December 17, 2015

2015 Recap: A lot of Duran, APS scandal fallout in September

Secretary of State Dianna Duran

Secretary of State Dianna Duran, courtesy photo

August ended with a bang (see the recap if you haven’t already) with the resignation of Albuquerque Public Schools superintendent Luis Valentino and criminal charges filed against Dianna Duran.

The start of September was all about the fallout from those two major stories—mostly the Duran story.

Duran legal troubles

Secretary of State Dianna Duran

Secretary of State Dianna Duran, courtesy photo

NM Political Report looked at how a Secretary of State vacancy could come about and what that would mean. One of those was impeachment and removal from office; the Speaker of the House formed a committee to begin the impeachment process with Zach Cook, R-Ruidoso, and Gail Chasey, D-Albuquerque, as co-chairs; the committee held one meeting and hired an attorney to aid in the investigation but that was it and the committee never held a second meeting.

Duran, for her part, was nowhere to be seen even two weeks after the charges were filed (she showed up to work for the first time more than three weeks after the charges were filed).

She did have to make a public appearance on September 15, when she pleaded not guilty to all charges. That same day, legislators approved funding for the impeachment panel.

After sniping from her legal team towards the Attorney General, he said that he would no longer provide counsel to her office and instead said she should go to district attorneys offices for legal help.

APS and Jaquise Lewis the biggest ABQ stories

We also looked at the next steps for APS and acting superintendent Susan Reedy wrote about how this was the latest, and biggest, challenge of her life. An effort to recall board members began to fizzle after a parent who wanted to do so pared back his attempt to target just one member; days later, the organizer said he wouldn’t go on with the effort.

The scandals in New Mexico had reached such a level, already, that the New York Times wrote about them.

The Jaquise Lewis story continued to unfold. This time, the city refused to “admit or deny” just what exactly caused his death. Midway through the month, we got news that the district attorney was going to look at the case and a few days later, the family let the city know they were considering a lawsuit.

Medical marijuana, campaign finance and more

Meanwhile, former Bernalillo County Sheriff Darren White was among those who wanted to get approval to grow medical marijuana. It was a drastic turnaround for the former law enforcement official, who had previously lobbied against marijuana, including medical marijuana. Independent reporter Peter St. Cyr was the first to make the connection and he told us how he found the names of many applicants.

Another feature story was about how to get public records from recalcitrant agencies; it all came down to having lawyers, time and money. A judge ruled later in the month that the state had to pay legal fees to a teachers union for violating a state open records law.

In what would mushroom to include many legislators, an investigation found inconsistencies with the campaign finance reports of Moe Maestas where he did not report $4,000 in campaign donations. Reps. James Madalena, D-Jemez Pueblo, and Andy Nunez, R-Hatch, joined Maestas on the hot seat days later. And NM Political Report found even more questionable campaign finance reports, which pointed to a larger problem with the campaign finance process and enforcement.

When it came to ethics complaints that were actually filed? One resulted in Secretary of State Duran accusing the person filing an ethics complaint of intimidation—and threatened to refer the accuser to state and federal officials.

On a local level, a mailer in the Albuquerque city election from an anti-abortion group made NM Political Report question if it violated the city’s election laws.

The Republican Party chairwoman outlined four targets to attempt to take over the state Senate.

The Public Education Department got more bad news when an audit confirmed the underfunding of special education. This could have drastic consequences including the loss of some federal education funding. NM Political Report further examined the deep problems with special education funding in the state.

Quick hits: