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Woman arrested in ATF sting pleads guilty for reduced sentence, drops claims against confidential informant

Local NewsFriday, September 22, 2017 by Jeff Proctor

Jennifer Padilla has pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to distribute meth in return for a two-year federal prison sentence.

If a federal judge accepts the plea deal, the 39-year-old mother of five could be free in less than a year because of the 13 months she’s already spent in the Santa Fe County jail. Friday’s proposed sentence represents a significant reduction from the 10 or more years Padilla was facing behind bars.


The plea agreement, negotiated between Padilla’s Santa Fe-based lawyer, L Val Whitley, and federal prosecutors came less than two months after Padilla alleged misconduct by a confidential informant in a 2016 operation conducted by the federal bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.


New Mexico In Depth and the Santa Fe Reporter detailed Padilla’s allegations last month in a story that included her claims of entrapment and “outrageous government conduct”—two legal arguments Whitley made in a pair of court motions in late July. The informant convinced her that he was her boyfriend, even having sex with her at the government-funded halfway house where she was living after heroin addiction led to a string of burglaries and 15 months in state prison, Padilla said. He spent time with her children, too, all the while keeping his government work a secret.


Padilla is not backing off her allegations, Whitley said, although as a condition of the plea agreement she has withdrawn the court motions.


“She truly feels that she was entrapped, and we stand by the facts in our motions,” Whitley said. “But she made a personal decision to take out some of the uncertainty of going to trial.”


In Friday’s appearance before federal magistrate Judge Laura Fashing, Padilla appeared to evince some of the mixed feelings Whitley described. Wearing a fluorescent green prison jumpsuit and five-point shackles in court, Padilla answered Fashing’s questions for nearly 30 minutes.


To a handful Padilla answered “No, ma’am”—had she been forced to take the plea; was she under the influence of drugs or alcohol; and similar questions. Most of the time, however, Padilla replied “Yes, ma’am” in rapid-fire succession to 47 questions. Only when Fashing asked if Padilla “knowingly and willingly participated” in the conspiracy to sell meth did Padilla pause.


She rocked back and forth, stiffened up, and then answered: “Yes.”


Asked whether prosecutors had offered Padilla a plea deal prior to the court motions and news story, Whitley said in an interview after the hearing: “There had been some discussions, but nothing concrete, and certainly nothing as favorable to my client as what we have now.” Whitley believes the court motions and the story published last month led to the offer of substantially less prison time, he said.


And a nationally recognized legal expert who reviewed aspects of the case agreed. Concerns that are made public about confidential informants and their behavior can have a “gravitational pull” on the outcomes of cases, including plea negotiations, said Alexandra Natapoff, a former federal public defender.


Natapoff, a professor at the University of California at Irvine law school, is a nationally recognized expert on confidential informants. “If things go bad, or the informant can’t be called as a witness for whatever reason, or the government learns something new about their snitch, cases often fall apart,” Natapoff said. “There’s no good data on how many cases rely on informants, so we don’t know how often that happens, but we do know that it happens.”


That said, Natapoff added, 95 percent of cases in the federal system are resolved through pleas rather than trials. And there are numerous factors that can impact plea deals. “We may never know why that deal was offered in this case,” she said. “But this is an example where external forces related to the informant—media attention, defense motions—appear to have changed the negotiations for prosecutors.”


The US Attorney’s Office did not respond to questions or requests for comment following Friday’s hearing.


But Elizabeth Martinez, a spokeswoman for the office, issued a news release touting Padilla as the 77th person in the sting to plead guilty. The operation netted 103 arrests and federal officials praised it as a success in taking the “worst of the worst” off Albuquerque’s crime-ridden streets.

A multipart NMID investigation has called some of the government’s claims about the operation—and its tactics—into question. Like many swept up in the sting, Padilla did not have the sort of lengthy, violent criminal history officials have said they used as a prerequisite for targeting people. Nor was she moving large quantities of guns and drugs in the city.


A review of hundreds of federal court documents also showed the ATF arrested a highly disproportionate number of black people in the sting. Hispanics also were overrepresented among those arrested, while whites were heavily underrepresented.


Those findings have drawn scrutiny from a federal judge, as well as outrage and calls for reform in policing methods from Albuquerque’s black community and a resolution from a city councilor demanding a rebuke of the ATF and a congressional investigation.


Padilla contended in the court motions and in interviews that only after she and the informant were in what she believed to be a relationship did he pressure her to call old acquaintances and set up drug deals.


NMID and SFR independently verified some, but not all of Padilla’s claims.


Padilla’s prison term, had she been convicted at trial, would have been between 11 and 17 years depending on how federal sentencing guidelines were calculated, Whitley said. In part, her sentence would have been based on her past criminal record—which includes a felony drug possession conviction—and the amount of meth involved in the two sales.


In negotiating the plea agreement, prosecutors abandoned most of those requirements and agreed to consider Padilla’s limited role in the drug transactions: She never touched the meth and was not present when her acquaintances made sales to undercover ATF agents.

She was arrested Aug. 10, 2016 and has been incarcerated at the Santa Fe county jail since.


US District Judge William P. “Chip” Johnson must accept the deal and the prescribed 24-month sentence or reject it entirely. A hearing is expected in the next two months. If Johnson rejects the agreement, Whitley said Padilla likely would withdraw her guilty plea and he would refile the motion to dismiss her case.


“We had people who initially corroborated Jennifer’s account who, for various reasons, were not able to come forward to testify,” Whitley said. “That would’ve strengthened our position, for sure. Still, the government would have to respond to our claims and put their informant on the stand. We assume he would have denied everything, but she stands by her story and it is very compelling.”

SFPD: Officer Brought Personal Camera to Entrada Protest

Department says the officer didn’t violate protocol by taking and keeping photos

Local NewsFriday, September 22, 2017 by Aaron Cantú

Santa Fe Police Officer Landislas Szabo brought his own digital camera to work and snapped at least 189 photographs of protesters, journalists and bystanders on the Plaza during a protest against the Fiestas Entrada pageant two weeks ago.

Police spokesperson Greg Gurule says Szabo took the photos "without prompting from the department."

“The photos were on the card in his camera and never turned in to our evidence room,” Gurule tells SFR by email. But in a second email, Gurule says Szabo provided access to the images after SFR filed a public records request seeking them.   

Gurule also says the photos are not currently in the SFPD's possession and remain on Szabo's personal memory card because they are not part of an investigation.

The SFPD standard operating procedure “encourages the use of digital and audio recorders” for its officers, including as an aid in criminal prosecutions. It says officers may utilize recording devices to document officer contact with the public and to assist in the conviction of a suspect, among other purposes.

But the use of a personal camera by officers is discouraged, according to Gurule. The standard operating procedure says the department is not responsible for the maintenance of personal cameras. 

If “the personal item, the camera in this case, is used during the performance of the officer’s regular duties the material becomes [property] of the police department,” Gurule writes. “In this case there was no evidentiary value to the material.”

Some of the photographs may have evidentiary value for people facing charges after being arrested at the event, however, since they provide an overhead view of events before and after they were handcuffed. That means the photos could become part of discovery process wherein defendants are provided with evidence prosecutors plan to use in their criminal trials. 

SFPD make arrests at the Entrada demonstration.
Landislas Szabo
SFPD took photographs of protesters, journalists and bystanders.
Landislas Szabo

Attorney Dan Cron, who is coordinating a defense team for eight people arrested at the Entrada protests, calls it a "deficiency" that Santa Fe police don't have a clear policy about officers' personal camera use on duty.

"If you're on duty, and you're taking photographs, they're evidence, and they need to get tagged into the evidence room," Cron says.

In addition to demonstrators, Szabo also took photographs of several individuals, including journalists, who were holding cameras and appeared to be documenting the event or otherwise not taking an active part in the demonstration.

Gurule denies that Szabo targeted specific individuals for photographing. 

The photographs also confirm that officers on the roofs were armed with high-powered rifles. Gurule says SWAT personnel stationed atop the building at 53 Old Santa Fe Trail and the Palace of the Governors possessed standard issue Glock 35s and AR-15s, plus Remington 700 rifles.

SFPD took photographs of protesters, journalists and bystanders.
Landislas Szabo

After reviewing photographs obtained by SFR, Kevin Jarnagin, an in-house gun expert and content manager at Gun Talk Media, says the rifles police had with them were bolt-action sniper rifles.

“These are very standard setups,” Jarnagin says. “Most urban SWAT teams will have one of these. The length of the barrels indicate they likely would be used to shoot a short distance.”

A police sniper rifle can be seen on the right.
Landislas Szabo

More photographs can be viewed at the SFR Facebook page

Matt Grubs contributed reporting.

Story has been updated with comment from attorney Dan Cron. 

Morning Word: Black—No, Green!—Helicopters

Morning WordFriday, September 22, 2017 by Matt Grubs

Prominent Hunt
Santa Feans have been treated to some surprisingly low-flying helicopters over the south part of town this week. Don't fear, say the feds, it's just "Prominent Hunt 17-2." SFR went on its own slightly less-prominent hunt to figure out what was going on, and the Department of Energy says it's a twice-yearly exercise to make sure a number of agencies are ready for a nuclear attack. It includes the FBI and the Department of Defense and, the DOE says, it's been going on since 2012. But clear your browser history just in case.

Plame and simple
Valerie Plame Wilson—ex-spy, current novelist and Santa Femous personality—spent yesterday morning cleaning up a mess. It was her own, which she admitted after tweeting a link to an article entitled "America's Jews are Driving America's Wars." She argued the article made good points once you got past the incendiary headline, and urged people to read all of it before getting all, um, atwitter. A couple hours later, she was apologizing, saying she hadn't read the whole article. Yesterday was the first day of Rosh Hashanah, by the way.

Another crash at College Plaza
A 43-year-old man who was apparently having a seizure crashed hard into the Office Depot store at College Plaza. It's the third time this year someone has crunched into a store in the shopping center with the big parking lot at St. Michael's Drive and Cerrillos Road. No one inside the store was hurt and the driver was taken to the hospital.

Meanwhile, a couple miles away ...
A Santa Fe parking enforcement officer appears to have left her car in drive when she got out to give someone a ticket on Hospital Drive. The city-owned car rolled down the hill and through a stop sign—and traffic—before crashing through a cement-block wall behind a home. No one was injured and the city says it's investigating.

Court rejects ranked-choice
The New Mexico Supreme Court has rejected a bid by advocates of ranked-choice voting to force the city of Santa Fe to use the system in the municipal election next March. Ranked-choice voting is actually supposed to be used in city elections, according to the city charter, after voters approved an amendment in 2008. But that amendment contained some wiggle room for cost and availability. A lot of it. It'll be more than a decade now before the system gets used. The city worried the new way of voting would confuse voters.

Driven to distraction
Texting while driving has been illegal in New Mexico since 2014. And Santa Fe has had a ban on hand-held cellphone use for 15 years. Is either of those laws working? SFR's cover story this week catches up with local officials, who have mixed feelings, and national experts, who say it's hard to draw a straight line between anti-distraction laws and fewer crashes.

Railyard building to be sold
A federal judge says it's time to sell the Market Station building in Santa Fe's Railyard development district. The order means the 64,000 square foot building will be sold at auction in November. It's a bankruptcy proceeding and the starting bid will be $11.5 million. The city owns the land beneath the building, but a judge ordered a trustee to be appointed to manage the building last year. The company that owns the building now, where REI is, says it plans to fight the order.

It's fall!
Well, it's about to be. That happens this afternoon at 2:02 here in Santa Fe. And while we've been basking in upper 70s temperatures, it's about to get a whole lot more autumnal. There's a strong chance of rain tomorrow and our highs will drop 8-10 degrees going into next week. Bust out the sweaters, buy some decorative gourds and start drinking your hot beverages with two hands: It's fall.

Thanks for reading! The Word finds itself getting nostalgic for raking leaves. Teenage Word would hate that.

Spread the Word at sfreporter.com/santafe/signup.

Weekend Picks: See You in Hell, Weekdays!

Weekend PicksFriday, September 22, 2017 by SFR

Mayoral announcements. A prez who gets up in front of the UN and practically declares nuclear war. A brand-new H&M at the mall. It's been nuts lately, and we can all be forgiven for feeling a little down in the mouth. The remedy? Weekend outings and fun stuff to do! We'll bring the suggestions, you make the decisions. Let's all just regroup and try to do better on Monday.

Tim Kenney

Landscape painter Kenney returns to Santa Fe with a show featuring his signature aspen tree works, known for their brilliant colors. His oil paintings bring life to the aspen groves he paints, often en plein air. This show also includes a series with new subjects, including owers, oak trees and cloudscapes. Kenney’s use of color and layered paint textures create landscapes with incredible depth, transporting the viewer into the scene. Through Oct. 2.

More Info >>

Side By Side By Sondheim

Students from the Santa Fe University of Art and Design present a musical revue featuring the songs of the Broadway and film composer Stephen Sondheim. Celebrate the talented students of SFUAD, not to mention the wit and genius of musical theatre's most influential artist. Tickets are free, but reserve a seat, because the Playhouse can only fit 99 folks per night.

More Info >>

Vanilla Pop

These dudes are the only cover band we will actually pay double digits to go see at a bar. All the best songs from "Luck Be A Lady" to "Thrift Shop." Sounds dumb, actually is amazing.

More Info >>


Museum Day Live at the CCA

The Smithsonian is partnering with art spaces around the country for Museum Day Live, which gets you in for free! A ticket is available for download at smithsonian.com/museumday—visitors who present the ticket will gain free entrance for two at the CCA to check out Tom Joyce's Everything At Hand.

More Info >>

Steampunk Spectacular 6: The Emerald City

This daylong Steampunk festival has a Wizard of Oz theme. Beware the Witches and keep an eye out for the Munchkins. Peruse Merchant’s Row for garb, gear and gadgets. Day time activities include live entertainment, a Murder Mystery LARP, workshops and costume contest with prizes!

More Info >>

Reaching for the Stars

The Santa Fe Great Big Jazz Band helps celebrate Rising Stars in the Southwest, which helps young folk develop their personal leadership skills and begin to set goals and directions for their lives beginning at an earlier age.

More Info >>


Museum Hill Community Day

The Museum of Spanish Colonial Arts, The Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, the Santa Fe Botanical Garden, the Museum of International Folk Art and the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian are all free! Featuring live music by the Varsity Marimba Band from the Academy for Technology and the Classics; and, from 1-4 pm, run to the hands-on art-making for ages 3 to 103 making notched and layered paper photo frames. The Museum of Spanish Colonial Arts is hosting a pig roast ($12 for all you can eat!) and don't miss even more awesome stuff all over the hill.

More Info >>

African Drumming with Akeem

Join in with an interactive African drumming program led by Akeem Ayanniyi, a ninth-generation practitioner of the Yoruba talking drum. Akeem engages kids and adults in conversation about the continent of Africa, framed within his own personal story about growing up as a drummer in Nigeria. In addition to stories and song, he demonstrates the traditional talking drum, ashiko, djembe and bata drums.

More Info >>

Santa Fe Wine & Chile Film Fiesta: Bottle Shock and Heavenly Vintage

The ticket price gets you a reception and one film, so choose wisely. Tonight's reception features Champagne Perrier Jouet, Flora Springs and Coppola Director's Cut wineries.

More Info >>

Get more information about how to spend your fun days when you sign up for the SFR Weekend newsletter, delivered to your inbox each Friday afternoon.

In Case of Bomb ...

Choppers from the feds are hanging out in Santa Fe to work on nuclear attack readiness

Local NewsThursday, September 21, 2017 by Jeff Proctor

Low-flying, unmarked helicopters have been circling Santa Fe this week. But they're green, not black, and officials say there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation: to get ready for a possible nuclear attack.

An alphabet soup of federal agencies—including the FBI and the Defense Department—are nearing the end of a five-day training exercise in Albuquerque and Santa Fe, Energy Department spokeswoman Jessica Szymanski tells SFR in an email.

It has a name: "Prominent Hunt 17-2." (Seriously.) The agencies have been doing it twice a year since 2012, Szymanski says, making a point of disabusing SFR of the notion that helicopters in the sky over our fair city in preparation for the end of the world might have anything to do with President Donald Trump's ongoing game of rhetorical one-upmanship with North Korea's young dictator.

"The exercise is for operational readiness to respond in the event of a nuclear detonation in the US or overseas," her email goes on to say. "It is not in response to any ongoing world events."  

Santa Fe Municipal Airport Director Cameron Humphres says the Department of Energy notified the city's air traffic control tower last week that two helicopters for the exercise would use the airport as an operations base.

Helicopter pilots aren't required to file flight plans with the Federal Aviation Administration, according to Humphres. The FAA’s Flight Standards District Office in Albuquerque has informed the airport, however, that several people made complaints about the operation.


Residents have reported seeing the helicopters over Cerrillos Road and also St. Francis Drive, as well as near Nava Elementary School and the Sangre de Cristo foothills.


The Department of Energy includes the National Nuclear Security Administration and oversees operations at Los Alamos National Laboratory.




 

The Fork

Football and Fiesta

The ForkThursday, September 21, 2017 by Eli Seratt

Football and Fiesta

Hey, y’all!

Fall might not officially start until tomorrow, but any football fan will tell you differently: we’re heading into the fourth weekend of college ball and the third weekend of NFL games.

I graduated from an SEC school (that's "Southeastern Conference," for non-sports types), where the motto is “we may not win every game, but we’ve never lost a party.” That seems to be a good attitude for UNM or NMSU fans to adopt, too; after all, it puts the focus away from sad football stats and back where it should be, which is on eating and drinking.

If you’re headed to a tailgate this weekend, or are just sick of watching games at a bar, try this twist on the classic spinach and artichoke dip. Not only is this recipe super easy, it’s vegan and gluten-free, so everyone can enjoy it.

Ingredients:

  • ¾ cup almond milk
  • 2 ½ to 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 or 2 cloves garlic
  • ½ teaspoon dry mustard
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • Red pepper flakes (to taste)
  • ¾ cups raw cashews
  • 2 cups frozen artichoke hearts, partially thawed
  • 1 can artichoke hearts
  • 2 cups fresh spinach

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Blend almond milk, lemon juice, garlic, salt, pepper and cashews until very smooth.
  3. Add artichokes and spinach. Pulse briefly, leaving chunky texture.
  4. Add 1 can quartered artichoke hearts, roughly chopped.
  5. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until lightly brown on top.

Serve with blue corn tortilla chips and the satisfaction of knowing you won the tailgate.


Forkin’ Around

The 27th annual Wine and Chile Fiesta starts next Wednesday, Sept. 27, bringing in a long weekend of great food and even better wine. Check out the schedule of wine dinners, or grab one of the last few tickets to the Grand Tasting. Fear not, foodies on a budget: Violet Crown is hosting the Santa Fe Wine and Chile Film Fiesta Sunday and Monday. The $30 tickets include a wine and food reception at 5 pm and your choice of two films at 6 pm.


Good news for restaurant industry folks: State Capital Kitchen (500 Sandoval St., 467-8237) will offer twice monthly Industry Nights starting in October. Swing by for free educational wine tastings and stick around for food truck tastiness and great deals on wine!

Starting tomorrow, Sky Coffee (1609 Alcaldesa St.) will bring a much-needed jolt of caffeine to the Railyard. You can find it in the old Welder’s Supply building, across the street from the water tower.

Fans of Raaga (544 Agua Fria St., 820-6440) should head over there, like, yesterday. Last week, they announced via Facebook post that they will close their doors Saturday, seemingly for good, upon advice from Chef Paddy Rawal’s doctor. Stop in to savor your faves one last time, or pick up a copy of one of Chef Paddy’s cookbooks and try to recreate it at home!


Last week, we asked our out-of-town friends how they get their green chile fix. One story took the cake.  Writes Donna Crane of DC:

"We bought a large cooler on wheels—the kind you'd take to the beach—and check it empty as luggage on the flight out.  We head to the farmers market first thing Saturday morning, place our order for as many baggies of roasted peppers as they'll sell us, pack them into our cooler and check the now-full cooler home to the East Coast.

The last time we traveled home I found myself at Dulles airport waiting for the cooler to land on the luggage carousel. Guy next to me got his cooler first. 'What's in yours?' I asked.

‘Meat,’ he said. ‘Yours?’  
‘Roasted chile,’ I replied. 
He stopped, stared, and said: ‘Woah.’”


Sky Coffee’s opening has the caffeine addict in me wondering—where has the most interesting coffee drinks in Santa Fe?  I know my vote, but I’ll wait to hear y’all’s before I reveal it.

Until next week!

Eli


What news do you want to see in this newsletter? We want to hear from you! Let us know! Email thefork@sfreporter.com


Morning Word: Pay-to-Play Allegations for Martinez

Morning WordThursday, September 21, 2017 by Matt Grubs

Pay-to-play pop-up
Gov. Susana Martinez was elected in part on a campaign that railed against the perceived pay-to-play operations of the Bill Richardson Administration. No more, candidate Martinez promised. An investigation by the International Business Times and Maplight, a campaign finance tracking group, shows firms that made contributions to Martinez-favored causes or, in some cases, whose executives made donations to Martinez herself, earned millions in fees off investments. The governor's office didn't think much of the story.

Family of motorcyclist sues city
Just this week, SFR recalled the story of Jerry Hicks in our cover story on distracted driving. Hicks was killed when a driver who told police she was distracted ran into his motorcycle as he sat at a dark stoplight during a power outage. Now, the Albuquerque Journal reports Hicks' family is suing the city, claiming plans for the Southside intersection called for a battery backup to be installed in the light. They say it never was. 

Diversionary tactics
An American Airlines flight from Dallas to Santa Fe had to make the trip twice on Tuesday night after a faulty wind sensor at the airport didn't give pilots the proper reading. The equipment is owned by the National Weather Service, which says it's been reliable except for two incidents in roughly a year. That's cold comfort for passengers on the flight, who ended up getting in on Wednesday instead. No word on whether American doubled their frequent flier miles.

A lesson for the kids
State police say 23-year-old Gabriella Uzueta was drunk when she rear-ended an Española school bus yesterday. The bus was stopped, lights on, picking up kids. It was 7:30 am. Uzueta apparently got out and argued with the bus driver before taking off. The Española Police Department caught up with her half an hour later after they say she caused a second accident in town. State police say one of the kids on the bus caught her license plate in a cellphone video.

Medicaid angst
The ballooning cost of the federal health care program, which the state partially pays for and for which it also gets a large federal money infusion, is creating a crisis at the Roundhouse. State lawmakers assailed a plan to defray some of the rising cost by charging premiums and co-pays and by reducing some benefits. The governor also voiced some concerns about the Republican Graham-Cassidy bill that aims to replace Obamacare. 

Wild fire season
New Mexico has had a quietly active fire season, but it's nothing compared to some of the massive wildfires the state has seen in the past. Meanwhile, it seems nearly everywhere else in the West is on fire. So, New Mexico fire crews numbering about 100 people strong have been sent to help out, including on blaze burning in the Columbia River Gorge.

Bandana man
In a police report filed 10 days after protests at the Entrada during Fiestas, officers say Julian Rodriguez, of California, wore his bandana as a mask. That violated a hasty ban on masks worn on the Plaza, put into place just days before the event. Police say Rodriguez refused to stay in so-called free speech zones and to get off the Plaza, which an officer told him had become private property because of the Fiesta Council's permit.

A really lame record
New Mexico's Insurance Superintendent just approved the highest premium increases in the four years of the state's health insurance exchange. The average rate will go up a whopping 40 percent next year for the 55,000 New Mexicans who buy their insurance on the exchange. The superintendent says his financial staff doesn't see any excess profits generated by the rate hikes.

Thanks for reading! The Word encourages you to go for a walk, because we would not be surprised if banks soon start offering health insurance loans that you can roll into your mortgage.

Spread the Word at sfreporter.com/santafe/signup.

Morning Word: Read Our Lips

Morning WordWednesday, September 20, 2017 by Matt Grubs

No new taxes
For the second time in less than five months, voters in Santa Fe have roundly rejected a proposed tax increase. This time around, 70 percent of the nearly 8,000 votes went against a one-sixteenth percent addition to the gross receipts tax in Santa Fe County. In May, city voters defeated the proposed sugary-drink tax increase. It was a tiny turnout—barely more than eight percent. The $2.3 million projected to have been raised each year would have supported public safety and behavioral health programs. They'll still get funding, because the County Commission voted to increase gross receipts tax one-eighth of a percent on their own.

Maestas in for mayor
Joseph Maestas has decided he'll run for mayor. The District 2 city councilor announced his decision yesterday afternoon. Along with Ron Trujillo and Peter Ives, Maestas is the third of the city's eight councilors to run for the seat being vacated by Mayor Javier Gonzales. The announcement by Maestas, who was once mayor of Española, means there are now no candidates running for the District 2 council seat.

Number one, with a tear
New Mexico is far and away leading the nation in the percentage of children living in poverty. More than a third of the state's kids live in homes with incomes below the poverty line, according to US Census Bureau data released this week. New Mexico's 36 percent mark dwarfs even the second place state, Mississippi. State lawmakers are using the numbers to bolster their effort to pull more money from the state's permanent funds to provide for early childhood development programs.

Blinded me with 'science'
Proposed new science standards for New Mexico schools have been altered to replace climate change with "climate fluctuation." Evolution becomes "biological diversity." Critics say it's pandering to the far right wing of the Republican Party. The state has said it's a way to honor "diversity of perspectives." The science community around the state says science doesn't really do that, and the Public Education Department's own advisory groups warned against just such a thing happening.

Meep, meep ... aw, forget it
The Rail Runner Express, New Mexico's commuter train, has really lousy Wi-Fi service. The towers that handle the sometimes fast-moving signal from the sometimes fast-moving train are down between Albuquerque and Santa Fe. The train is desperate for more riders, but as SFR found out this week, the Wi-Fi isn't likely to get better before the end of next year. 

City shutters homeless camp
The city of Santa Fe put the screws to the owner of vacant land just off Cerrillos Road on Fifth Street. The spot had become a homeless camp in recent years and the city eventually started worrying about safety of both the general public and the people who lived from time to time on the property. A private waste-removal company cleared the land yesterday as police watched. The trash is gone, but the concern for the homeless is sticking around.

Suffering for a good story
Kevin Fedarko has seen the Grand Canyon in a way the vast majority of us never will: He's hiked its length. There's no easy way to do that, though. In fact, the trek he took with photographer Peter McBride required the pair to likely walk two and a half times the length of the Colorado River's 277 miles through the canyon. SFR details the cause behind the journey in this week's issue.

Still gorgeous
It continues to be a fantastic fall (well, almost; it starts Friday) here in Santa Fe. Temperatures will keep hitting the high 70s the rest of the week, with plenty of sun and no chance of rain until the weekend, when temperatures will drop a few degrees and you'll be tempted to break out those sweaters.

Thanks for reading! The Word hopes you caught the sunrise today. Damnnnnn.

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The Same, but Different

New Mexico’s new school science standards might leave out climate change, evolution

Local NewsTuesday, September 19, 2017 by Matt Grubs

A hand-picked group of math and science experts said not to do it.

A focus group of 85 teachers, professors and school administrators, convened by former Education Secretary Hanna Skandera, said not to do it.

Christopher Ruszkowski wants to do it.

More than four years after a succession of professional groups began urging the state’s Public Education Department to implement unmodified Next Generation Science Standards in New Mexico schools, Ruszkowski—the governor’s pick to replace Skandera—is recommending new standards that change curriculum on human-caused climate change and evolution.

The state’s guidelines for the science taught in classrooms haven’t been updated since 2003, and those standards were based on recommendations from 1996. This spring, SFR highlighted the stalled push to change them, and the growing concern among the scientific and educational community that political differences were behind the holdup.

The proposed revisions are woven throughout the standards, and make changes such as switching the words “process of evolution” to “biological diversity” or turning “climate change” into “climate fluctuation.”

Neither the governor nor Skandera would comment then and Ruszkowski wouldn’t answer questions from SFR this week.

“The PED has and will continue to listen and respond to input from all of New Mexico’s stakeholders across the state when putting together new content standards,” said Deputy Secretary of School Transformation Debbie Montoya in a comment emailed from a PED spokeswoman.

Now, the state is in a 30-day window for the public to submit comments about the proposed plans, and many are wondering just whom the department has been listening to if it hasn’t taken the advice of its own advisory groups.

“I think overwhelmingly both the educational and scientific community are disheartened by the proposed changes,” says Gwen Perea Warniment, the K-12 program director for the LANL Foundation. She’s part of a group that teaches inquiry-based science in New Mexico classrooms. That curriculum is based on the Next Generation standards, but meets current science requirements.

Warniment is also a member of the PED’s Math and Science Advisory Council. The council last met in April and she hasn’t heard anything since then that led her to believe Ruszkowski’s decision was coming.

She spent Tuesday morning speaking with the LANL Foundation’s board about the proposed standards that were announced last week, and tells SFR that the board is concerned about “the hazy process through which these amendments have come into existence.”

Charles Goodmacher, a spokesman for the New Mexico branch of the National Education Association teachers union, says the proposed standards swap out established scientific principles for “non-scientific notions.”

He says the term “climate fluctuation” is an example of the corrosive effect of putting political, unscientific terminology into science standards. “While that may sound like balanced language, given that average annual temperatures do indeed rise and fall over time, in reality global temperatures continue their upward trend,” he says.

There’s no scientific debate over evolution or climate change, Goodmacher says. The differences are purely political.

State Rep. Andrés Romero, D-Albuquerque, says the new standards amount to “pandering to the extreme right in the Republican Party.”

Romero tells SFR the rhetoric he’s heard from the education secretary has indicated the changes are supposed to reflect diverse perspectives and local values, but he says the state has already heard from science teachers around the state.

“When the PED originally put together the group, that was supposed to be a lot of the buy-in from the local level. So I really don’t understand where he’s coming from in terms of local control,” he says.

He worries that politicizing science standards now will penalize the state’s high school graduates when they go on to college or enter the job market.

“Nobody at Sandia or LANL is going to hire somebody who doesn’t have a solid science education,” Camilla Feibelman of the Sierra Club’s Rio Grande chapter says. “NASA data shows that 2016 was the hottest year on record, breaking consecutive previous highs in 2014 and 2015. The 10 hottest years on record have all come since 1998. That’s data. That’s not belief. That’s just what the science shows.”

Feibelman says her group will mobilize to oppose the altered standards.

Warniment says her foundation is working on a statement voicing its own concerns and plans to release it this week. While she’s disheartened by the department’s proposal, she adds: “I respect a lot of people at PED and feel like they’re thoughtful. I hope that they listen to their stakeholders.”


MetroGlyphs

09.20.17

MetroGlyphsTuesday, September 19, 2017 by SFR
Russ Thornton is a Santa Fe local who has replaced his first passion, cooking, with a new love interest, the weekly SFR comic he's created called MetroGlyphs. Reach him at santafechef@hotmail.com

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