Placitas residents have been wondering about the Placitas County! bumper stickers and the green-and-white sign that recently appeared across the road from Homestead Village. The Signpost’s investigation revealed very little initially. A few people told us that some guy was passing out the bumper stickers at last summer's Fourth of July parade.
The name of retired politician and activist Charles Mellon came up from several sources. In a phone conversation, Mellon admitted that he was the guy passing out bumper stickers, and that he was involved in erecting the Placitas County! sign on the private land off SR 165. But Mellon denied that he was solely responsible. "This is not my idea, but I support it. As far as I can tell, a lot of people in Placitas support the idea. This is not an organized movement, and there haven't been any meetings. There is no master plan," he explained.
Mellon was, however, able to provide a few numbers to show that the formation of a new county is not such a crazy idea. He said, "With a population of six thousand that is growing fast, there are already seven counties in the state with less people. Placitas has 6 percent of the total county population and pays 13 to 15 percent of property taxes. We pay 8 to 10 percent of gross-receipts tax. Placitas County would include 6 percent of a county that is bigger than some states. Funding a new county would not be a problem with the tax base we already have. I wouldn't support the idea if it would lead to more taxation."
Local realtor Dave Harper also supports the idea. "I like Sandoval County and a lot of the people who work there are phenomenal. It's pretty good government, but not really representative of Placitas. It's more a government for Rio Rancho, Bernalillo, and ranchers in rural areas. People need to look at the costs and talk among themselves about the pluses and minuses. I think Placitas County would create a better community and better schools. I know a lot of good people who have moved away when their kids reach mid-school."
Apparently supporters of Placitas County feel no urgency in trying to start a grassroots groundswell that would eventually lead to putting the proposal on a ballot, or lead to legislative action. Representative Ron Godbey told the Signpost," I would sponsor such legislation if the people want it and if I'm convinced that they are fully informed about the consequences. It would be very expensive, though, and I don't think there is enough tax base to support such a move. It would require a legitimate survey done by a legitimate polling company."
Joe Quintana, regional planning manager for the Mid-Region Council of Governments said, "It’s doable—there is nothing in the statutes that requires an incorporated county seat, but the odds of this happening are very slim because there is not enough of a local economy to provide the gross-receipts taxes that provide up to 70 percent of the revenues of other counties. Property taxes alone don't supply enough revenue to pay for the staff and facilities that would be required, such as law enforcement, buildings, and equipment. Sandoval County has no incentive to help, and they would face the enormous task of dividing out all the records from the offices of the clerk, treasurer, and assessor. I think if people were to do a costs-benefits study they would see that it's just not worth it."
Placitas resident Cindy King commented, "A lot of good and honorable people here have a good ideas, but are frustrated when they run into a wall when dealing with Sandoval County. Sandoval County no longer represents our community because it's too big and overextended. Placitas County would be a good way to take government into our own hands and control our own destinies."
Secretary of State calls county canvas "very clean"
After the votes were cast in last month's special election, the only real controversy was who won the arguments between County Clerk Victoria Dunlap and commissioners Ely and Thomas. They accused each other of incompetence, malfeasance, partisan politics, and lacking education. Secretary of State Denise Lamb told the Signpost following the final canvas that the Sandoval County election was "very clean" and there was "not a single vote unaccounted for."
Lamb said that the election results received a great deal scrutiny from the Sandoval County Canvassing Board because of an error in transcribing votes on election night and the resulting error in the announced unofficial returns. "Unofficial results are just that,” she said. “The fact that errors were found is not a sign that something is wrong. It means something is right. The official results are not available until absentee, in lieu of, and provisional ballots are counted. The Sandoval County canvas was received in a timely fashion. What do you want: fast or accurate?”
Report: Bernalillo PD in disarray
Consultants hired to examine the Bernalillo Police Department found an agency in disarray, according to a newly released report submitted to the town council.
Deposed police chief Ramon Montijo has said he, too, found a department out of control when he took over in April. But despite the same general conclusions, the consultants’ findings are adding fuel to attempts to fire Montijo.
At Signpost deadline, the town council was scheduled to meet October 27 to consider the recommendation of mayor Charles Aguilar to fire Montijo. Action was to be taken on October 2 but was delayed over questions about an earlier closed meeting.
The report by FKR Consulting dated September 5 found:
- Written policies and procedures governing evidence handling, vehicle operation, and report writing and follow up were not given to officers.
- Seventeen purchases since January 1 totaling about $3,600 were made without first obtaining a purchase order from the town treasurer. The treasurer told FKR she met with Montijo at least three times to explain purchasing procedures, although Montijo has said that was after he bought new badges and arm patches to boost department morale.
- One purchase order was used by an unnamed officer to buy parts for his personal weapon. The officer reimbursed the town for some of the parts but refused to pay for parts he said the chief lost.
- No one appears to be responsible for conducting background checks on police applicants.
- Discrepancies in records made it impossible to accurately account for department property and weapons.
While some problems predate Montijo’s arrival, and others he said he discovered, town manager Les Swindle said Montijo failed to resolve the issues. Swindle, hired July 28, relieved Montijo from duty on August 15 for alleged negligence and insubordination and assumed management of the department himself.
“From the time I took over to today, easily 90 percent of those problems are gone,” he said. “Management was not his [Montijo’s] long suit.
“The disarray led to public feelings that there was a lack of effectiveness in the department.”
Swindle made his comments after a closed meeting on October 23 with town councilors, attorneys, private investigators, and representatives of the New Mexico Municipal League. A similar closed meeting on September 26 prompted complaints about compliance with the state Open Meetings Act.
Swindle said he believes the first meeting was proper but called the second one so no questions would taint the process.
“I wish I could say more about the issues I raised with the mayor to get him to agree to terminate the chief,” Swindle said.
The private investigators apparently have been checking Montijo’s resume and background, as the chief said he has received calls from colleagues they have contacted. He also described the allegations against him as “petty.”
“They make me out like I’m the bad guy,” Montijo told the Signpost. “I’m the one who uncovered the improprieties. I have a feeling someone’s covering something up.”
After Montijo reported irregularities in the handling of evidence and weapons and in investigating a burglary at Bernalillo High School, outside agencies launched criminal investigations of the department. Late in October, district attorney Lemuel Martinez told the Signpost the burglary case remains under review.
Mayor Aguilar had suspended Montijo himself in June over alleged insubordination. Town councilors, however, rejected his recommendation to fire the chief.
Councilors leaving the recent closed meeting would not comment on the chief’s future. Montijo said the town stopped paying him October 1 and that his faith and Bible reading have helped to sustain him.
“If it is meant for me to be terminated, fine,” he said. “If it was meant for me to rattle things, so be it.”