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Intel is taxed while County Manager Vigil abruptly gets axed

Sandoval County Manager Juan Vigil was fired in April following a lengthy property tax dispute with computer chip manufacturer Intel. Vigil had been county manager since January 2009, and had recently been granted a new two-year employment contract that county commissioners approved in December, that requires a supermajority vote of the full five-member board to fire him.

On April 7, County Commissioners voted 3-2 to end Vigil's two-year contract just more than three months after it went into effect. The vote was contentious because the contract stipulated that Vigil could be terminated with 30-days written notice only upon a "supermajority" vote by the full, five-member commission, a term the county's interim attorney interpreted as a 4 to 1 vote.

Nevertheless, during a nearly 5-hour meeting loaded with argument and disagreement over contractual language, Commission Chairman Darryl Madalena ruled that the commission's 3-2 vote to prematurely terminate Vigil’s contract should stand.

Vigil's termination process began on April 7 when Madalena, Commissioner Glenn Walters, who was not present in person but participated via teleconference, and Commissioner Don Chapman voted to end his contract, while Commissioners Orlando Lucero and Donny Leonard were opposed. The debate was impassioned because Vigil's contract said he could only be terminated by a "supermajority" vote. Thus, Juan Vigil's future as Sandoval County Manager may be dependant upon the interpretation of that single word: "supermajority."

County Attorney Stephanie Lopez said that a supermajority vote meant a 4-1 vote of the five-member Commission, but Madalena ruled that the 3-2 vote should stand. Although Madalena's ruling conflicted with Lopez's interpretation that supermajority means a 4 to 1 vote, he justified the decision by saying Vigil's contract does not define how many votes qualify as a supermajority.

The commission's vote came after a nearly two-hour closed-door session when commissioners evaluated the county manager's job performance. Early in the meeting, Leonard attempted to table the vote, saying that such action should be taken when all commissioners were present in person. Leonard’s sentiments were echoed by Lucero, but they were outvoted by Madalena, Walters and Chapman.

When Lopez informed the Commissioners that the vote did not necessarily mean Vigil could be fired, due to the contractual language that the commission approved in December that said there had to be a supermajority, many county employees sitting in the audience applauded.

Chapman then proceeded to challenge Lopez's interpretation, saying a 3-2 vote represented a 66 percent majority, and since the Commission had already voted, that the termination of Vigil should stand. The comments ignited a long and drawn-out debate with Commissioners quoting the definition of supermajority from various legal and online sources. Eventually Chapman and Walters suggested the Commission might be best served to seek an outside legal opinion from the attorney general.

Lopez reminded them that at some point the Commission Chairman had to formally announce the result of the vote, but the talk continued in circles regarding the definition of the word. Eventually Lopez repeated her interpretation of supermajority and again said there had to be a formal announcement.

Madalena then addressed the room and stated that, "with a 3-2 vote, the County Manager's contract was terminated. That is my ruling." Vigil declined to comment about the decision and told commissioners he would refer any future questions about his contract to his personal lawyer.

Chapman later mentioned that he challenged Lopez's supermajority definition because he believed it was incorrect, based on Internet definitions he had found. Both Chapman and Walters said they voted to fire Vigil because they thought the County needed to move in a more positive and different direction.

Madalena publicly agreed to seek an attorney general's opinion on the interpretation of the word "supermajority" but then told the Albuquerque Journal that he "probably wouldn't."

Subsequently, Sen. John Sapien, D-Corrales, has asked the attorney general to issue an opinion on the interpretation of “supermajority,” at the request of the county attorney. Only legislators, state agencies, elected officials of the state, district attorneys, state boards and state commissioners can ask for opinions.

County Commission Chairman Madalena nevertheless carried out his ruling and proceeded to deliver a letter to Vigil on Friday, April 8, giving him 30 days' notice but instructing him to vacate his office by Monday afternoon.

The two Sandoval County Commissioners who were opposed tofiring County Manager Vigil are concerned about the current lack of leadership in the County Manager position.

Commissioner Donny Leonard believes that the timing is terrible for a void in that position, referring to work on the county budget and redistricting that has to be done within the next few weeks. He and Lucero are additionally concerned because no one has been designated to replace Vigil in overseeing the county's daily operations.

The county must submit a budget to the state Department of Finance Administration for approval by June 1, but first they must hold several public meetings when elected officials such as mayors, city councilors and county commissioners can make comments, suggestions and recommendations.

Chairman Madalena canceled the Commission's last scheduled meeting in April when Vigil planned to present the county budget for fiscal year 2012, which begins July 1. Currently, Commissioners Leonard and Lucero have written to the state Department of Finance and Administration asking for help in preparing a budget, as well as written to Chairman Madalena and Commissioners, Walters and Chapman, seeking an emergency meeting to select an interim county manager.

Madalena expressed to Leonard that he (Leonard) had no authority to direct him to get an emergency meeting going and that as Chairman that he would provide Leonard with details of when the meeting is upcoming. Madalena admitted he doesn't have anyone yet to propose as an interim candidate.

Madalena also stated that he wasn't worried about the budget because the County directors know what money they need and what they have, and that he’s not concerned that this won't get done because they know what they are doing.

Fired Sandoval County Manager Juan Vigil is considering suing the county over the way it handled his termination. County Commissioners in December approved a new contract for Vigil at the same salary, which took effect Jan. 1 and was due to expire Dec. 31, 2012. If he was terminated before the expiration date, it said Vigil would be entitled to a lump sum cash payment equal to two months pay plus benefits.

The handling of his termination could be quite expensive for the County. Vigil's attorney, former Sandoval County Commissioner Daymon Ely, sent a letter to Madalena and the Commissioners saying he planned to sue the county within two weeks unless an amicable resolution can be reached. The letter asked them to respond by April 27, to arrange a meeting.

Vigil is asking for pay and benefits for the balance of his two-year contract, which would translate into more than $200,000. Additionally, he wants the commission to acknowledge his "long and distinguished career in public service," including his time as Sandoval County Manager.

Vigil's career included a position as Cabinet secretary for the state Human Services Department, Bernalillo County manager from 1991 to 2003 and administrator of the village of Los Ranchos before he was hired as Sandoval County manager in January 2009 on a two-year contract at an annual salary of $120,000.

Intel finally taxed after 30 years

County Manager Juan Vigil was the county's point person in a dispute last year with computer giant Intel over the amount of property tax the company owes for its Rio Rancho property. The dispute has been resolved and Intel will be getting a tax bill from the county this year for the first time since the plant opened in 1980.

As a result of resolving that dispute, the computer chip manufacturing company that opened its Rio Rancho plant more than 30 years ago will have to pay property taxes for the first time this year. In April, Vigil provided documents, which he said were unofficial, that showed the county assessed Intel's Rio Rancho plant property at $38.2 million, with a taxable value of $12.7 million. Intel's director of corporate affairs for the Southwestern U.S.,Jami Grindatto, said that the company was happy to go on the county tax rolls and the county assessor is determining how much tax the company will owe.

Chairman Madalena said the reason for firing Vigil was that the County needed to "move in a different, more positive direction." He declined at first to be more specific, but later disclosed the dispute between the County and Intel over the amount of property tax the company owed played a part in Vigil’s termination. Madalena suggested that the Intel tax dispute was not the sole factor, but coupled with what he implied were instances of arrogance on Vigil’s part when it came to dealing with the “higher ups at Intel.”

The tax relates to property covered by a $30 million, 30-year industrial revenue bond agreement Intel signed with the county in 1980 that expired last year. The agreement gave Intel a break on property taxes. Correspondence between Vigil and Intel officials last year show the county believed everything on portions of the Intel property covered by bond agreements in 1980 and 1993 should be assessed for tax purposes. Intel's position was that some of the equipment and other material in those areas were purchased with money it obtained from the $16 billion, 30-year IRB the county agreed to in 2004, and those items should be exempt from taxes until 2034.

Vigil responded that extending the tax exemption would violate New Mexico law. In September, Vigil wrote to Intel vice president and treasurer Ravi Jacob at the corporate office in Santa Clara, Calif., saying, "the taxpayers of Sandoval County have subsidized the operations of Intel for 30 years and will continue to subsidize a major portion of those operations until September 2023."

"It is extremely important to our taxpayers that they receive what is due them for the service the taxing entities provide our citizens," Vigil's letter said.

Grindatto said recently that Intel built Rio Rancho High School and has paid millions of dollars in lieu of taxes to the county since it opened the Rio Rancho plant in 1980.

County Assessor Tom Garcia said a notice of valuation was sent to Intel in April, but the actual amount of tax liability is still unclear. The county sends out tax bills in November.


Placitas group attempts to sever relationship with Coronado Soil and Water

A group of Placitas residents went before the state Soil and Water Conservation Commission (SWCC) in April to request that the area be removed from the Coronado Soil and Water Conservation District (CSWCD).

The desire to separate arose from a Coronado election in May 2010 that would have raised property taxes to support the district's work. Placitas residents were furious that the election was publicized only through legal ads in the Albuquerque Journal, and not in a more widely seen local format. Upon hearing about it, on the day of the election, Placitas residents rushed to the polls and defeated it.

Placitas resident Charles Mellon subsequently launched a petition asking that Placitas be removed from the Coronado district, a process which is allowed by law. Mellon told commissioners thatPlacitas was a unique place where residents had worked to maintain a rural environment and that by having their own soil and water district, separate from Coronado, would help further that objective.

While not ruling out the possibility of separating Placitas from the Coronado district, Commission Chairman Larry Winn suggested the residents and the Coronado board attempt to settle their differences and report back to the commission.

While addressing Mellon's petition, Winn said the number of signatures did not meet statutory requirements to allow Placitas to separate. He said he saw merit in some of Mellon's arguments for separating Placitas, but after nearly an hour of discussion, Winn ended by telling the Placitas residents that they should begin by trying to work with the Coronado board.

The SWCC oversees Coronado and dozens of other similar districts that are independent political subdivisions of the state, with elected and appointed officials. Coronado's district covers an area stretching from Sandia Pueblo in the south, Santa Ana in the west, Cochiti in the north and the Santa Fe County line in the east.

CSWCD Chairman Will Ouellette stated that the Coronado board meetings were open to the public and said that Placitas residents could get involved at any time.


Wolf

Wolves to celebrate the library’s birthday

On May 14, the Placitas Community Library will celebrate its eighth birthday and first year in its wonderful new home. Birthday bash events will occur from 10 a.m.-5 p.m., with the morning focusing on children and the afternoon aimed more for older children and adults. There will be cake and registration for the adult Summer Reading Challenge.

The “BIG EVENT” will be a visit from the Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary. One or two wolf ambassadors will be on hand to educate us all about the issues and realities of these magnificent animals, native to New Mexico. The morning presentation at 11 a.m. will be geared to children, and then at 1 p.m., we will offer a program for adults and older children.

Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary focuses its efforts on educating the general public about the wild wolf, captive-bred wolves and wolf-dogs, and the difference between wild and domestic animals.

Since the sanctuary first began, their ambassador teams have been visiting schools, libraries, and beyond to offer people of all ages opportunities to meet a full-grown wolf and learn about:

  •  The wild wolf’s diet, hunting strategies, family life, physical adaptations, and pack structure.
  • The difference between wolves and dogs, wild and domestic animals, and the reasons why wild animals are not for casual pet owners.
  • The myths about wolves portrayed by the media, where these ideas originated, and why they are false.
  • Information about wolf-dogs and why the term “hybrid” is confusing. For older students, we may even get into a discussion dealing with genetics as related to wolf-dogs.

Please join in celebrating eight great years serving the people of Placitas and the first birthday in the new location.

Upcoming Adult Programs

  • May 1: Script Frenzy, 1-3 p.m.
  • • May 2: PCL Book Group 1, 4 p.m.
  • • May 5: HomeScape Solutions, 6 p.m.
  • • May 6: Holocaust Remembrance, 7 p.m.
  • • May 7: Artist Reception for Ann Pollard, 1-4 p.m.; Square Foot Gardening Installation of Demo Garden, 2 p.m.
  • May 14: PCL Birthday Bash and Registration for the Summer Reading Challenge, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary Presentation for All with a Wolf Ambassador, 1 p.m.  
  • May 18: PCL Board Meeting, 7 p.m.
  • May 26: Martin Heinrich office hours (an aide will be on hand for discussion), 1-3 p.m.; Placitas History Project, 6:30 p.m.


Bernalillo Detective arrested at DWI checkpoint

Albuquerque police arrested 42-year-old Berto Chavez, who was off duty and riding his personal motorcycle, at a DWI roadblock on Highway 528 near Rio Rancho on an early morning in April. A police report says Chavez told them his career as a police officer would be ruined by the bust.

According to the criminal complaint Chavez, who works as an undercover narcotics detective, was riding his motorcycle around 2:15 a.m. when he came across an APD DWI checkpoint on Coors Boulevard near Intel on his way home to Rio Rancho. The police report says Chavez failed field sobriety tests, saying “I’m done” after flunking a walk-the-line test. They say he also refused to take a breathalyzer test. That resulted in a charge of aggravated DWI, which is a felony.

In response to questions regarding why one of his undercover police officers was not thrown in jail after he was arrested at a DWI checkpoint, Bernalillo Police Chief Julian Gonzales said Detective Berto Chavez refused an alcohol test at a DWI checkpoint and was arrested for a short time. He goes on to say Chavez was not tossed in jail for his own safety.

Gonzales says he was cited and released, and was allowed to call for a ride home. Police determined it wouldn't be safe to send the undercover officer to county jail because his job is to book accused criminals into jail, and someone might recognize him, compromising his safety. "Generally you have an issue there with safety because you may have someone down there who may have been arrested by Officer Chavez, someone may just not like law enforcement in general," Gonzales said.

Gonzales said Chavez has been relieved of duty, placed on paid administrative leave and all of his police gear has been taken from him.


Meet-and-greet for legislators

On Sunday, May 22, 2011, at 2 p.m. there will be a meet-and-greet for the Placitas Area state legislators at the Anasazi Winery in Placitas Village, at 26 Camino de los Pueblitos Road.Representative Jim Smith (District 22), Senator Kent Cravens (District 21) and Senator Sue Wilson-Beffort (District 19) will be in attendance. All three were instrumental in passing House Bill 306 which severed Placitas from ESCAFCA.Please come, and bring for discussion any topics you wish to share with our legislative representatives.This is a family event and Tres Hombres will provide live blue grass music.

This event will also introduce for discussion and support, the Eastern Sandoval Citizens Association. If there is adequate support for its formation, the association will represent the interests of Sandoval County citizens east of I-25.

The Association would act as a watchdog organization regarding all political, zoning and other community issues, and provide active community interest reporting by email and website postings. The Association would be capable of lobbying issues that affect our community, and even take legal action in defense of community interests, if that would be the association’s voting membership’s majority position.Individual annual membership dues would be $50 per person, and entitle each member one vote on association actions and business.

     

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