April 30, 2020

Grants mayor facing two legal battles after defying state emergency order

Joe Gratz


Grants Mayor Martin “Modey” Hicks’ refusal to close municipal departments, like the city-run golf course, led to him being named in two different legal filings. One case is a lawsuit filed by the former city manager and the other a petition from the state’s attorney general asking the state Supreme Court to order Hicks to comply with a state emergency order. 

Last week, Hicks publicly announced that he would defy the state’s Department of Health order limiting the scope of what services and business can be open during the COVID-19 pandemic. True to his word, Hicks allowed businesses to open and reportedly told city employees to report to work, in-person. 

On Wednesday, New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas filed a writ of mandamus, or a petition asking the high court to intervene on the basis that Hicks is not fulfilling his duty as mayor. 

Balderas argued in his petition that Hicks “is knowingly and intentionally violating the State’s public health emergency orders.” 

“He is directing city employees to violate these orders, and fired the city manager who refused to do so,” the petition read. “He is instructing and encouraging city businesses to reopen in violation of the orders, and proclaiming his constitutional authority to do so. Finally, he has invited a legal resolution of his dispute with the State.”

On Thursday, the day after Balderas’ petition, recently fired city manager Laura Jaramillo filed a whistleblower lawsuit against both the city and Hicks. 

In her suit, Jaramillo alleged that Hicks fired her after she refused to go against the state public health emergency order, even after state police issued a citation and warning against opening the course. 

“Upon information and belief, Hicks just wanted to open the golf course as a political stunt and to thumb his nose at the Governor,” the lawsuit alleges.

Hicks told the Associated Press it was “a lie” that he fired Jaramillo over her refusal to violate a state order, but did not expand on the issue. 

According to court records, Hicks had not been served with the lawsuit as of Thursday. He told NM Political Report that he had not seen Jaramillo’s lawsuit, but maintained that her allegation that she was fired over refusing to open the golf course was a “total lie.”

He said Balderas’ petition was also riddled with inaccuracies.

“There are a lot of things in there that ain’t true either,” Hicks said in a phone interview on Thursday. “I never told my cops to stop the state police. Never ever said that.”

Cibola County, which encompasses Grants, is arguably on the lower end of the spectrum of positive COVID-19 cases. But adjacent to Cibola County is McKinley County where the number of positive cases recently surpassed that of Bernalillo County, the most populous county in the state.