Sandoval Signpost


An independent monthly newspaper serving the community since 1988
  Up Front

On the day before Veterans Day, Army veterans (from left) Denys Menden, Julio Carattini III and Navy veteran Rick Smith placed U.S. flags on veterans' graves in the Placitas Catholic Cemetery before moving on to the San Antonio de las Huertas Cemetery. Carattini credits the Bernalillo Walmart for annually donating one hundred flags for the effort. In addition to November 11 being Veterans Day, the Bernalillo Town Council designated it as Larry "Wolfman" Hurtado Day recognizing the combat veteran for his dedication to his brothers and sisters in arms and to the Sandoval County Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Bernalillo. All four men served in the Vietnam War.
Photo credit: —Bill Diven

County upgrades firefighting, challenges wilderness, and lauds Intel

~Bill Diven

Firefighting in the Placitas area is getting a boost as the Sandoval County Fire Department (SCFD) replaces two 21-year-old water trucks with modern tenders.

The old trucks, built for construction work, have 18-speed manual transmissions, pumps rated at 150 gallons per minute, and lack baffles in the tank to keep water from sloshing around. “The tenders of today have baffles and lower centers of gravity, so they’re less likely to roll over,” SCFD Chief James Maxon told the Signpost.

The new trucks also carry two thousand gallons of water but have automatic transmissions and five hundred-gpm pumps. They cost $215,000 apiece and are being financed through a loan from the New Mexico Finance Authority. County commissioners approved the loan application on November 17.

One of the new trucks will be stationed at Station 21 on Santa Ana Pueblo near U.S. Highway 550 with the other at Station 41 on State Route 165 in Placitas. The old trucks may be declared surplus and sold or kept and assigned to other stations, Maxon said.

Also during county commission meetings in November:

County commissioners on November 3 voted unanimously, and without debate, to oppose any new wilderness areas in the Sandoval County portion of the Santa Fe National Forest. Dr. Debra Marchi of Jemez Pueblo told commissioners forest managers are potentially considering eighty new sites for wilderness designation.

“If the Santa Fe National Forest creates any more wilderness areas, nearly all of the businesses in the surrounding areas will suffer financially,” Marchi said citing impacts on tourism, firewood gathering, and cultural uses.

The Santa Fe forest is in the process of updating the Forest Plan covering its two separate areas extending from Cuba on the west to Las Vegas on the east and including much of the Jemez Mountains. However, the assessment report released in June found only 55 roadless areas, a significant factor in designating new wilderness, which requires an act of Congress.

“At this time, the Santa Fe National Forest has not identified any areas to recommend for either additional wilderness or wild and scenic rivers,” the assessment report states. The forest currently has four wilderness areas: Chama River Canyon, San Pedro Parks, Pecos, and Dome.

An open house on the plan is scheduled for December 7 at the forest office in Santa Fe. Under the current timeline that includes public participation, the draft environmental impact statement is expected next spring with a final decision on the plan in the summer.

At the beginning of the November 17 meeting, County Manager Phil Rios said Intel Corporation reported spending $42 million on improvements at its plant, located in the county just outside the Rio Rancho city limits. The money is a drawdown from $16 billion in industrial revenue bonds the county approved in 2004.

“Intel is not going away,” Commissioner Glenn Walters said. “It’s investing $42 million, and that’s a good sign.”

Intel, not the county, is responsible for paying off the bond proceeds.

Liz Shipley, Intel’s New Mexico public affairs director, told the Signpost the company has now spent about $6.7 billion of the bonds on machinery and equipment although it doesn’t release specific details. “It’s part of keeping the factory running,” she said.

Intel opened the local plant in 1980 and after reaching peak employment of nearly seven thousand, currently employs about 1,900, which still makes it the largest industrial employer in the state, according to Intel’s website.

Bernalillo moves on water treatment, rail safety, and playground upgrade

~Signpost Staff

Recent actions by the Bernalillo Town Council advance two major projects intended to safeguard the water supply and to project residents from passing trains.

On November 14 councilors approved agreements needed to accept a grant and small loan totaling $741,000 to build an arsenic-treatment system at Well No. 2. The well has been out of service and is the town’s only source of potable water east of the Rio Grande.

An earlier project renovated the storage tank there to hold a two-day supply of water for domestic and fire backup in case the single pipe connected to two wells west of the river failed. The town also has an emergency connection to the Rio Rancho water system, which it has never used.

An ongoing effort by the current mayor, councilors, and town staff to clean up financial records made the town current on its annual audits, a requirement to receive funding through the state Water Trust Board. The board approved the $667,000 grant and a loan of $74,000, with the town matching the loan amount.

The railroad project began as an effort to eliminate pedestrian deaths on track separating the downtown business district from residential areas to the east. At least a dozen people have died on the rails since the late 1990s in incidents attributed to various causes including intoxication, headphone use, and suicide. In late October, the council committed $271,000, the last of its current state capital funding, for the project—toward final planning and design.

Originally the work involved fencing and a designated pedestrian crossing with warning devices and a gate that lowers at the downtown Rail Runner Express station. The project has now grown to cover the 1.5-mile corridor from near the Rail Runner station at U.S. Highway 550 on the north to Lucero Avenue on the south, said Maria Rinaldi, town director of community planning and development.

With an additional $112,000 from Rail Runner operator Rio Metro Regional Transit District and $540,000 committed by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), the crossing and fencing at the downtown station are expected to be done next year, she said.

Another two million dollars earmarked by FHWA for the 2018-19 fiscal year would then complete the full project with additional pedestrian crossings and walkways along the fences.

On a smaller scale, a town crew is about to install $35,000 in playground equipment at Athena Park. Residents of the neighborhood requested the addition during community meetings, Rinaldi said. Capital funding from the Legislature is paying for it.

Athena Park doubles as a ponding area for flood control, a joint effort of the town, which provided the land, and the Eastern Sandoval County Arroyo Flood Control Authority. ESCAFCA has built flood and runoff controls in the arroyo that has flooded the neighborhood in past years with the eventual goal of channeling the water through the town to the Rio Grande.

Former U.S. Sen. Fred Harris applauds as Marg Elliston, chair of the Sandoval County Democratic Party, address the crowd during a pre-election matanza in Algodones.
Photo credit: —Bill Diven

Former U.S. senator reflects on state, national election

—Bill Diven

Fred Harris knows a thing or two about presidential campaigns having run for the Democratic nomination when he was a U.S. senator, representing Oklahoma in 1976.

“This is the most unusual presidential campaign in the history of the country,” the Corrales resident told the Signpost during a matanza that brought Democratic candidates and party faithful to Algodones three days before the November 8 election. At the time, optimism ran high that Hillary Clinton, former senator from New York and secretary of state, would defeat business mogul and reality TV star Donald Trump.

That didn’t happen, of course. At last report Clinton led Trump by 1.7 million votes nationally but lost so many key states that she failed to reach 270 electoral votes. Two weeks after the election Trump’s lead was 290-232, with Michigan still counting ballots for its 16 electors. The outcome is prompting extensive finger-pointing within the Democratic Party.

“I don’t have much patience with Democrats who are now beating up on each other,” said Harris, an emeritus professor of political science at the University of New Mexico, as the dust was still settling. Instead, first blame Russian state-sponsored hackers, last-minute revival and dismissal of the FBI investigation into Clinton’s email, and the arcane process of the Electoral College, a 1788 compromise between direct popular election and letting Congress choose the president.

Harris, who turned 86 a few days after the election, served in the Senate from 1964-1973 and finished near the back of the Democratic pack when Georgia Gov. Jimmy Carter won the nomination and the presidency. He also is a past chair of the Democratic National Committee and recently became co-chair of the advocacy group New Mexico Voices for Children.

While Democrats nationally regroup, Harris contends they need to reach out to disaffected voters while sticking to their core principles. And unlike the Republican’s response to President Obama, they may even find some common ground with the new administration on issues like trade deals and infrastructure spending.

But Trump also could take a big step toward bringing people together, he said.

“I think he should apologize to women and to African-Americans and to LGBT people and to Muslims,” Harris continued. “I know women, young women particularly, that are fearful about here’s a man that bragged about sexual assaults. Is that going to give license to men, every man, to do those kind of horrible things?... That’s the horrible thing about this election. I’m afraid he’s not going to do it, but he ought to apologize to those various groups that he’s offended in such a terrible way.”

Still, Harris takes heart in New Mexico where Democrats supported Clinton by eight percentage points, regained control of the state House and picked up seats in the Senate going into the last two years of Republican Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration. Progress may now be possible on basic problems, he said, citing as two examples establishing a livable minimum wage and tapping the Land Grant Permanent Fund to support early childhood education, possibly through constitutional amendments that bypass the governor.

“There’s plenty to be done, and the way to get over grief is to act, do something you believe in,” Harris added. “I’ve been all over the world, and New Mexico is really my favorite place in the whole world. That’s still true and more true than ever after this election.

Former Sandoval County Commissioner Daymon Ely pending a recount was elected to the state House three days after rousing the Democratic faithful at a matanza in Algodones.

Sandoval County rejects PAC assault on incumbent senator

——Signpost Staff

Of two top Democratic senators targeted for big-spending attacks leading up to the November 8 election, only Sandoval County’s Sen. John Sapien survived pending a recount. Sen. Michael Sanchez of Valencia County, the party’s Senate leader, did not.

“We knew we would have the same spiteful aggression shown by the Republican-backed PACs, so we positioned ourselves in a very positive tone,” Sapien, chair of the Senate Education Committee, said. “If Sanchez was the number one target, I was number two.”

At Signpost deadline, Sapien led Republican newcomer Diego Espinoza of Rio Rancho by two hundred votes in Senate District 9 out of 24,285 cast in Sandoval County and 965 in a Bernalillo County precinct. If his lead holds, it will be an improvement from 2012 and 2008 when he won by 162 and 121 votes respectively without recounts.

Sandoval County commissioners certified the result on November 17, with the recount scheduled for November 30, after the final state canvass and receipt of a court order authorizing the recount. Until the final canvass and recounts are done, vote totals remain unofficial.

A second race headed for recount is in House District 23 representing much of Corrales, the southeast corner of Rio Rancho, and eight precincts in Bernalillo County. There, Democratic former Sandoval County Commissioner Daymon Ely leads incumbent Republican Rep. Paul Pacheco by 105 votes out of 14,115.

With Republicans in 2014 taking control of the House for the first time in sixty years, the Democrat-majority Senate became a roadblock to Gov. Susana Martinez’s agenda. That was particularly true for the special session called in October to address the state’s budget crisis.

Martinez added crime bills, including a return to the death penalty, to the session where they passed the House after several days but died on arrival in the Senate, which stuck to resolving financial issues. Espinoza and Sanchez’s opponent, Gregory Baca, both used the special session, and past votes, to attack the incumbents as soft on crime.

Sapien also went after Espinoza for, among other things, his connection to McCleskey Media Strategies run by Jay McCleskey, the governor’s political adviser. Finance reports show the Espinoza campaign paid McCleskey’s company for media production and other services.

The darker mudslinging came from the super PAC Advance New Mexico Now, run by McCleskey and, by law, independent of the Espinoza and Baca campaigns. The PAC hit District 9 mailboxes with at least nine scary fliers targeting Sapien.

Those accused Sapien of various political failings but didn’t stop there. One used a leaked email written in June by a former legislative aide looking for contract work that included a second-hand, unsubstantiated claim of alleged sexual harassment involving the senator more than a year earlier.

The flier drew on an Albuquerque Journal story published two weeks before the election that included Sapien calling the charge a “fabrication” by an ex-staffer with “an ax to grind.” The story then vanished from further coverage.

An Advance New Mexico Now mailing days before the election accused Sanchez of traveling to Hawaii on taxpayer money, a false claim, according to Sanchez. “I challenge them to sign an affidavit under penalty of perjury to prove that I have taken a trip to Hawaii,” Sanchez wrote on his Facebook page.

Sandoval County Commissioners James Dominguez and Darryl Madalena sign certificates of election for winning county candidates after the final county vote canvass on November 17.

James Armenta (left) and Jake Cordova politicking for County Treasurer Laura Montoya pass the time on Election Day playing Monopoly while waiting for more voters to arrive at the Placitas Community Library. Montoya was re-elected.

GOP win majority on Sandoval County Commission

Signpost Staff

With victories over incumbent Democrat Nora Scherzinger and for an open seat, Republicans are set to hold a 3-2 majority on the Sandoval County Commission for at least the next two years.

Separately, voters returned the county clerk and county treasurer to office and approved local and state bond issues while refusing to extend a property tax that helps to support services at two Rio Rancho hospitals.

Scherzinger, a Corrales resident trying for her second four-year term in District 2, fell to Jay Block of Rio Rancho 6,895-6,658, according to unofficial returns. Meanwhile in District 4, Republican David Heil defeated Alexis Jimenez 5,676-4,700.

During the initial vote canvass on November 9, Scherzinger congratulated Block on his victory and thanked fellow commissioners and the county staff for their good work during her time in office. “This has been the most enlightening, exciting, challenging job,” she said. “I have thoroughly, thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s been just a wonderful, wonderful experience.”

During the final canvass on November 17, commissioners congratulated County Clerk Eileen Garbagni and Bureau of Elections Director Bernice Chavez on a successful Election Day. It was the second consecutive general election with only minor problems reported compared to major problems, court intervention and a lawsuit under the previous clerk and director in 2012.

Commissioner James Dominguez said he received only one call, and that was about a machine in Ojo Encino not working that morning. Chavez said the problem was resolved when someone realized a power strip hadn’t been turned on.

In commission District 5, Democrat F. Kenneth Eichwald of Cuba ran unopposed. Current Commissioner Glenn Walters, a Rio Rancho Republican, and commission Chairman Darryl Madalena, a Democrat from Jemez Pueblo, have reached their two-term limits and are vacating the District 4 and 5 seats respectively.

Commissioner-elect Heil, chair of the Rio Rancho Planning and Zoning Board and past member of Sandoval County zoning, said the only plan he has in mind to reshape the commission is to move public comment up from the end meetings to near the beginning. Otherwise, his top focus is economic development, he added.

“Economic development in Sandoval County needs to be our priority because that’s what pays for everything thing else,” Heil told the Signpost. While Rio Rancho is the hub of the county, encouraging development elsewhere also is needed, he said.

In other county races Garbagni collected 52 percent of the votes in defeating Republican challenger Donald Lemm, voters returned Democratic County Treasurer Laura Montoya to office with 50.2 percent of the vote compared to 49.8 percent for Leroy Lovato, a difference of 252 out of nearly 59,000 cast.

A proposal to extend for another eight years a property tax that helped open two hospitals in Rio Rancho failed 51.4-48.6 percent out of 57,162 votes cast. The tax raises more than $13 million annually to support new and existing services advocates say now will not grow as quickly.

Proponents and opponents both organized and funded campaigns with critics contending the tax was only intended to launch the services, not support them indefinitely. The property tax, $425 for each one hundred thousand dollars of taxable property value, still has one more year to be collected before it disappears from tax bills.

Voters also returned Bernalillo Mayor Jack Torres to the nonpartisan board overseeing the Eastern Sandoval County Arroyo Flood Control Authority. He ran unopposed.

Steve House and James Fahey Jr. were re-elected to the Southern Sandoval County Arroyo Flood Control Authority by voters who also approved a $21 million bond issue to fund authority projects and improvements.

There were no countywide bond issues on the ballot although voters here endorsed the state bonds by wide margins. Those are $15 million for senior citizen facilities, $10 million for public and school libraries, $142 million for special schools, colleges and tribal schools, and $18 million for public safety.

Wallace carries Sandoval County in loss to Representative Smith

Signpost Staff

While Democrat John Wallace of Placitas narrowed the margin and again won Sandoval County, Republican state Rep. James Smith will be returning to the Legislature for his fourth term.

Smith, of Sandia Park in Albuquerque’s East Mountains, won enough votes in Bernalillo and Santa Fe counties to negate Wallace’s advantage here. The final unofficial tally was Smith 9,611 and Wallace 7,496, a split of 56.2 percent to 43.8 percent.

In 2014, with nearly five thousand fewer votes cast, the split was 59.4 to 40.1.

When the Legislature convenes on January 18, however, Smith will no longer chair the House Government, Elections, and Indian Affairs Committee. Republicans won of majority of House seats in 2014 for the first time in sixty years, only to slip back into the minority on November 8.

Smith told the Signpost being a committee chair was a lot of work even with a secretary, legislative assistant, and three bill analysts. He enjoyed the job, he added, and because of its 6-6 party-line split the committee had to work in a bipartisan manner.

Now he’ll pick up where he left off when 11 of his bills became law in the last two sessions when Democrats were in charge.

“I’ll have more time to work on bills and on bipartisan support,” Smith said. “I’ll get back to work on things that are more important to me.”

One of those likely issues is bringing competition to the broadband industry in hopes of reducing consumer costs while improving service and online speeds, he added.

Democrats picked up five House seats for a 38-32 majority, although two races needed recounts before the outcome is official. Pending one recount and despite the defeat Senate Majority Floor Michael Sanchez of Belen, Democrats racked up a two-seat gain building their majority in the upper house to 26-16.

The process of shuffling of committee assignments won’t begin in earnest until mid December when legislators start turning in their requests. Smith said he hopes to remain on whatever form an Elections Committee takes and to stay on the House Appropriations Committee, which generates the state budget.

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