Sandoval Signpost

An Independent Monthly Newspaper Serving the Community since 1988

 
The Gauntlet

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letters, opinions, editorials

re: Placitas water petition

The Soil and Water Conservation Commission (commission) has received petitions from Placitas residents to sever land from the Coronado Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) to create a new SWCD to be named Placitas SWCD.

The Soil and Water Conservation District Act establishes that a petition to sever land from an existing SWCD requires the signatures of 25 registered voters or two thirds of the owners of the land to be severed, whichever is greater (73-20-36 C, NMSA 1978).

The Sandoval County Assessor’s office has informed staff at New Mexico Department of Agriculture that there are in excess of four thousand landowners in the geographic area described by the petitions submitted. The 158 signatures on the petition are not sufficient to trigger a hearing by the commission. The petition to create a new SWCD is moot as long as the area remains within the Coronado SWCD.

The commission will set aside time on the agenda at the next regular meeting for the residents of Placitas to present their reasons for submitting the petitions and to discuss the matter with the commission. However, the next meeting has not yet been scheduled. Public notice will be published in the Albuquerque Journal legal notices at least ten days in advance of the meeting. You will be notified directly by e-mail, mail, and/or telephone of the date, time, and location of the meeting when those details become available.

—Larry Winn, Chair



re: ESCAFCA boondoggle

In 2006, Sandoval County sent its lobbyist Gayland Bryant to lobby State Representatives Kathy McCoy of District 22 and James Roger Madalena of District 65 in order to get a sponsor for what eventually became HB 939, ESCAFCA. McCoy, whose District 22 includes Placitas, turned him down. Madalena, who lives on Jemez Pueblo and is unaffected by the increase in property tax, agreed to sponsor the bill. Madalena, with the help of Bryant, was then successful in lobbying the bill through the legislature in 2007. Bryant, on behalf of Sandoval County, also helped to lobby the taxpayers of ESCAFCA. In a Sandoval Signpost article from July 2007, Bryant said that the cost to residents could be as low as a half mil levy or $15 per $100,000 of appraised value of properties. It turned out to be $115 per $100,000 in 2009 for property owners.

Not only did Sandoval County deceive the taxpayers, but ESCAFCA itself practiced the same technique. A review of the tapes from various ESCAFCA board meetings reveals some important facts. The mil rates were introduced in a presentation July 15, 2008 by Kevin Powers of RBC Capital. He explained the mil levy rates and how various rates would supply various incomes to ESCAFCA. The 2.5 mil levy vote was on July 28, 2008. The minutes for that meeting were approved at the August 12, 2008 meeting. The 2.5 mil rate was an important point of discussion at three consecutive meetings, which led up to the bond resolution of August 12, 2008.

All board members and Joan Griffin of Griffin and Associates, a public relations (PR) firm used by ESCAFCA, knew that the final decision to go with the 2.5 mill rate had been made long before the November 2008 election. They were also well aware that the operations mil rate was in addition to the 2.5. They were informed by Powers that once the bond issue passed, they would be on their "honor" to make sure that what they told the taxpayers was what they implemented. It was not. During the discussions about the operations mil rate, Powers suggested that they might "need some legal advice" as to whether both mil rates should be on the bond issue. He made it very clear that they "...need to be up front about what the impact of this..." mil rate is to the taxpayer. The board members asked questions and knew that the bond money was for projects. Operations were a separate matter and did not need to be approved by the voters. One member asked, "Without voter approval?" Another member asked, "Isn't that taxation without representation?"

In 2008, ESCAFCA included on the Sandoval County ballot a board election and a bond issue election. In the board election, the five persons who had been temporarily appointed  by the governor in 2007 ran for the five-member board. A New Mexico statute and a resolution passed unanimously by this board in May of 2008 required that a Notice Calling for Nominations to the board by any interested parties be published in the Albuquerque Journal once a week for three consecutive weeks. That was never done. The legal notice required by statute was never published by Debbie Kilfoy, who was the secretary of the board. No one, other than the five temporarily appointed members, was permitted to run for the board in 2008.

Since that time, we taxpayers have found that the PR firm, Griffin and Associates, was promised a $4500.00 "bond passing incentive" to be paid "...only if the bonds are passed in 2008." It somehow passed by 604 votes because the board and the PR firm were telling taxpayers that the mil rate would be one rate, even though they had already voted to make it twice as much. That higher rate has been applied to our property taxes, while the lower rate was removed from the ESCAFCA Web site just recently. On an invoice dated September 30, 2008 (before the election and after the mil rate decision), Griffin billed ESCAFCA for 2,000 rack cards. There are other billings for yard signs, etc. Some of this propaganda had printed on it the same "...cost per $100,000 of assessed property value is $5.49 per month." This is far below what we are paying today. Joan Griffin invoiced ESCAFCA the $4500 on November 5, for the bond passage bonus. It was paid.

To date, ESCAFCA exists without transparency. We ask for minutes of meetings, which don't exist. We ask for contracts that can't be found. We ask about tapes, which are missing whole, very important sections. We are dealing with a board of directors, which was not duly elected, which purposely misled the public, and offered incentives to a subcontractor which misled the taxpayers. They are in place only because of deceit and omission, which accounts for their very existence. They have lied to us and then lied about the lies. Three hundred and two votes swung the other way would have changed the outcome. A 302-vote swing would have forced the board to dissolve ESCAFCA. Unscrupulous behavior changed the outcome.

These are strong allegations. I have the documentation to support all allegations submitted here and more: violation of election code, possible fraud, and violation of statute, which does not allow entering into contracts prior to the acceptance of the bond issue. I ask for the help of the secretary of state and the attorney general, our state senators, our state representatives, rational people within Sandoval County government, the taxpayers of ESCAFCA, the news media, and soon the new governor to end this illegal taxation.

—Michael Neas, Placitas


re: ESCAFCA

I am writing today as myself Joanie Griffin, representing my firm Griffin & Associates. This is not an official statement from the Eastern Sandoval County Flood Control Authority (ESCAFCA).

I am writing because there has been much misinformation circulating throughout the community on the formation of ESCAFCA, and the information that was presented to the public at the time of the bond election in November 2008.  Additionally, some people have decided to launch personal attacks against my firm and me.  My intent here is to shed some light on the truth, since I was a key person in the communication of ESCAFCA from May 2008 through the present.

My firm was contracted in March 2008 to educate the citizens of Bernalillo, Algodones and Placitas about ESCAFCA and its November Bond Election. Specifically, we created the websites www.ESCAFCA.com and www.ESCAFCA.org, facilitated and attended various community meetings, produced informational fliers, wrote and placed news releases and designed and placed advertising in the Sandoval Centinal, the Sandoval Signpost, and the Albuquerque Journal.

My contract was for design and host of the websites, public and community relations and paid advertising. Additionally, I was paid a bonus upon the bond election passing. It is completely typical and usual for campaigns to pay a success bonus, and I have been paid a bonus on other campaigns with which I have worked. The allegations that I would be motivated to sway an election to earn a bonus are ridiculous and offensive. Griffin & Associates has been in business for 21 years. I currently serve as president of the New Mexico Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America, where I am bound by a strict code of ethics. Additionally, last May I won a Lifetime Achievement Award by the New Mexico Chapter of the American Marketing Association for the quality of my work over two decades. My firm is known for its integrity and the caliber of the team that works for my company.

People contend that there was a lack of transparency by ESCAFCA. This is a far cry from the truth. There were monthly board meetings, special workshops, community meetings, neighborhood association meetings, rack cards disseminated throughout the area, and newspaper articles about the election in November 2008. All meetings were public. Additionally, there was and still is, pertinent information on the ESCAFCA websites.

There were numerous meetings prior to the election where Kevin Powers from RBC Capital presented and gave detailed explanations on how the taxes would be charged and what the average taxpayer would pay. The mill levy the ESCAFCA board approved was for 2.5 mils. In actuality, the amount charged to the taxpayers was 2.44 mils, less than what was originally anticipated.

About a year after the bond was approved by the voters, the ESCAFCA board voted to impose an additional 1 mill of property tax for operating ESCAFCA, which is allowable by ESCAFCA statute.  That operational mil levy does not require voter approval.

My firm regularly updates the ESCAFCA website and posts every document on the site as soon as it becomes available. My goal is to keep the public informed and assist ESCAFCA in realizing its mission – to provide flood control in Eastern Sandoval County.

My hope is that the negativity can cease, and together, we can work together to better the three communities being served by ESCAFCA.

—Joanie Griffin, President, Griffin & Associates www.griffinassoc.com

     

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