BOSQUE FARMSA handful of current and former Bosque Farms village employees harshly criticized village Clerk/Administrator Vernon Abeita at the February village council meeting for putting wastewater treatment plant director David Chavez on administrative leave and Abeita’s management of staff in general. 

During public comments at the Feb. 15 meeting, village employee Christie Cunningham said Abeita’s decisions were “directly impeding the workflow of the village,” with nearly three dozen open work orders since Chavez was put on leave as well as numerous complaints from village residents about work delays. 

In a written statement provided to the News-Bulletin, Cunningham alleges there is widespread “emotional turmoil” amongst the employees, which has led to three employees in different departments resigning directly due to Abeita’s “bullying, intimidating and micromanaging.” 

While Chavez signed up for public comment that evening, he said he was going to hold his comments “for a different audience.” 

In a Feb. 16 email from Chavez to the mayor, council and some village employees, he said Abeita has routinely ignored his emails, “and I have always had to fight to just purchase everyday equipment. I have filed one complaint, a grievance and many emails concerning harassment, bullying and a hostile work environment, which has never been responded to,” the email reads. “Now I have been suspended because of my certification. Which I am a level two in water and wastewater …” 

After a Jan. 29 spill of about 30,000 gallons of wastewater at the plant, it came to light that the village’s ordinance required the plant director be a level three and the recently renewed EPA discharge permit for the facility required the director hold a level four certification. 

Chavez, who has been the director for the treatment plant since 2021, alleges Abeita ordered him to violate ordinances and forced him to use a contractor Chavez felt couldn’t perform needed work at the plant. 

“This is a clear case of retaliation by Abeita against me for not following his orders blindly …” his email concludes. 

Mike Montoya, the planning and zoning director for the village, told the council that in the last six months he had seen “the status quo be removed, incentives removed, random memo’s written to accommodate one person’s ego and need for power, as well as ordinances ignored and illegal activity at the (wastewater) plant.” 

Montoya filed complaints with Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the state labor board in November, alleging he was denied safety equipment for his job, encountered a hostile environment and was not compensated properly for hours worked and was not paid for travel for training. 

“My final statement is that all of these problems would go away if it was not for one problem, the real problem,” Montoya said. “I respectfully ask this council to do what is best for your community and to do what is best for your employees …” 

In an interview after the meeting, Abeita said the village has received two OSHA complaints, a complaint made to the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions and one grievance made directly to the village. 

Vernon Abeita
Village clerk/ administrator

“We have responded to the Workforce complaint, sent the information they requested from the village, but we haven’t heard back,” Abeita said. “That was three or four weeks ago.” 

The second OSHA complaint was received on Feb. 19, Abeita said, and alleged employees at the wastewater treatment plant weren’t provided with necessary equipment, such as safety gloves, glasses and aprons. 

“We’ve already been looking into purchases that were made and it appears the equipment was purchased,” he said. “We need to make sure it was given out to the employees.” 

In regards to the grievances filed with the village’s personnel board, the clerk/administrator said as per policy “the only thing that can be grieved is suspension, demotions and terminations.” 

The animus from some employees boils down to one thing, Abeita said. 

“Accountability. Holding people accountable to the policies, to the procedures,” he said.  

Abeita said things began to sour shortly after he was hired in June 2023. He sent an email memo to all village employees clarifying the village’s take-home vehicle policy. 

“Our policy states that vehicles are not to be taken home, and we actually had two departments taking vehicles home without authorization,” he said. “That’s what started it all — enforcing policy and holding people accountable.” 

In the email, Abeita says he also noted that due to operational need, the on-call employee for the water/wastewater department could take a vehicle home. 

“The policies are for the benefit of the village, not for certain individuals or departments,” he said.  

Abeita said it’s his hope he and the employees can work through the current conflict and work together in a cohesive way. 

“Is it that way now? No. Can it get better? Yes. Could it come back up and rear it’s ugly head again? Yes, but all we can hope for is everybody can work together and do the right things for the village,” he said. “I get it. When people have been critical of me, I don’t like it; nobody likes it, but you have to be able to take a beat and look at what you do and how you’ve done it. 

“I will continue to hold people accountable. It’s what I was asked to do when I got this job and was appointed by the former mayor,” Abeita said. “I was asked to make sure that we adhere to policies and make sure we go in the direction where people are held accountable.” 

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Julia M. Dendinger began working at the VCNB in 2006. She covers Valencia County government, Belen Consolidated Schools and the village of Bosque Farms. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists Rio Grande chapter’s board of directors.