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Wednesday, November 22, 2023

We Greet The Holiday With Another Popular Edition Of Reader Vox Populi; They Write Of CYFD; Older Poll Workers And Living On A State Pension; Happy Thanksgiving, New Mexico  

We head into the Thanksgiving holiday (our 21st on the blog. Yikes!) with an always informative and entertaining edition of Reader Vox Populi. 

We start it off with reaction to MLG's appointment this week of Teresa Casados as the permanent cabinet secretary for the troubled Children, Youth and Families Department (CYFD). 

Child law attorney Deborah Gray writes:

Elvis is alive. The earth is flat. And Teresa Casados has left an indelible mark at CYFD as Acting Secretary. Maybe she has, but not necessarily in the way that the Governor implies. 

With all due respect to Ms. Casados, she is in an untenable situation. In appointing her as the “permanent” CYFD Secretary, the Governor's words of praise instill neither confidence nor trust. That is because Gov. Lujan Grisham’s comments are fully untethered to reality. The Governor tells us that Ms. Casados has already delivered results, and that the momentum will continue from here. And what results are those? Unprecedented turnover? Court imposed financial sanctions for failing to file statutorily required Court reports? The only momentum I have witnessed is that CYFD -- and, in fact, the entirety of NM’s child welfare system-- is crumbling before our very eyes. 

Children’s safety, permanency and well-being are not prioritized. CYFD has been unable to meet its most basic legal requirements (meeting children monthly in their placements, providing court reports before hearings, providing notices of placement changes --to name just a few). But the machine is hunkering down and the usual suspects pile on. 

Said Rep. Gail Chasey: “Casados is a strong choice to lead CYFD at this pivotal moment for New Mexico families. [Her appointment] … allows for critical stability and continuity as the agency works to implement necessary changes to improve the safety and well-being of our children, while increasing accountability and transparency.” 

Rep. Chasey’s comments are shocking in so far as they are detached from the reality on the ground.  Repeating these falsities is insulting to the many dedicated people who work within this dysfunctional system day in and day out: CYFD employees, foster parents, and providers -- to name a few. Most of all it does a disservice to the families and children who come into contact with this system. 

Speaking the truth is the way to command respect and credibility; it is the way to lead. And unless or until that happens, the forecast is grim for our children and families. Elvis has left the building. 

OLDER IS BETTER

Reader Terry Wexler writes of comments made during our KANW City Election Night coverage about our voting day experience: 

On Election Day I was on my home from working a very long shift at one of the busier voting locations. You mentioned that the poll workers are “quite elderly” and one of those ancients at your voting site struggled with the computer. A suggestion that the County hire younger workers totally ignores the facts that lead poll workers to be older: 

1. Try to find younger workers who can work thirteen 10-hour days of early voting starting on a Saturday (10 ½ hours) with Sunday off, then six 10-hr days in a row with just Sunday off, and then another 6 days in a row with 2 days off before Election Day (an almost 15-hr day. I got up at 4 a.m. and returned home close to 9 p.m.). 

2. Try to find younger workers who will show up every day ready to work. 

3. Try to find younger workers who are willing to give up breaks to handle the continuous flow of voters for 7 hours. That was how it was on Election Day for us. Bathroom breaks were rare (and you know how we old folk are). 

4. Try to find younger workers who not only make sure that the voter gets the proper ballot but who also are able to help those many voters who have moved and need to change their voter registration status or need to register by using the Same Day Registration system and then get them a ballot based on that new information. 

5. Try to find younger workers who understand the concept of teamwork. The staff I worked with are seasoned poll workers with whom I have worked a number of times. We mesh really well and know one another’s strengths. 

I have been doing this work for some years and am always impressed with the changes being made each election to make the experience better for both the voters and the workers. But that also means that every time we work, we have to do something differently than the last time we worked. Flexibility is vital, and a willingness to learn new aspects of the job is a requirement. Shocking that we “elderly” can do that. I will be 81 on Saturday.

A DESERVING PENSIONER

In our October 26 "Other Voices" column a reader disagreed with a proposal to improve on the cost of living adjustment (COLA) for retried state government employees covered by PERA. Reader Carrie Lynn Toulouse came with this view:

Joe, I took great offense to that Oct. 26 smug blog concerning our PERA pensions. During my thirty years in state government my salary was never at the same level as men doing my job with equal (or less education, experience and performance). I earned every penny of the pension and deserved more. I was over worked, under paid, frequently subjected to poor or abusive management styles, with little appreciation or acknowledgement of the quality of work I produced. 

As a single mother I stayed at the job as I needed the income. I was promised a pension that would make up for the overall working conditions if I stuck it out. Now At the age of 78, my disability has become total and I have been hospitalized followed by a transfer to a rehab facility and will have to move to an assisted living facility (hopefully not a nursing home!). My PERA plus Social Security will not totally cover the expense so I will have to sell my home as it cannot be remodeled to accommodate an electric wheelchair and liquidate what other possessions I worked hard to accumulate. 

The worst part is giving up all the independence I have worked to retain my entire adult life. I am not asking for sympathy. Life is whatever happens and we have to face it squarely. But I resent that anyone thinks that my retirement is cushy or made easy by PERA. 

I would also point out that during my working years I was required to pay into PERA, Social Security and Medicare which took out almost a quarter of my gross salary before taxes, medical insurance and other deductions came out. It didn’t leave much to live on and raise two children. 

In my family we were raised with the expectation of doing jobs that helped others. I did my part, 30 years in the Human Services Department, 12 years on the CNM Governing Board and then six years on the Public Education Commission. None of those were paid positions. I think I have provided enough service to my fellow New Mexicans to have earned an even higher pension than I receive. 

THE BOTTOM LINES

Monahan (circa 1977)
From the blog in in 2003:

No matter what our political persuasion, we can all agree that we are some of the luckiest people alive because we call New Mexico home. The breathtaking beauty of this land is ours to experience each and every day. That's a gift of a lifetime and one we pause to acknowledge on Thanksgiving 2003. (And 2023.)

Happy Thanksgiving, New Mexico. 

Reporting to you from Albuquerque, I'm Joe Monahan

This is the home of New Mexico politics.

E-mail your news and comments. (newsguy@yahoo.com)

Interested in reaching New Mexico's most informed audience? Advertise here.  

(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2023

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Guv Digs In With Casados; Makes Her Permanent CYFD Chief As Some House Dems Get Antsy Over Beleaguered Agency; Major Reform Measure Remains Iffy At Roundhouse As MLG Charts Own Course, Plus: Soccer Fans Give Thanks As ABQ Council Approves Lease For Stadium  

Digging in
Will continued public pressure force the Governor to permit the Legislature to consider a major reform of the Children Youth and Families Department (CYFD) at the 30 day session that begins January 16? 

MLG seems as determined as ever to oppose a measure that would establish an independent child advocate to oversee the deeply troubled CYFD. HB11 and SB 373 stalled at the last session as the Governor signaled her opposition, despite solid lawmaker support. 

She must put a similar bill on her Legislative "call" if it is to get consideration at the short '24 session but it doesn't look good despite the continued embarrassment CYFD is causing the chief executive.

CYFD vacancy rates have created "a state of chaos," according to expert reviews, and now the Legislative Finance Committee reports the agency's spending to prevent repeat child abuse plummeted 77% in the last fiscal year, even as child abuse cases soar.

CYFD Secretary Teresa Casados dismisses the report, saying it has bad math. The LFC pushed backed and said it was based on "consistent methodology."

MLG's extremely slow roll on CYFD reform is maddening to proponents of the advocate bill such as Maralyn Beck, founder of the NM Child First Network, who notes the state's child abuse rate is among the worst in the nation:

It defies logic that CYFD had ample funding available for critical prevention services and yet failed to act in the midst of New Mexico's ongoing behavioral health crisis.

PROGRESSIVE ANGST

Rep. Thomson
Even progressive Democratic women lawmakers in the House are getting antsy as report after report continues to reveal CYFD's mismanagement woes. After all, they are up for re-election next year. 

Here's ABQ Dem Rep. Liz Thomson, chair of the House Health and Human Services Committee, putting some room between herself and the Guv:

I wish I knew what the answer was. We’ve had a lot of bills. Some of them have really been thought-provoking and good, and other ones just ... want to punish CYFD, which I can totally understand. But that doesn’t help anybody. So I’m guessing there will be more. Whether they get on the (Governor's) call or not, I can’t say. Thomson called the reported drop in abuse prevention spending very concerning. “My reaction is, ‘Wow,’ ” she said. “Of course, I would like to know more details, but that doesn’t seem like we’re going in the right direction.” 

Not exactly a forthright call for bold reform but still a mild but telling criticism of CYFD leadership.

And from ABQ Dem Rep. Meredith Dixon, Vice-Chair of the Appropriations Committee:

Looking forward, it is critical for CYFD to work with LFC to leverage federal funding to prioritize effective data-driven prevention programs.

Again, not very bold but still a gentle separation from CYFD policies by a leading Dem.

GOP Senator Crystal Diamond Brantley doesn't have to tiptoe around the Democratic Governor. A co-sponsor of the bill to increase oversight of CYFD, she says of the latest LFC report:

This  is a clear example of what an Office of the Child Advocate can do — cut through the department's pitiful excuses and bureaucracy to understand why one of the most basic duties of the department is being internally defunded. The attorney general and the Legislature unanimously agree on this solution. Now the governor must do her part and support this proposal by adding it to the call in 2024.

As a longtime MLG watcher, we're well acquainted with the aspect of her political personality that often has her digging her colorful cowboy boots in the sand, but her resistance on CYFD in the face of so many damning reports and continued child abuse is baffling. 

New Mexico awaits a change of heart and inclusion on her '24 legislative agenda of this desperately needed legislation. 

AN IDELIBLE MARK?

Sec. Casados 
As we said, there seems no give in the Guv's position on CYFD. In fact, in the wake of Sec. Casados going into the bunker on the LFC MLG made it a point Monday to make the appointment of Casados, who has been serving as interim CYFD secretary, her permanent choice

Teresa Casados has left an indelible mark at CYFD over just a few months, delving into evaluating processes and structures to make sure they all squarely support a singular goal: to serve the state’s most vulnerable children. She has already delivered results, and I have no doubt the momentum will continue from here. 

And Casados:

We are making great strides in restructuring the organization, hiring, and ensuring transparency, and there is much more work to do for the children and families in our care. I am grateful to the Governor for this opportunity. 

And just in case Reps. Dixon and Thomson had any ideas, there's this from fellow liberal Dem and House Majority Leader Rep. Gail Chasey: 

Acting Secretary Casados is a strong choice to lead CYFD at this pivotal moment for New Mexico families. Gov. Lujan Grisham’s decision to nominate Casados as Secretary of CYFD allows for critical stability and continuity as the agency works to implement necessary changes to improve the safety and well-being of our children, while increasing accountability and transparency.

That's a generous welcome for the new Secretary who in those first six months has vigorously defended the culturally flawed agency and resisted legislative involvement to end the crisis. Just like her boss. 

Casados is the third CYFD secretary under this Governor who is in her fifth year in office. Like her predecessor, Barbara Vigil, who bowed out of the job, Casados has no experience in child health or family psychology. Until her appointment, she had been serving as the Governor's Chief Operating Officer.

STADIUM GOAL REALIZED

ABQ soccer fans and the community at large gave thanks last night as the ABQ City Council overcame partisan strife with Mayor Keller and approved a lease agreement on a 7 to 2 vote with NM United. That paves the way for the soccer team to build a new stadium at Balloon Fiesta Park. 

United pledged to invest a minimum of $30 million to build the stadium with seating for 8,000 to 10,000 fans--most of whom are young Albuquerque residents. The state will come with $13 million in capital outlay for improvements to the Park.

GOP Councilor Dan Lewis summed it up best as he argued that the city needs to encourage those who want to make a major investment with their own money and that too often restrictions and infighting get in the way of improving the quality of life in the state's largest city. So true. 

United made a major mistake in first asking voters to approve an expensive taxpayer paid downtown stadium that was firmly rejected but the owners learned their lesson, came with an alternative plan and listened intently rather than trying to shove a plan down taxpayers throats. It was a fine moment for United and its investors. 

It was also a fine moment for the seven Councilors voting in the affirmative, many of whom have become alienated from Mayor Keller but put that aside and created momentum for a sorely needed investment here. The two naysayers--Republicans Renee Grout and Brook Bassan--could not let go of their grudges against Keller and voted their emotion not their logic. 

ABQ has had a hellish run with the crime crisis but the paralysis that crisis has caused was shaken off last night as the city's Mayor and Council (and United investors) looked ahead to a future where ABQ reasserts itself as a thriving, captivating metropolitan area. Keep it up.

NOT JUST ONE
 
There are three law firms sharing $148 million in settlement fees in New Mexico's opioid abuse case against Walgreens. In a first draft Monday we said the Robles Rael & Anaya law firm would be the recipient of the full amount The other firms are Baron & Budd of Dallas and Levin Papantonio of Pensacola, Fl. The settlement of $453 million is being paid out to the state over 15 years, says the AG's office. We apologize for the error.

This is the home of New Mexico politics.

E-mail your news and comments. (newsguy@yahoo.com)

Interested in reaching New Mexico's most informed audience? Advertise here.  

(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2023

Monday, November 20, 2023

Hector's Leftovers: Huge Legal Bill For Opioid Lawsuit Draws Attention Of Ethics Commission But Not Much Else; Potential $100 Million Lost To Fight Drug Epidemic; AG Torrez Says New Policy Sets Payout Limits  

It wasn't pay to play. It was more like pay a pal. So went the outlandish deal attorney General Hector Balderas pulled off for his favorite law firm--Robles Rael & Anaya (RAR)--before he headed for the exits and became president at Northern NM College

It was a deal that lets RAR and two other law firms pocket $148 million or 33 percent of a $453 million settlement with Walgreens over state opioid abuses. That's three times the 12 percent fees other states paid their lawyers in their major pharmacy lawsuits, as reported by Legal Newsline back in June. 

The AG’s office said the money will be split between local and state governments over the next 15 years.   

If the payout was 12 percent the state would have nearly $100 million more to combat opioid addiction. 

Attorney Luis Robles said at the time of the settlement:

No amount of money will bring back the lives lost and ruined because of the over-prescription of prescription opioids. With the Walgreens settlement and others, the State of New Mexico can ramp up its efforts to redress the ravages which the opioids crisis brought to our state.

Earlier this year WalletHub ranked NM the worst in the nation for drug abuse, a ranking earned in part by an unmet need to treat addiction. 

Is it a bridge too far to ask RAR and the other firms  to donate some of their settlement money to the fund set up to treat addiction in the state that has given them so much? 

THE ETHICS ISSUE 

In what appears to be a day late and a dollar short, the state Ethics Commission says contingency fee contracts with no caps--like the one Balderas awarded RAR--should come under regulations in the state procurement code that are meant to prevent over the top fees. The Commission's advisory opinion is here.  

Current AG Raul Torrez ran for the office in '22 in part on what he said were too many law firms getting big legal contracts after making campaign donations, many from out of state. 

In the Walgreens case it was a local firm getting an eyebrow raising deal with Marcus Rael, Jr. of the Robles firm being a BFF of Balderas. 

Torrez's office says he will rein in such deals under his watch but seemed to leave himself wiggle room: 

While AG Torrez was obligated to honor the commitments made by his predecessor for the fees. . .he has also instituted a new policy that sets strict limits on contingency fee cases. . .and will follow the practice of other state attorneys general in relying on in-house attorneys as local counsel whenever possible. . .The conclusion reached by the (Ethics) Commission represents a substantial change in how state agencies have historically contracted for legal services and may hinder the state's ability to secure specialized legal representation when a case involves proprietary information or information that would jeopardize impending litigation if publicly revealed through the procurement process. Nevertheless, the Attorney General supports the goals of transparency and fairness in state contracts.

So in lawyerese this appears to mean maybe legal contracts worth their weight in gold will not continue or maybe they will. 

As for the Ethics Commission it said it is not looking any further into the Walgreens deal. 

FLASHBACK

And this:

Since taking office in 2015, Balderas has hired Rael or others at his firm to help represent the state in at least 19 cases, which is at least triple the number of cases farmed out to any other private law firm, Marcus Rael Jr. used his influence with the attorney general to convince Balderas to sign off on a multi-billion-dollar utility merger between Avangrid-PNM.

An ethics complaint was filed against Balderas over the alleged influenced peddling by RAR. The complaint was dismissed by three watchdog offices, including the Ethics Commission. The utility merger is now before the State Supreme Court. 

A MERE SEPTUAGENARIAN

The competency of RAR is not in question in the Walgreens settlement controversy. It is a leading law firm for multiple government entities in the state. And we just learned that outgoing ABQ Associate Chief of Staff and former longtime City Attorney Bob White, according to a close friend, will be joining the firm upon his retirement this month from the city. And speaking of that. . .

We said last week in noting Bob's retirement that he was an octogenarian as well as a big Dylan fan. That brought this from the PR mavens at City Hall: 

This morning we woke Bob up from where he was sleeping with the Bob Dylan Live at Budokan box set nestled under his arm. We advised him to read your blog, and he jumped up when he got to the part about his retirement. Bob exclaimed, “Octogenarian? Octogenarian?! I’m a mere septuagenarian! Joe’s usually good on the facts, but for a guy in his 30’s, he’s still got a lot to learn.” Then he dozed back off. 

Some fun stuff there as the turkeys get ready to be stuffed this week. 

This is the home of New Mexico politics.

E-mail your news and comments. (newsguy@yahoo.com)

Interested in reaching New Mexico's most informed audience? Advertise here.  

(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2023
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