LOS LUNAS — The Los Lunas Board of Education will soon, again, consist of five members following the suspension of the entire elected board on May 26.
New Mexico Public Education Department Secretary Ryan Stewart told the News-Bulletin he plans to appoint the remaining four designees by the end of the first week of July. Stewart appointed Sonya C’ Moya, who has been the lone board member for the past two meetings, on May 28.
PED announced the suspension of the five-member school board last month after what it described as repeated and ongoing issues with certain board members.
“We’ve certainly got some community members who are very interested and would potentially be strong candidates for the governance body,” Stewart told the News-Bulletin on Tuesday. “We are in the process of going through the review of those, and speaking to people and trying to make some decisions.”
According to PED, the department has received a total of 23 letters of intent to fill the remaining board seats for Los Lunas Schools Districts 1, 3, 4 and 5. Moya currently represents District 2.
The entirety of the elected, five-member Los Lunas Board of Education — Eloy Giron, Frank Otero, Steven Otero, Bryan Smith and David Vickers — was suspended at the end of last month due to “credible evidence that certain board members have persistently violated procurement and public access laws, the state Public School Code, and professional ethical standards.”
Stewart identified suspended board member Vickers as one of the community members who submitted a letter of intent for consideration of appointment.
Prior to suspension, Vickers represented District 3, which is one of the seats expected to be on the November election ballot. District 5 will also be up for grabs this election cycle.
Stewart said no decisions have been made as to which applicants will be appointed, and the department is still undergoing the review process.
A public hearing for the suspended board, as requested by Smith and Giron, will be held by video conference at 9:30 a.m., Tuesday, July 27. No weblink to the hearing has yet been released by PED.
According to Stewart, his department has essentially concluded its investigation into the board, which resulted in its suspension. Aside from the hearings next month, no other investigative action will be taken by PED, however, he also pointed to other state agencies which have active investigations into the board, such as the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office and the New Mexico State Police.
In the May 26 press release, PED listed 16 categorized concerns and potential violations by the suspended board, including:
- Violations of the Open Meetings Act
- Violations of the Inspection of Public Records Act
- Violations of the Procurement Code
- Attempting to extort vendors by implying they would get a contract if they would “personally enrich a board member”
- Addressing a district employee in a threatening manner during a board meeting
- Falsifying allegations of financial misconduct of school personnel and much more
The release called the suspension indefinite and it is not known whether the members will be permanently removed from the board or will be able to carry out the rest of their terms.
In November 2020, the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office released its decision on allegations that the now-suspended board violated the Open Meetings Act, “strongly (urging) the board to reconsider its overly broad and plainly erroneous interpretation of OMA’s pending or threatened litigation exception.”
The complaints, filed by Claire Ciermans, Andrew Garcia, Heather Rindels and Dana Sanders, allege that on five different occasions, the board entered into a closed session under the pending or threatened litigation OMA exception, although the law did not extend to “anticipation of litigation,” as it stated in the meeting agendas.
The AG’s office concluded that since during four of the five meetings the board also used the personnel matters exception in the description of matters to be discussed during the closed session, the OMA complaints were dismissed.
However, during a March 16 closed session, the board only relied on the pending or threatened litigation exception rather than the personnel exception, which the office concluded would have constituted a legal closed session.
At all the meetings alleged of violating the Open Meetings Act, the board discussed matters related to the leave and employment status of then-superintendent Dana Sanders, appointment of an interim superintendent, and “certain financial complaints made against the then superintendent (Sanders).”
“Although the discussion of the financial complaints apparently made against the then-superintendent may be more unusual or unique, the limited personnel matters exception itself states that it applies to the discussion of ‘complaints or charges against any individual public employee,’” the investigation results stated.
Until more board designees are appointed by Stewart, appointed board member C’Moya said the Los Lunas Board will continue to meet on a monthly basis. As business necessitates, C’Moya said they will move into their typical twice-a-month meeting schedule.
Moya added that since the board is appointed, it actually operates more similarly to a governing committee rather than an elected board.
When asked about the validity of this statement, PED Deputy Communications Director Judy Robinson said via email, “since the committee is composed of individuals exercising the delegated authority of the department, they are not considered to be a board in the same sense as the suspended board.”
Robinson clarified that the board will still follow the Sunshine Laws established through the Open Meetings Act, such as approving a resolution stating the frequency of meetings.
“I believe a lawyer would have to interpret the statute to determine if that is required,” Robinson added.
The Los Lunas Board of Education regularly meets once a month during the summer and typically resumes twice-a-month meetings once the school year starts up again.
OMA Complaint & Decision
Suspension, Auditor Documents
LLS 2020 FY Regular Audit
LLS 2020 Special Audit
Makayla Grijalva was born and raised in Las Cruces. She is a 2020 graduate of The University of New Mexico, where she studied multimedia journalism, political science and history.