Sandoval Signpost


An independent monthly newspaper serving the community since 1988
  Up Front

Ruth Bouldes’ labyrinth—one of many sprouting up in Placitas Photo credit: —Chuck Leopold

Kate Nelson’s backyard labyrinth in Placitas Photo credit: —Kate Nelson

Walking in circles can do a person good

—Kate Nelson

Ruth Bouldes didn’t set out to recreate an ancient means of meditation on her Placitas property. She just wondered what to do with a flat spot of dirt. A friend said, “Why not build a labyrinth?”

The since-retired marketing executive started doing research and, by 2007, had created an “odd-shaped,” square-cornered labyrinth. “I had a christening party, and people brought special rocks, which I still have,” she said.

Throughout Placitas, backyard labyrinths have found their footing. Earlier this year, the Placitas Community Library began planning a public version and quickly found out about ten private ones. “Almost every time I mention labyrinths to someone here, I learn of a possible new one,” said Anne Grey Frost, chair of the labyrinth project.

Artist Judith Roderick built and then completely rebuilt her labyrinth on a Placitas slope, starting with a traditional, seven-circuit route in 1999 and ending with an elegant double spiral.

“I and others use it as a walking meditation,” she said. “It’s grounding, balancing. It’s a calming and focusing tool. Especially since mine is on very uneven ground, one has to be very mindful when walking it.”

With roots in Neolithic rock carvings, labyrinths have appeared in designs on Native pots and baskets, in European cathedrals and in Shakespeare’s plays. Most feature a circling path that repeatedly bends back upon itself. Often, the centers include a sitting space for contemplation or prayer. (Mazes, by contrast, have the added intention to confuse the walker, who may need to also beware the fabled Minotaur.)

In the last 25 years, the popularity of labyrinths has soared, with an estimated ten thousand worldwide. The Labyrinth Locator website counts 94 of them in New Mexico, including ones at New Life Presbyterian Church in Albuquerque, Alameda Elementary School in Las Cruces, and St. Francis Cathedral in Santa Fe.

I didn’t know all that a few Thanksgivings back when I finally got around to trimming up some junipers. Afterward, I realized I had cleared a perfect labyrinth spot. Hike by hike, I brought back two good-sized rocks, patiently adding them to a seven-circuit design. It took until the next Thanksgiving to lay the final stone; the process became its own meditation. Since then, I’ve happily joined the multitudes who find a measure of peace in the safety of an ancient circle.

Read the Signpost for details of the library’s labyrinth as it develops—and how you can participate. Keep May 3 open for a special event.

Rep. James Smith

Rep. James Smith flanked by Reps. Monica Youngblood and Thomas Anderson listens to discussion of a constitutional amendment to cap interest rates on payday loans. Photo credit: —Bill Diven

Dust settling on 2014 Legislature

—Bill Diven

It’s day 21 of the thirty-day session of the New Mexico Legislature, and Rep. Jim Smith isn’t feeling the heat of what is normally a pressure cooker.

“The session is kind of slow,” the Sandia Park Republican says after a morning meeting of the House Voters and Elections and Elections Committee. “We’re waiting for the budget.”

Ah, the budget, the main point of the short session held in even-numbered years. With two Democrats felled by illness and one defected to the other side, an attempt to pass a budget already has stalled in the House on a 34-34 vote.

While horse trading goes on behind the scenes, Smith, whose House District 22 includes Placitas, Algodones, and the rest of southeastern Sandoval County, watches from the sidelines even though he’s on the Appropriations Committee.

“That’s happening at a higher level than me,” the two-term representative says.

Ultimately, the Senate produces a budget, clears a major roadblock by giving the governor’s Public Education Department an extra $17.5 million dollars to play with outside the formula funding of all schools more or less equally, and the document sails through the House. Governor Susana Martinez later indicates she’ll likely sign the budget after line-item vetoes of some spending.

The $6.2 billion dollar budget includes across-the-board, three-percent pay raises for educators and educational assistants—something Martinez opposed.

“I did my best to keep that in,” said Smith, a newly retired teacher, after the session wrapped up on February 20.

Smith engages in two other big battles: keeping lottery scholarships afloat and successfully resisting dozens of proposed amendments to the state Constitution. Many of the amendments—from legalizing marijuana to setting a minimum wage—are seen as an end run around the governor since they go straight to voters.

“I’m a strict constitutionalist,” he says. “We shouldn’t put things in the Constitution that don’t belong there.”

That stance brings Smith headlines early in the session when he speaks against an amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman, an icon of the conservative backlash to the state Supreme Court upholding constitutional protection of same-sex marriages. Smith acted similarly in the 2013 session when Democrats proposed an amendment favoring same-sex marriage.

On this day, Smith and his Republican colleagues on Voters and Elections succeed in tabling an amendment to cap payday loan rates but fail to halt one changing how university regents are selected. The plan to let a commission, rather than the governor, pick regents later died in the House.

This fall, voters will see two constitutional amendments pushed by Smith. One from 2013 allows school districts to hold board elections jointly with municipal elections to save money, as much as five hundred thousand dollars, in the case of Albuquerque. The other is a technical correction, involving retention elections of judges.

Two of Smith’s own bills will make it to the governor’s desk. One, co-sponsored with Sen. Peter Wirth, a Santa Fe Democrat, bans texting while driving. Another updates the sixty-year-old law governing bail bonding.

However, a proposal he co-sponsors to shore up lottery scholarships by making them more need-based while retaining the 2.5 grade-point requirement falls in favor of a last-minute Senate bill tapping liquor taxes for two years and raising student course loads from 12 credits a semester to 15.

“The lottery scholarship was a bit of a disappointment,” Smith says. “This is a short-term fix, and we will have to address it again. I don’t like it, but at least it keeps it solvent.”

Smith’s bill makes new students apply for federal financial aid, awards scholarships beginning in the second semester based on need and merit and adjusts the scholarship amounts based on how much lottery money is available each year.

It passed in the House, sixty to five, but goes nowhere in the Senate.

Smith also responds to a request from Sile, and seeks fifty thousand dollars to design a storage tank and distribution lines for the water and sewer association there. Only too late does he discover Sile residents are constituents of Rep. James Roger Madalena of Jemez Pueblo, who already is committed to his own list of proposed capital projects.

Overall, Smith says, the session went well. “It started out contentious,” he says, “but we passed a real good budget at the end.”

In the April edition of the Signpost, local government leaders will assess how their legislative priorities fared.

Tom Garcia

Sandoval County Assessor, Tom Garcia

County taxpayers learn to freeze property valuations

—Sidney Hill

More than two hundred Sandoval County taxpayers have benefited from a new provision in state law that makes it easier for low-income elderly and disabled citizens to keep the assessed value of their homes from rising. And the county assessor hopes a series of free workshops will make even more residents aware of this potential benefit.

Under the law, enacted during the 2013 session of the New Mexico Legislature, any senior citizen or disabled person who qualifies for a valuation freeze on their primary residence for three consecutive years no longer has to make the annual trip to a county assessor’s office to prove they are eligible for that freeze.

After the three-year validation period, the freeze stays in effect until the taxpayer’s situation changes, either through an increase in yearly income or a change in disability status. To qualify for the freeze, a taxpayer must be at least 65 years old or disabled, with an annual income of $32,000 dollars or less.

Sandoval County Assessor Tom Garcia is especially pleased to see local residents taking advantage of this new provision because he was the first to suggest the change to the Legislature. He persuaded two Sandoval County legislators—Senator Benny Shendo, a Democrat from Jemez Pueblo and Representative Paul Pacheco, a Republican who represents a portion of Corrales—to sponsor the legislation in their respective chambers.

Free Roaming Horses of Placitas Task Force works on issues

—Orlando Lucero and Heather Balas

There is, perhaps, no issue facing the Placitas community more challenging than the question of how to handle the free-roaming horses in the region. A large group of community members and stakeholders are currently advising on the development of a comprehensive report offering potential solutions, barriers, opportunities, and relevant research. A draft version of the report will be released in April, and public comment will be invited in early May.

The project, “Free-Roaming Horses of Placitas Task Force,” began in November 2013 with a meeting of 23 Placitas residents and stakeholders, including governmental entities (federal, state, and tribal), community boards and organizations, homeowner associations, horse advocacy organizations, and others. The group developed an 18-point list of potential solutions, which provided the foundation for the upcoming report. Topics include contraception and health options for the horses, concerns about public safety and environment, relocation alternatives, land use, community education and other issues.

So far, the project has created an opportunity for people with diverse points of view to collaborate, offer concrete solutions, and begin learning from other communities outside New Mexico. We applaud the hard work and commitment that task force and other community members continue to demonstrate in their pursuit of viable answers.

The project is funded by Sandoval County and managed by the nonpartisan public policy organization New Mexico First. A public meeting to discuss the upcoming report is tentatively scheduled for May 3 at Las Placitas Presbyterian Church. Additional details will be made available as the event nears.

Bernalillo election in March

—Bill Diven

With Santiago Montoya not to seeking a third term on the Bernalillo Town Council, at least one, if not two, new councilors will emerge from the March 4 election.

“It was a hard decision and the only reason is because of my family,” Montoya said. “My son just turned two years old, and my daughter is 13 and very active in academics and sports.”

After eight years on the council, Montoya said he sees a team of staff, administrators and officials who’ve accomplished a lot to improve the town’s water system, roads, lighting, and recreational activities.

Mayor Jack Torres, running unopposed for reelection, also praised the staff and fellow councilors. “We’ve made a lot of progress in four years,” he said. “Our financial house is now in order, and we’ve got town operations—public works, finance, water—working more efficiently.”

The town still has a long way to go, and the improvements in services are raising the expectations of residents, he added.

Councilor Dale Prairie also is seeking reelection, and both Ernestina “Tina” Dominguez and John Estrada are hoping to join the four-person council whose members are elected at-large. All, like the mayor, are natives of Bernalillo.

Prairie, a handyman and one-time social worker, also cited the financial and infrastructure progress of recent years, but said building a second water line from wells on the west side of the Rio Grande remains one of his concerns. “If something happens to that, it would completely cut off the east side,” he said. Prairie also would like to see Rotary Park expanded

Dominguez is the sister of Councilor Montoya and the daughter of a former councilor and county commissioner, the late Seferino Montoya. “I’ve been involved in municipal government all my career,” Dominguez said. “My dad was on the council before. I always wanted to give to the community in the same way.”

She began her career in 1983 as an administrative assistant at Town Hall, served Corrales as village clerk and acting administrator, and then became assistant city clerk in Santa Fe. She returned to Bernalillo two years ago to care for her mother. Among her priorities, if elected, are expanding recreational opportunities in the town, especially for young people, and rebuilding the town pool, possible as a joint project with the Bernalillo Public Schools.

Estrada served 15 years with the Bernalillo Fire Department starting when it was all volunteer and finishing as the first chief of a full-time paid fire service. He helped organize the department and wrote grants to obtain more than three hundred thousand dollars in equipment.

“I’m invested in the town,” he said. “The main thing I have a problem with is the emergency plan. We don’t have one.” Flooding from storm runoff last year showed risks as severe as they were when his grandfather watched the town nearly wash away one hundred years ago, he added. “This is a historical town, and I want to protect it.”

He also said he would work to improve services to seniors and recreation sites, particularly the town pool which has changed little since he swam there as a child decades ago. He is currently an emergency medical technician with the ambulance service in Cuba and is working on a degree in fire and emergency management.

Jemez Springs fires dual-identity police chief

—Bill Diven

The tale of former Police Chief Shane Harger losing his job spreads across the Internet as he disputes the backstory that led to his firing by the Jemez Springs Village Council.

The trouble began in late January when Harger headed to Las Vegas, Nevada, to the convention of the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, a national group that vows to resist unlawful or unconstitutional federal actions. Before flying on a village-approved and -funded ticket, Harger became involved in a confrontation with a federal Transportation Security Administration agent and was detained for about 35 minutes.

The village council on January 25 moved Harger to desk duties pending a report from TSA, restored him to full duty on January 30, and on February 12 fired him, saying he’d lost the trust of the council. The chief was near the end of his six-month probationary period and had been expected to get the job permanently.

Beyond that timeline, however, stories diverge on what actually went down at the Albuquerque Sunport.

News reports say the conflict with TSA began when Harger’s airline boarding pass didn’t match the name on his driver’s license. Harger contends the documents did match, his “undercover credentials” in a different name were not an issue, and that it was a TSA agent who crossed the line.

“This is not about my identification,” Harger told the Signpost.  “This is not about me. This is about civil rights. There’s an agenda here. If you don’t think TSA keeps tabs on people, you’ve got your head in the sand.”

Village officials already knew Harger held a legal alter ego when they hired him.

“He was upfront about having a second identity,” Jemez Springs Mayor Edmond Temple told the Signpost. The second ID played no role in his firing, and neither did his political beliefs, the mayor added. “We simply were unaware of his politics at the time. He can have any politics he wants as long as he acts professionally.” The only complaints the village received about Harger’s police work were not taken seriously because they came from people he arrested, the mayor said.

Harger said his second name came from a witness-protection program he entered in another state over threats received during the Levi Chavez murder case in New Mexico. Chavez, an Albuquerque police officer, was accused but found not guilty of murdering his wife in Valencia County in 2007 and staging her death as a suicide. Harger, a Valencia County deputy sheriff at the time, had reported evidence at the scene indicated Tera Chavez did not kill herself. Harger and several other prosecution witnesses were not allowed to testify in Chavez’s trial, although he did give a sworn deposition on his findings in a lawsuit filed against Chavez by Tera’s family.

During his interview with the Signpost, Harger gave this account of what happened at the Sunport:

When he arrived at the airport prepared to travel under his first name, he became concerned that his driver’s license in that name had expired. So he sought out a TSA supervisor and was told he could still fly since the license had expired within the last year.

After getting his boarding pass, two city Sunport Police officers stopped him and they, too, said his documents were good. They also asked about other IDs he might have, and Harger told them of his second set in the different name. Harger, and his traveling companion, former Valencia County Sheriff René Rivera, then went through TSA security where he showed his driver’s license, Social Security card, and law-enforcement certification, all matching his boarding pass.

It was soon thereafter that a TSA agent stopped them, and in what Harger views as harassment by a security guard, asked for ID and began questioning them on where they were going and why. The issue of a second name never came up.

“I’d identified myself for the fourth time at the checkpoint,” Harger said counting in addition the TSA supervisor, airline ticket agent and airport police.  “I said enough is enough.” Harger and Rivera made their flight and attended the convention where both joined numerous signers on a resolution opposing federal attempts to enforce in local jurisdictions unconstitutional laws and regulations like registering private firearms.

Word of the incident percolated across the conservative blogosphere as commentators accused TSA and other federal agencies of targeting Harger over his politics. They further claimed Sandoval County Sheriff Doug Wood fired Harger and ordered his department disbanded for the same.

Wood, who has no control over local police departments, had only withdrawn Harger’s Special Deputy commission “until the question of his true identity could be resolved,” according to a news release from the sheriff’s office. The mismatch between Harger’s name on the commission and the second name on his only current driver’s license raised liability issues as well, the statement added.

While the village did not disband the department, it did “put on hold” the volunteers officers working with Harger and request an updated equipment inventory and résumés from all members, Temple said.

As Harger’s story roiled the Web, venal reaction directed at local officials included an “extremely threatening email” to Wood, according to a statement posted on the village website. Harger, responding as the Jemez Springs chief, told the author of the email “Thanks for the support.”

“Chief Harger made a number of disparaging statements about the Village Council and did nothing to correct the false statements being made by others about his situation despite being explicitly asked to do so by the Mayor,” the statement continued. The statement said unspecified new issues also cost Harger the trust of the village council, but Temple declined to discuss those issues.

Harger was Jemez Springs’ only full-time officer, and the village statement commended him for his police work, particularly in dealing with DWIs and a rash of burglaries. “Burglars, child molesters, drug addicts,” Harger said. “These were bad people breaking into people’s homes, armed, with people at home.”

The village may contract with Sandoval County for law enforcement and will wait until after a new council is sworn in this month before deciding how to proceed on hiring a new chief, Temple said. In the meantime county deputies already on duty in the area are keeping and eye on Jemez Springs.

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