Leonard Waites was surprised. The executive director of the state Martin Luther King Jr. Commission had just learned from a reporter that Mayor Tim Keller had hired former U.S. Attorney and defeated congressional candidate Damon Martinez as a senior policy adviser for the Albuquerque Police Department. Waites, who is black and also serves as chairman of the Albuquerque Police Oversight Board, was outraged last year by the results of a large-scale federal law enforcement operation. Overseen by Martinez, agents had arrested a grossly disproportionate number of black people for relatively minor crimes in 2016. “I have very, very serious concerns about this,” Waites said Monday of Martinez’s hire, adding that he had heard nothing about it from the Keller administration.
Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller this week told city police officers to stop the city’s DWI vehicle seizure program. Under existing ordinance, the police department can impound vehicles after DWI arrests, but before the driver has been convicted. Keller called on the city council to permanently change the policy, but there are still pending lawsuits by people who allege the city violated state law and the U.S. Constitution by taking vehicles and then charging owners to release them. Albuquerque’s Chief Administrative Officer Sarita Nair said city attorneys are evaluating each case individually before taking any further action. “Our legal department is doing a case-by-case review of every case, whether it’s in the initial stages, whether it was set for a hearing at the city administrative hearing level or whether it’s in the district or higher courts, to make sure that we handle all the cases consistently, fairly and transparently,” Nair told NM Political Report.
On Sunday morning, with snow in the Sandias and temperatures in the 30s, thousands of people converged on Civic Plaza in Albuquerque for the Women’s March. The crowd may have been smaller than in January 2017, the day after President Donald Trump’s inauguration, but it was no less defiant of the president’s policies. Speakers called out in support of the #MeToo movement and equality for LGBTQ communities. They rallied to fight racism and economic inequality and reaffirmed the rights of Indigenous women. Many spoke about the pervasive nationwide fear that DREAMers, who had been protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, will be deported.
Albuquerque Mayor-Elect Tim Keller announced new leadership positions for his administration this week, including an interim police chief. Keller announced on Monday that Sarita Nair will be the city’s Chief Administrative Officer. Nair is one of multiple members of his staff in the State Auditor’s office that will hold key positions in his administration. Nair will be the first woman to serve in the position in Albuquerque’s history. She worked in the State Auditor’s office as Chief Government Accountability Officer and General Counsel under Keller.
Before he leaves to work every morning, State Auditor Tim Keller says he always talks with his young daughter about the day ahead. For him, Tuesday morning posed a problem. That’s because he wasn’t sure how to explain what he was set to present to the public. “It was little tough this morning,” Keller told a room of reporters. He released a report of proposed solutions to clear the backlog of more than 5,000 sexual assault evidence kits in police departments throughout New Mexico.
The top attorney for the state’s Taxation and Revenue Department recently resigned from the cabinet-level agency. Brad Odell, TRD’s chief legal counsel, “informed the department that he will be leaving to pursue a good opportunity with a large law firm,” according to Lorissa Abeyta, a legal assistant with the agency. NM Political Report confirmed Odell’s resignation through a public records request with TRD after Odell and department spokesman Ben Cloutier didn’t return phone calls and emails for two days earlier this week. Odell’s actions came under scrutiny in a preliminary investigation that concluded TRD Secretary Demesia Padilla may have abused her power by helping a business during a tax audit by her agency. Padilla’s actions, according to the report, may have led to retaliation against TRD employees and lost the state money.
In July, State Auditor General Counsel Sarita Nair filed an ethics complaint against Tax Department lead attorney Brad Odell with the Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of New Mexico, NM Political Report has learned. The Disciplinary Board opted not to take action against Odell, citing that it lacked sufficient evidence.
Before New Mexico Political Report recently reported on a botched redaction from the state Taxation and Revenue Department, we reached out to its spokesman multiple times. It took Taxation Department spokesman Ben Cloutier more than four hours to respond. And when he did, he responded with a legal threat. “Mr. Peters,” he begins in an email sent Thursday late afternoon:
Although taxpayer return information was redacted by the department to provide confidentiality, you purposely manipulated the document (i.e., you were able to get around the redaction and enhance the imagery) in order to reveal taxpayer return information and thwart the purpose of the redaction. Furthermore, you have published taxpayer return information despite the clear intent that it remain confidential.
A state department attempted to thwart an outside investigation into its cabinet secretary’s alleged wrongdoings, State Auditor Tim Keller said in a press conference Wednesday morning. Keller released four documents related to his office’s preliminary investigation into whether Taxation and Revenue Department Secretary Demesia Padilla illegally intervened to give preferential treatment to her former client and retaliated against employees who brought concerns. The Taxation Department collects and distributes tax funds in New Mexico. Among the newly released documents are letters showing how the department attempted to prevent two of its employees from being interviewed by an outside firm hired by the state auditor to look into the matter. “They basically were trying to obstruct our investigation,” Keller said.