LOS LUNAS — Previous to the permanent suspension of the Los Lunas Board of Education members — Eloy Giron, Frank Otero, Steven Otero, Bryan Smith and David Vickers — two of the board members threw their name in the hat to again vie for their seats on the board.
Vickers and Steven Otero will both run for reelection for the Los Lunas Board of Education for districts 3 and 5, respectively.
The New Mexico Public Education Department announced Tuesday, Aug. 31, the suspension of the board is permanent, despite also concluding that members Frank Otero and Vickers did not participate in any direct wrongdoing, with findings of fact stating “they appear to be innocent bystanders in the crossfire.”
Districts 3 and 5 are the only board of education seats in the district appearing on November’s ballot.
Los Lunas Schools Superintendent Arsenio Romero told the News-Bulletin the school district is looking into different options to elect a board in light of the permanent suspension of the current board.
“There’s still a couple of pieces left for discussion,” Romero said. “There are different possibilities.”
Romero said they would most likely wait for the traditional election cycle to elect the remainder of the seats, which will appear on the ballot in 2023. The district could also push for the seats to be on the partisan general election in 2022, however the board of education is non-partisan.
Another option would be to hold a special election to replace the permanently-suspended board members. Romero said he is in talks with both the New Mexico secretaries of state and education to decide the best path forward for the school district.
Alex Curtas, communications director for New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, said from the SOS’s perspective, the seats for Districts 1, 2 and 4 aren’t vacancies.
At this point in the process, the election proclamation has been issued — which contains the seats that will appear on the November ballot — and the filing dates have passed, he said.
Judy Robinson, NMPED deputy communications director, said the department is not aware of any provision that bars suspended board members Vickers and Steven Otero from running for reelection to their seats.
New Mexico state statute states that in order to run for general public office, candidates must not be convicted of a felony, must reside in the district in which they are running, and must not have any outstanding campaign finance complaints with the New Mexico Secretary of State’s office.
According to NMPED Interim Secretary Kurt Steinhaus’ decision, New Mexico State Police is also investigating Steven Otero’s conduct while he was on the board.
The investigation has been completed and turned over to Barbara Romo, 13th Judicial district attorney. No charges have been filed against any of the board members at this time.
“I have evaluated (the investigation) and determined it is a conflict for my office. I am currently seeking conflict counsel,” Romo said via email.
There are several options for conflict counsel for Romo, including the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office, the Administrative Office of the District Attorney, another jurisdiction or a contract attorney.
“My preference is the AG so I’ll ask them first,” she said.
The permanently suspended school board has until Thursday, Sept. 30, to appeal the PED decision to the 13th Judicial District Court if they chose to do so.
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. She covers the village of Los Lunas, Los Lunas Schools, SODA and the town of Peralta.