last time and demanded to know which standard of law Candelaria used to decide if there was probable cause, Candelaria responded, “The standard that you argued for, counsel. What would a reasonable police office in that position have done?” That was a classy smack down.

Mayor Berry--Even though he disappeared to parts unknown for eight days after Boyd was killed and the entire world reacted in horror to the video of Boyd’s shooting, it all took place on Berry’s watch. After nearly six years in office, this is Berry’s APD. Gordon Eden is his police chief and the tens of millions of dollars city taxpayers have shelled out for excessive force lawsuits are all a result of Berry’s leadership, or lack thereof.

THE BOTTOM LINES

Dan Klein
The bottom lines today go to retired APD sergeant and APD watchdog Dan Klein who comments on the murder charges in the Boyd case:

I believe Chief Eden and the APD Command staff is in deep trouble. We just paid out $5 million in a lawsuit regarding the Boyd case. That’s a lot of money with no accountability from those in charge at APD. When this goes to trial I am confident attorneys Bregman and Robles will defend the officers aggressively. Part of this defense is going to be to put the APD Command Staff on trial for creating this situation. If Chief Eden thinks he is going to be able to get on the stand and play dumb like he did at the preliminary hearing, he is going to be in for a surprise. This case is going to put the APD Command on trial, finally. It will expose the mismanagement at APD over the last 7 years. Those in command at APD are just as culpable, they created this mess.

Hey, kids, between the Alligators and the Legal Beagles, we've got you covered.

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Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Berry And Canada Might Have Something in Common, Plus: Alligator Hypocrisy In Rep. Maez Blog? And: More On Valentino's Valentine To The Fourth Floor 

Berry by Bralley
ABQ Mayor Berry has presided over tumultuous times in city history, with the ongoing APD crisis and the downsizing of the economy two of the more dramatic developments that rocked the city since he took the helm in December 2009. Still, among those most likely to vote in city elections-- a much smaller, older, more conservative and less Hispanic electorate than you get in a regular election--Berry wins positive approval numbers. A poll we had conducted last September had him at 60% approval with that crowd.

If you're among the Berry critics you might find this take on the nine year tenure of Conservative Party Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper applies to explaining Berry as well:

He promised a steady and quiet life, undisturbed by painful facts. The Harper years have not been terrible; they’ve just been bland and purposeless. Mr. Harper represents the politics of willful ignorance. It has its attractions.

Berry is adept at filtering the reality he wants to see so today's photo of him sporting sunglasses seems especially apropos.

Keeping it at City Hall, what about those reports here that city Cultural Services Director Betty Rivera was headed for the exits after it was reported several of her staffers took an expensive taxpayer-paid junket to New Orleans? Well, Rivera is still there and we pressed our Senior Alligator about what's going on:

The source is sure that Chief Administrative Officer Rob Perry took action to terminate Betty and announced it at the director's staff meeting. They report that later in the week Betty appeared at culural affairs venues where she had not been seen before. The guess is that she went to Berry and he rescued her - if she did her job.

That makes sense but we don't like it when a Senior Alligator is not the direct source of their info as was the case on this one. Appropriate punishment in this case is more than 10 lashes with the wet noodle.

Speaking of sources. . .

ALLIGATOR HYPOCRISY?

Monahan
We're we hypocritical to criticize KOB-TV for using an anonymous woman (they showed only her hands) to attack ABQ Dem State Rep. Stephanie Maez on how she raised her son who is now charged with murder? The woman, among other things, claimed Maez kicked her son out of the house when he was 11 and basically "threw" him away. This anonymous reader zinged us this way:

Joe, You're right about the shoddy journalism KOB used to publish an anonymous statement to indict a public official. Better if KOB had just described the anonymous woman as one of your "alligators," then it would be OK.

No, we are not hypocritical because our anonymous Alligators don't concern themselves with the personal lives of people as GOP BernCo Commissioner Johnson did in his hit on Maez or as the anonymous woman did. (The story containing the Johnson quote has been removed from the KOB-TV site. We know of no other media he spoke with).

This blog is not and never has been a forum to attack an individual's character or lifestyle, whether it be a politician or a private citizen. We will call into question a politician's character as to how it plays out in regard to public policy but not his or her personal life. Everyone deserves a zone of privacy.

Unless Commissioner Johnson is going to condemn the parents of every person involved in a major crime and question them as unfit to participate in public affairs (as he did with Maez) he should walk back his comments. As for KOB, next time you have someone (even a relative) making personal charges against someone put a camera on the face or else spike the story.

Now more on this from a reader--Larissa Lewis--a mother whose child was murdered:

As the mother of a murder victim (UNM engineering student Kerry Lewis 7/10/09) I have compassion for the moms of murderers. Evil tragedies destroy many lives and hearts. Nothing will bring back the dead, and being a killer is a living death. The focus should be on reducing the influence gangs and drugs have on our youth, not easy blame after-the-fact. Albuquerque has almost the highest concentration of gang members per capita-why? Cut the crime chain, don't glamorize it. (or profit from it).
Discouraged, but still hopeful-Larissa

Thanks, Larissa, As we've blogged for years, when it comes to kids much of the state is a mess. That's why we're supporting a constitutional amendment that would ask voters to approve the use of a small portion of the state's $15 billion Land Grant Permanent fund to fund very early childhood education--prenatal through age 5. The goal is to help set kids (and parents) on a course early where the gangs, the drugs and other dysfunction does not have the power over them it has today. Let's not blame. Let's build.

VALENTIO VS. MOYA (CONT.)

A reader with a background in education administration writes of the troubles of new APS Superintendent Luis Valentino and his hook-up with the current powers-that-be:

Perhaps a clue that the Californian might not do too well was when he immediately brought three of his highly-paid associates into APS positions. A wise administrator would leave the current administrators in place for awhile--observing and learning the local "system" from them and evaluating them on the their job performances before making significant changes. And yet, he did seem to get hooked into the Martinez Machine power axis quickly. One wonders who has his ear and is giving him advice on La Politica in New Mexico.

To polish this off with a bad pun: Valentino making like a valentine with the Martinez Machine is enough to give those APS teachers heartburn.

This is it. . . .

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