Albuquerque Journal from Albuquerque, New Mexico on May 9, 1996 · Page 29
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Albuquerque Journal from Albuquerque, New Mexico · Page 29

Albuquerque, New Mexico
Issue Date:
Thursday, May 9, 1996
Page 29
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f DE8T AVAILABLE COPY Albuquerque Journal NEW MEXICO Thursday, May 9, 1996 C LARRY CALLOWAY L: ' "i : ' I v " Of the Journal Blind Trust Is Hard To Trust When Robert Morando announced he was stepping down as president of Gov. Gary Johnson's Big J Enterprises to go into "consulting," he didn't say the consulting would be at taxpayer expense. But on Wednesday morning Morando met in private with the governor's Cabinet in his new role as the governor's paid consultant. Word leaked out, and by the end of the day the governor's office had to confirm that the former Big J president has a contract to study government reorganization. News Secretary Diane Kinderwater said, after checking with Johnson higher-ups, that the two-month professional services contract is for $20,000 through June 30, the end of the fiscal year. Whether the contract is renewable for next fiscal year at the $10,000 a month rate wasn't disclosed because the Department of Finance and Administration, which is paying Morando, was unable to provide a copy of the public document by closing . time Wednesday. Morando was hand-picked by Johnson from among Big J employees to become president on Jan. 1, 1995, when Johnson became governor. Last March, Morando announced he was leaving the Albuquerque construction labor company on April 1 to do consulting. The only reason he gave was he wanted "more flexibility with my personal time." Two Cabinet members whose departments would be severely affected by one often-voiced reorganization idea merger of all Medicaid-dealing agencies . were circumspect about Morando's talk to the Cabinet. Human Services Secretary Dorothy Danfelser said, "The agenda was to talk about where Bob was. Last week we each presented our view of the world. His presentation today really talked generally about principles of realignment." Health Department Secretary Alex Valdez said he was called away and only heard part of the presentation, but, "Of course we'll cooperate with any study pertaining to reorganization of government." Kinderwater had this statement on behalf of the governor, who was away at the Hondo Fire: "When Gov. Johnson won the election he entrusted his own company to Bob Morando. That's the kind of confidence he has in his abilities. Now on behalf of New Mexicans, he's asking that he be part of the effort to find restructuring alternatives to government." She said the governor will make the final decisions. Johnson maintains his company is in a "blind trust." But Morando's fast role-switch and other facts indicate the governor has an awfully loose blindfold. Johnson has made angry public statements as governor about a $560,000 judgment in April 1995 in favor of a former Big J employee under the "whistle-blower" provision of the Occupational Health and Safety Act. Last October Johnson complained in a Socorro speech that Big J had to put up an $860,000 appeal bond in the case. "I'm absolutely devastated about this, that the government can do this to a business," he said. Last year his office sought information to remove two Democratic regents of New Mexico Tech a few days after they voted down a construction maintenance contract with Big J. Journal photos published last year showed the governor biking in September and rock climbing in August with Harold Field, the comptroller of Big J. Field stepped up to president when Morando resigned. And in the March announcement Field said Morando "is going to continue doing some consulting work for the company." Morando wasn't home on Wednesday, and a Big J phone receptionist said he's "no longer with the company." One ethical question is whether he intends to continue a business relationship with Big J at the same time he's being paid by the state for a job under general supervision by the governor. If so, the "blind trust" argument won't seem very convincing. NOT IN OUR FACILITY: Health Secretary Valdez is under court order to remove 81 residents of the Los Lunas Hospital and Training School by December. In the "Jackson" lawsuit settlement, these developmentally disabled wards of the state must be placed where they are under the least restriction, ideally back in their own communities. But they need special care. And now the care providers, private for-profit and nonprofit homes around the state, are saying: "We can't take 'em." Valdez says he has a stack of rejection letters from individual providers and one from their state association. He sees it as a money issue, but some providers may be taking the view that no amount of money would allow them to deal with the severely disabled adults. "It's the most challenging public policy issue I've ever been called upon to address," the secretary said on Wednesday, a day after a meeting with the providers that produced no solutions. "I can say this: The state will not subject its clients to an unhealthy and unsafe environment," Valdez said. But that's how the Jackson plaintiffs describe the Los Lunas facility. One money problem is a ruling that certain elements of care for the disabled don't qualify for Medicaid. This message comes from Danfelser's Human Services Department, which she says relates to the Health Department as a bank relates to a loan applicant. Valdez, on the other hand, says, "Maybe one day we can have the luxury of looking at health care dollars rather than categories with special interests." Should these two departments be merged and end this adversary relationship? Sounds like a problem for Morando, folks. Five Counties On List for Drought By Rene Romo Journal Southern Bureau LAS CRUCES Five southern New Mexico counties have been designated primary disaster areas by the U.S. Department of Agriculture because of losses from the blistering drought. The designation makes farm and rangeland operators eligible to apply for low-interest, emergency loans from the federal Farm Service Agency. The disaster designation covers Catron, Socorro, Grant, Sierra and Luna counties. Seven other counties Cibola, Dona Ana, Hidalgo, Lincoln, Otero, Torrance and Valencia were named contiguous disaster areas, making ranchers there eligible for federal aid, too. "If we don't get some relief this year, well, we 're going out of business. That's all there is to it." FRED MCCAULEY, RANCHER The drought conditions have killed off vegetation and pasture on rangeland, forcing ranchers to buy supplemental feed, thereby increasing the cost of raising cattle and greatly reducing the value of the rangeland, said Winfred Riley, agricultural credit director for the Farm Service Agency in Albuquerque. Coupled with beef prices, which are half or less of what they were a year ago, many ranchers are in dire straits. Fred McCauley, a 65-year-old rancher who runs 1,000 cattle on about 64,000 acres in the Cliff area, said he may have to liquidate part of his herd if it doesn't rain in the next three months. "If we don't get some relief this year, well, we're going out of business. That's all there is to it," McCauley said. "I've seen it bad before, but not like this." Riley said rangeland in the five counties designated primary disaster areas have suffered losses of 65 to 80 percent of pasture. Last year, the federal Department of Agriculture named Quay, Curry and Roosevelt counties as primary disaster areas, with seven contiguous counties deemed eligible for disaster relief. Because of a disaster declaration in Texas, Eddy County also was named a contiguous disaster area. With Tuesday's designation of five more counties, the entire southern two-thirds of the state has been declared eligible for federal disaster relief because of the drought. Ann Hunt, whose husband works 100 NEIGHBORHOOD NOISE f . : H ,lii-ti fi irftlf-r LKi..-.--: - T - ' " 'v " ' . w-' " AARON WILSONJOURNAL Ray Raney follows his shot on the driving range of the Puerto del Sol golf course Wednesday as a passenger jet makes its final approach to the north-south runway at the Albuquerque International Sunport. The runway will get heavy use until the completion of renovation work on the airport's east-west runway. Hopefuls Line Up for Frost's Supreme Court Job cattle on land about 18 miles north of Silver City, said her ranch has been able to survive because they maintain 20 acres of permanent, irrigated pasture. Usually, the Hunts let cattle feed in mountain ranges until June, but this year they brought the cows down to their permanent pasture a month early. "There's nothing up there. It's just not in good shape," Hunt said. "We're a disaster all right." ; Ranchers can apply for 3.75 percent direct government loans to compensate for up to 80 percent of their losses, Riley said. To be eligible, applicants must have suffered losses in excess of 30 percent from normal. - Last week, the Federal Emergency Management Agency announced the formation of a Drought and Emergency Assistance Task Force to help New Mexican residents hurt by the drought. "Let it rain. That'll do more good than all the government programs in the world," Riley said. "It's going to rain. I just don't know when." Write POB 2834, Santa Fe, NM, 87504. INTERNET: Larry CallowayMCIMAIL.COM By John Robertson Journal Staff Writer The list of candidates for the state Supreme Court seat of departing Justice Stanley Frost is growing and includes some big names in government and law. On the Republican side, Appeals Court Judge Harris Hartz confirms he is seeking the position. Robin Dozier Otten, superintendent of the state Regulation and Licensing Department, and a Republican, said Wednesday that she will apply to serve in the position through the end of the year, when a candidate elected to the post in the November general election takes over. Albuquerque attorney Paul Kennedy, another Republican, said he probably will seek the position, also. At least four Democrats plan to seek the position. They are former District Judge Patricia Madrid of Albuquerque, longtime Albuquerque attorney Dan McKinnon III, former state Appeals Court Judge Ben Chavez and District Judge Patricio Serna of the 1st Judicial District in Santa Fe. The Green Party, New Mexico's newest major party, also is eligible to nominate a general election candidate. In addition to abundant interest in the job, there are overlapping procedures for getting the seat. And New Mexico election law gets complicated when it comes to judges. Frost, a Democrat, announced in March that he would resign his seat, effective May 31, because he's undergoing treatment for cancer. State law provides that the central committees of the state's major political parties nominate candidates for the vacant seat. The candidates will run in the November general election. At the same time, the state's judicial merit selection system provides that a judicial nominating commission take applications and make recommendations to Gov. Gary Johnson, who will appoint Frost's immediate successor. That person would serve at least through the November election, when the seat will have to be voted on, said state Bureau of Elections Director Denise Lamb. It's possible that the person appointed by Johnson could be someone other than the person nominated by the appointee's political party, Lamb said. But there can only be one general election candidate per party, and the only way for a candidate to get on the November ballot is to be nominated by his or her party's central committee, she said. If the person appointed by Johnson is not one of the people chosen by the political parties, the appointee will serve only until the person elected in November is sworn in, Lamb said. The justice elected in November would be elected to the unexpired portion of Frost's term, which runs through 2000, and then would have to stand for a so-called retention election, Lamb said. The judicial nominating commission will take applications for the Frost seat through May 21 and will meet June 4 the date of the primary election to review them. The Democrats' central committee is scheduled to meet on nominating a candidate June 8. State Republican Party Chairman John Dendahl said his central committee will meet in early June. Hartz, who has twice run for the Supreme Court unsuccessfully, so far is planning to seek only the central committee nomination. If Hartz were to seek the judicial nominating commission's recommendation and the Johnson appointment, he would have to give up his Appeals Court seat to take the Supreme Court post. By going the Republican central committee route, he can retain his Appeals Court seat through the election year. And, because his Appeals Court term extends through 1998, he would keep that seat even if he were to lose the general election for the Supreme Court. Otten, a longtime friend of Hartz, said her only motivation in seeking the Frost seat for the remainder of the year, is that, "I think I could do a good job and I think some public policy thought needs to come to the Supreme Court." Otten said she thinks she potentially could take a leave of absence from her current job and return to it after the general election but hasn't discussed that with anyone. On the Democrat side, McKinnon said he will seek the judicial commission's recommendation and the Democratic nomination. McKinnon said he continues to represent Johnson's construction firm, Big J Enterprises, as a private attorney and has a Big J case on appeal. McKinnon said he hasn't considered his private legal representation of Johnson as a potential conflict in the judicial nominating process because, "I assume he's going to appoint a Republican." McKinnon also noted that Johnson and his wife, Dee, placed Big J Enterprises in a blind trust after Johnson's election. Charges Weighed In Hondo Wildfire DA Says Decision Could Take Weeks By Doug Mi And Andrew Stiny Journal Northern Bureau TAOS Eighth District Attorney Sammy Pacheco said Wednesday he is two or three weeks away from deciding whether to file criminal charges in connection with the Hondo Fire, which destroyed 32 structures and forced the temporary evacuation of Red River. Pacheco said he and officials from several other agencies, including the New Mexico State Police, the State Fire Marshal and the Carson National Forest, met Wednesday to discuss the investigation. "The consensus was we wait on their reports before a decision," Pacheco said. The State Police are leading the investigation, aided by investigators for the forest, the State Fire Marshal's office and the state Forestry and Resources Conservation Division. Pacheco said investigators, have interviewed about a dozen people so far. Neighbors have said a San Cristobal resident, Jose Silva Jr., also known as Melaquias, started a trash fire behind his home that got out of control and swept across private land into the forest. Although Pacheco said "there are some potential charges pending," he would not say if Silva would be charged. However, Pacheco said the fire started on Silva's property. According to a news release from Pacheco, possible criminal charges are: Negligent arson, or "recklessly" starting a fire or causing an explosion, a fourth-degree felony. Improper handling of fire, or allowing fire to escape or spread from someone's control without using "reasonable and proper precaution" to keep the fire from spreading, a petty misdemeanor. ; Violation of state-imposed restrictions on open burning, which went into effect the day before the fire broke out, a misdemeanor. The pace of the Hondo Fire investigation is a sharp contrast with that of the Dome Fire, which started April 25 and consumed 16,774 acres in the Jemez Wilderness. Two backpackers turned themselves in and were quickly charged with failing to completely extinguish a campfire, providing a false statement and causing a U.S. Forest Service fire engine to be destroyed. Each faces up to six months in prison and up to $25,000 in fines. Because the Dome Fire began on Forest Service land, it was investigated entirely by the Forest Service. Ray Polasky, chief of law enforcement for the state Forestry and Resources Conservation Division, said the Hondo Fire investigation is proceeding more deliberately. I "We're not rushing into this because we're very interested in trying to protect the rights of all of the individuals who may have been involved in the fire," Polasky said. Polasky said one difference between the two cases could be that of the Dome Fire suspects, "one came from Germany and the other has a General Delivery mailbox." In the Hondo Fire, he said, "the individual is a longtime member of the community. It's not a question of whether we need to reach out and hold this person."

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