The Sandoval Signpost

An Independent Monthly Newsmagazine Serving the Community since 1989

UP FRONT

Gary Miles takes a found puppy to the vet.

Gary Miles takes a found puppy to the vet. The puppy, a male pit bull approximately nine weeks old, will probably be going to Colorado for adoption, if not adopted locally.

Court allows Placitas Animal Rescue to stay in business after lengthy litigation

Bill Diven

Placitas Animal Rescue will continue its rescue work and spay-and-neuter programs under a court settlement awaiting only a judge’s signature.

While the proposed agreement sets some restrictions, it would end four years of litigation and more years of acrimony over PAR activities on property about three miles north of Placitas village.

 “It’s a win-win for everybody, especially the animals,” said Gary Miles, who founded PAR with his cousin, Patience O’Dowd. “All we can do now is move forward, both parties, and try to do something really positive.”

Miles and O’Dowd operate PAR from adjoining lots totaling about two and a half acres. The legal dispute began as a zoning fight in 1996 with Miles and O’Dowd contending that the animal shelter should be grandfathered because it existed years before the county passed its zoning ordinance.

At the time, Miles had been involved in other public-policy disputes and periodically published the Sandoval County Watchdog, a broadside often critical of county government.

Miles and O’Dowd lost their zoning case and briefly shut down operations earlier this year. A second lawsuit on allowing a nonconforming use on the property was postponed by District Judge Camille Martinez-Olguin a few days before the August 22 trial date.

County commissioners approved the settlement on August 21 and forwarded it to Martinez-Olguin for her consideration the next day. County attorney David Mathews told commissioners he expected the county would win this case, too, but have little to show for it.

“We have no limitation on animals in the county,” he said citing reports of one resident with two hundred cats and another with fifty dogs. “This [settlement] gives us more than we would get with a court decision in our favor.”

Mathews also noted anyone with a home-occupation business license could shuttle animals to spay-and-neuter clinics and transport injured animals to veterinarians.

O’Dowd described herself as “very happy” with the settlement. “I hope for this to be the start of good relations with the county,” she said. “That’s the plan, because there is a higher purpose.”

Miles also said he appreciated the efforts of county commissioners, Mathews, and O’Dowd in resolving the lawsuit and thanked the community for its ongoing support.

The settlement provides that:

  • The Miles and O’Dowd families combined will have no more than eighteen personal dogs on their properties.
  • The spay/neuter and rescue operations will not generate traffic to the property.
  • PAR will obtain county business licenses and file two reports a year detailing rescue activities.
  • Miles and O’Dowd may offer short-term boarding for up to fifteen small animals.
  • Adoptions and neutering will take place elsewhere although PAR may shelter unadoptable animals on rare occasions at the discretion of the county.
  • Miles and O’Dowd will assist in finding emergency shelter for animals dislocated by disaster such as a bosque fire.

Santa Fe attorney Anita Miller, representing neighboring property owner Mary Rose De Valldaderas of Washington, D.C., requested that the commission delay the settlement as she had only learned of it that afternoon. The deal in effect confers nonconforming zoning—the boarding of animals—without further public hearing, she said.

“It’s kind of a shock to us,” Miller told commissioners.

Mathews said Miller and her client have long complained about land-use issues but have ignored his invitations to join the court proceedings. According to the settlement, the county planning-and-zoning commission previously approved the boarding facility, so a reapplication is not necessary.

Miller declined additional comment after the meeting saying she lacked her files and had not had time to consult her client. “I’m surprised, that’s all,” she said.

 

Les Swindle, newly appointed Bernalillo Town Manager

Les Swindle, newly appointed Bernalillo Town Manager

New Bernalillo town manager undaunted by challenges

Bill Diven

When the Johnson administration left Santa Fe, Les Swindle looked around for a new challenge and found it as Bernalillo’s town manager.

“I am opportunity driven, certainly not money driven,” said Swindle, a Corrales resident hired by the town council on July 28. “This is a town of genuine people who care about their neighborhoods and three hundred or more years of tradition.

“I want to be part of it.”

Swindle, fifty-eight, comes to public administration by a circuitous route that includes a bachelor’s degree in speech and psychology and a masters of business administration, both from the University of New Mexico. Describing his background as entrepreneurship, he has owned real-estate, insurance, and other businesses.

He bought the Model Pharmacy his father opened in Albuquerque in 1947 at the intersection of Lomas, Carlisle, and Monte Vista, renovated it to include an old-fashioned soda fountain and made sure Dad worked as long as he wanted after new owners took over in the late 1980s.

Tapped by Governor Johnson to be director of the state property control division, Swindle spent eight years in Santa Fe overseeing about eight hundred office leases. He acted as owner on behalf of the state in the sale of the former St. Vincent Hospital building to private interests and won a public fight that stopped state treasurer Michael Montoya from leasing property outside of established channels.

Swindle says those jobs and experiences taught him to let competent workers do their jobs and to step in only when they didn’t. But he also describes himself as a hands-on administrator when it came to getting hit with water balloons at the end of Bernalillo’s summer-recreation program or helping to shore up the terrones [cut sod bricks] of an aging barn.

“I’ll be starting cautiously, with my ears open a lot more than my mouth,” he said. Already he’s getting an earful about the shortcomings of the wastewater plant, turmoil in the police department, aging waterlines, and myriad issues of planning and zoning.

“This town is not unusual in having difficulties,” Swindle said, adding that Bernalillo has a lot going for it. “There’s a deep sense of history here that a lot of towns have wanted to keep but have lost.”

He said he sees opportunity in Governor Richardson’s push for commuter rail service that initially would serve Albuquerque from Bernalillo and Belen, with a later extension to Santa Fe. Bernalillo is a logical hub for park-and-ride commuters, he added, citing San Antonio, which became a transportation center while maintaining its downtown and landscape.

The town also benefits from being buffered from Albuquerque and Rio Rancho by Sandia Pueblo and the Rio Grande, but that is only physical protection.

“We can’t be overrun because no one can get to us,” he said. “Our problem is not to lose our character from the inside out. That’s a challenge, that’s a wonderful challenge.”

 

Bernalillo Police Chief Rmon Montijo

Bernalillo Police Chief Rmon Montijo

 Bernalillo police chief suspended . . . again

Bill Diven

Embattled Bernalillo police chief Ramon Montijo is again on paid leave, this time suspended by the new town manager.

At Signpost deadline, Montijo’s fate remained uncertain pending action by Mayor Aguilar and the Bernalillo Town Council. An attempt by Aguilar to oust Montijo in June for alleged insubordination ended within a week when councilors voted three to one to reinstate him.

Newly hired town manager Les Swindle, who took office July 28, said he relieved Montijo of duty on Friday, August 16. Swindle would not disclose what prompted the action but said he had given Montijo a letter listing five specific reasons.

Swindle said he could not discuss a personnel matter but added that he acted within his authority and the town personnel policies. He also declined to reveal his recommendation to the mayor for possible action by the council.

“My responsibility is to the people of Bernalillo, and the first responsibility of any government is protection of the people,” Swindle said. “When I perceived that element was missing on Friday morning, I acted in a very measured manner.”

Montijo has not responded to the letter but was quick to contact Albuquerque news media, Swindle added.

Swindle said he was aware of issues with the police department from news accounts of the earlier dustup. “Did I come in here to clean up a police department?” Swindle asked. “No, I came in here to serve the public.”

In public comments Montijo has said Swindle, like Aguilar, was trying to micromanage the police department.

“Here they go again,” Montijo told the Signpost during a brief interview. “It’s going to be different this time. I’ve got a lawyer.”

Montijo, Bernalillo’s third police chief this year, stirred up controversy soon after starting work in April. By his account, an inventory of police property, weapons, and evidence uncovered discrepancies that prompted an outside investigation by the Rio Rancho Police Department and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Montijo also suspended an officer who was reinstated soon after the council blocked Mayor Aguilar’s attempt to fire Montijo. Aguilar has said he relieved Montijo for insubordination unrelated to the outside investigation, although he declined to provide specifics.

Montijo said he was suspended after he told Aguilar he didn’t know the details of the investigation and would not share them if he did.

“We concluded our portion of investigation,” RRPD officer John Francis said. “There’s also a federal agency looking into this, and we have turned our files over to them.”

Results of the federal investigation may be sent to the U.S. Attorney, he added.

In January, the council declined to renew the contracts of police chief William Relyea and town administrator Ron Abousleman. The council’s first choice to replace Relyea accepted the job but never showed up.

A second round led to the hiring of Montijo, a former officer with the Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles Housing Authority.

Town councilor Mary Helen Sandoval declined to discuss Montijo’s current suspension but when asked about the ongoing turmoil and turnover said, “I don’t have to expand on that; that’s the truth. It’s an unfortunate situation. It’s not a healthy situation for the town.”

 

Nudists charged with indecent exposure at Spence Hot Springs in the Jemez Mountains - Cartoon ©2003 Rudi Klimpert

Nudists charged with indecent exposure at Spence Hot Springs in the Jemez Mountains

Ty Belknap

On July 25 a Rio Rancho man was arrested by plainclothes Sandoval County sheriff's deputies and charged with two counts of aggravated indecent exposure at Spence Hot Springs. The following day a Texas man was cited with misdemeanor exposure and released.

The hot springs are part of the Santa Fe National Forest, where nude bathing was banned about three years ago. The Sandoval County sheriff's office is under contract by the forest service to patrol the area. Most of the law enforcement has dealt with the daylight-use-only rule and illegal activity, usually involving drugs or alcohol.

Spence is the most popular of several natural hot springs in the Jemez Springs area. Clothing-optional bathing at the beautiful site has been a favorite pastime since prehistoric times. It is not known whether primitive hunters removed their animal skins before entering the pools. Official publications still encourage tourists to enjoy the springs, but warn of possible encounters with naked people.

Sheriff John Paul Trujillo says that he is not going after nude bathing per se, as long as it is appropriate to the situation. He said that Spence is attracting unsavory characters and that he is taking proactive steps to avoid crimes involving sexual assault. He said, "That guy we arrested was flashing kids, groping himself, and obviously sizing people up. We will continue to arrest naked people with criminal intent. This is a public place and a tourist attraction in Sandoval County. We are trying to make the area around the springs a safe environment for children and adults."

Trujillo was criticized in an Albuquerque Journal editorial for wasting precious manpower on such relatively harmless activity. Forest-service officials were quoted as saying that recreational nudists suffer when a few people engage in perverted and improper acts or public sexual activity.

The sheriff described two recent incidents still under investigation that resulted in suspicious deaths. He also said, "We have tracked three registered sex offenders and found them hanging around the area of the springs.

A sign in the parking lot of Spence Hot Springs describes in great detail the parts of the male and female genitalia which may not be displayed in public. Display of any of these parts in the presence of a minor is a felony. The sign doesn't say anything about breasts or buttocks. Trujillo advises nude bathers to act responsibly and seek permission from other bathers before removing their clothing.

Felony indecent exposure is a serious charge. It looks bad on a job application. A person convicted of this charge may be required to register as a sex offender. The guy cited for misdemeanor indecent exposure claimed he was just changing into his bathing suit. The prudent thing to do is to keep your pants on.

Directions (if you're still interested): From the town of Jemez Springs, go seven miles north on NM 4 to a large parking lot on the east side of the highway near milepost 24. A trail descends about 150 feet to the Jemez River. Walk across the log, then climb up the trail about a hundred feet to a pool big enough for about ten people where natural mineral water at 109 degrees flows up through a sandy bottom. There are two smaller pools just below and another about two hundred feet straight uphill from the lower pools.

 

 

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