BOSQUE FARMSThe termination of the village of Bosque Farms wastewater treatment plant director was upheld by a 2-1 vote of the village council at a special meeting. 

Former plant director David Chavez was fired in early February because he hadn’t been able to attain the correct state certification for the position. Chavez appealed his termination to the village personnel board in March, which then made a recommendation to the council. 

At a special council meeting on April 3, Councilor Tim Baughman made a motion to uphold the personnel board’s recommendation and terminate Chavez. The motion was seconded by Councilor Michael Cheromiah, with the two men voting in favor of the motion and Councilor Erica De Smet voting against. 

David Chavez

As per the village’s personnel policy, Chavez’s March 13 appeal hearing was conducted in an open meeting unless the appellant — Chavez — asked that it be closed, which he did not.  

The personnel board is comprised of former village police chief Greg Jones, Bosque Farms Planning and Zoning Commissioner Sharon Eastman, the village’s clerk/administrator and a councilor, in this case Cheromiah, as a nonvoting member. 

Since he was the village’s witness in the case, former clerk/administrator Vernon Abeita recused himself from the proceedings.  

As per the rules, any witnesses must leave the room until they are called to testify. On the day of the hearing, village employees Mike Montoya, Christie Cunningham, Andres Modesto and Nick Gibson were identified as witnesses for Chavez and they, as well as Abeita, left the room before the hearing began. 

Village attorney Mark Jarmie said the issue at hand was very straightforward and simple — Chavez simply didn’t have the necessary level of certification to operate the village wastewater plant. 

“Ordinance requires a wastewater 3 certification for the utilities director, but he does not have a 3, he has a 2,” Jarmie said. “The state recently changed things to require a 4 but he still only has a 2.  

“The village worked with him for several months to get to a 3 and he wasn’t able to achieve that,” the attorney said. “To make sure the facility was in compliance, the village had to reluctantly terminate him from that position.” 

Abeita put Chavez on administrative leave on Jan. 30 and as per village ordinance. Chavez was given a pre-disposition hearing with then-mayor Wayne Ake on Monday, Feb. 5. Three days later, Ake made the decision to terminate Chavez. The utility director requested an appeal before the personnel board, with the final decision on his termination up to the village council. 

Before any witnesses could be called or Chavez offered his opening statement, former municipal judge for the village R. Lar Thomas called for a point of order. He informed the board one of the witnesses had left their cellphone in the room. When Thomas took it out of the chamber to return the phone, he realized it was recording or possibly live-streaming. 

“I looked down and was surprised to see my face on the screen,” Thomas said. 

Jones thanked him for the information before allowing Chavez to deliver his opening statement. 

Chavez said he wouldn’t try to say he had a level 3 certification and acknowledged he was hired with a level 2 certifications in both water and wastewater operations.  

“The real issue became harassment from Clerk Abeita from the beginning of his job until now,” Chavez said. “I have been doing the job for four years, gone through several inspections, audits with the state and EPA with no problem. They are well aware of me having a 2 like many other plants in the state and country …  

“I have not stopped trying to get a 3. I’ve been running the plant and crew with no problems. I feel like I was targeted by Abeita because he was trying to force me to go against the ordinances.” 

During his testimony, Abeita said the village was aware that Chavez had a level 2, and former mayor Russ Walkup made getting his level 3 certification a condition of his promotion to director in January 2021. 

Abeita said Chavez had three opportunities during those three years to test for the higher certification, but did not pass the test. 

“In state law, you have to have a 3 — now a 4 — and we were breaking the law and needed to address the issue,” Abeita said of the decision to terminate Chavez. 

When Chavez called his witnesses — Montoya, Gibson and Modesto — he asked them all how things “got to this point.” 

Montoya said it was a build up over six months, with issues such as policy changes, manual changes and lack of safety equipment compounding and leading to “unhappy employees.”  

In previous interviews with the News-Bulletin, Abeita said he did not have the authority to change policies, but had issued memos reminding employees about existing policies.  

During their testimony, both Gibson and Modesto said they had failed various certification tests required for their jobs and didn’t receive any discipline, but were simply offered to take the tests again. 

“It’s a lot to study for,” Gibson said, noting it took him three attempts to pass his vector 1 and 2 certification tests.  

Chavez told the board he was trying to establish that employees with the village were given the chance to retake certification tests they failed and not terminated. 

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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.