Johnston drops out amid police investigation

On Sunday, 30-year-old political candidate Lyla June Johnston told a group at Unity of Taos church that she was dropping out of her legislative campaign for the New Mexico House of Representatives District 47 Democratic primary and would be putting her energy into youth advocacy for climate change. Yesterday, following an official announcement, Johnston told the Santa Fe New Mexican her decision was partly due to the challenges of running against incumbent Speaker of the House Brian Egolf: "When you're challenging an established person, it's an uphill climb" ($).

But SFR has learned Johnston's decision comes approximately one month after the Santa Fe Police Department named her as a suspect in a criminal investigation. That investigation stems from allegations by Johnston's former campaign manager that the candidate helped steal thousands of dollars of her property. The former campaign manager believes the alleged theft was retaliation for her resignation, which she submitted after viewing a social media post in which Johnston discussed prior inappropriate sexual behavior. Johnson tells SFR the police investigation is unrelated to her decision to leave the race: "The incidents in these [police] reports are untrue and stemmed from misunderstandings and the normal complications that organizations face when separating with a high-level employee," she said.

Ethics commission receives first complaint

The state's new ethics commission received its first complaint yesterday. However, the agency would not identify what the complaint is about, nor against whom. According to commission spokesman Sonny Haquani, the commission will make complaints public only after they are found to have probable cause, which this one has not as of yet. The ethics commission, which began its work at the beginning of the year, was created by voters in 2018 following a fresh spate of various scandals involving elected officials. Overall, as noted on its website, the commission is charged with assessing compliance with a variety of laws connected to public accountability, such as: the Campaign Reporting Act, the Financial Disclosure Act, the Gift Act, the Lobbyist Regulation Act, the Voter Action Act, the Governmental Conduct Act, the Procurement Code, the State Ethics Commission, and Article IX, Section 14 of the New Mexico Constitution, commonly known as the "Anti-Donation Clause."

Dog days ahead

The city's Public Works Committee yesterday signed off on proposed changes to city law that would make it illegal for pet owners to use trolley systems to restrain dogs, and would allow Animal Control officers to enter properties where pets were thought to be in danger ($TNM). The proposed changes, sponsored by City Councilor Signe Lindell, were rejected last week by the city's Public Safety Committee, some members of which were particularly concerned about allowing animal control officers to enter properties without permission. The proposal next heads to the city Finance Committee, and is scheduled for a City Council vote March 11.

SFPD offers incentives

As it seeks to expand its shrinking force, the Santa Fe Police Department now will offer $15,000 hiring incentives to officers from other agencies. SFPD also has raised the salaries for its cadets. "We're very excited about this and are looking forward to filling our vacant positions," SFPD Deputy Chief Ben Valdez told the Albuquerque Journal yesterday. The department is operating at 83.4% capacity, and has lost 14 officers since July 1, primarily due to retirement. The year prior, it lost 10 officers who went to work for the Albuquerque Police Department. New officers making the move from other police departments will receive $7,500 when hired and another $7,500 after a one-year probation period. They also must sign two-year contracts.

Udall calls out IHS 

Yesterday, US Sen. Tom Udall, D-NM, who serves as vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, said Indian Health Services runs the risk of an "appearance of a desire to avoid accountability" if it doesn't disclose a report on how it mishandled pedophile doctor Stanley Patrick Weber, who was ultimately convicted of sexually abusing Native American boys ($WSJ). IHS commissioned the independent investigation last spring, following joint reporting by The Wall Street Journal and the PBS series Frontline that IHS employees ignored warnings about Weber's abuse (including significant reporting by Southwest Bureau reporter Dan Frosch, a long-ago SFR staff writer). Last week, IHS said it wouldn't release the report, citing confidentiality issues, prompting swift consternation from victim families, tribal officials and former IHS employees. Udall said the agency needs to make its legal justification for shielding the report clear to Congress.

Reporting on Native communities

Report for America and the Native American Journalists Association have teamed up to bolster reporting on Native American and Indigenous communities in the next year. Report for America currently has 10 journalists covering Indigenous affairs and related beats and it plans to add nine more this year. NiemanLab reports on this undertaking, noting that less than one half of one percent of journalists at US news organizations are Native, compared to 1.7% of the national population. Moreover, "The history of US journalism is largely a history of neglecting and even harming Indigenous communities," according to Report for America senior advisor Maggie Messitt, in an announcement about the new partnership. Report for America allows newsrooms to apply for reporters to cover specific beats and provides money for a portion of their salaries. SFR currently has a Report for America corspmember, Katherine Lewin, who is covering the Southside and amplifying other marginalized voices in our community. You can help fund her second year with the paper at: www.sfreporter.com/rfa. NAJA also recently visited SFR to provide a newsroom training on reporting on Indigenous and Native communities.

Biz advisors wanted

The City of Santa Fe's Economic Development Advisory Committee is seeking candidates who understand the economy, business climate, workforce and culture. The committee includes one City Council member and nine members representing a broad range of business interests who are appointed to serve a two-year term without compensation. Members are appointed by the mayor and approved by the City Council. If you're interested, submit a letter of interest and resume by 5 pm, Wednesday, March 18 to Fabian Trujillo, Office of Economic Development, PO Box 909, Santa Fe, NM 87504-0909 or email ftrujillo@santafenm.gov. More info available here.

Winter of our discontent

The Word brings you today's weather report as the wind howls outside her darkened window. Will the wind ever stop? Will daylight ever come? Stay tuned. Meanwhile, less dramatically: Today will be mostly sunny, with a high near 34. And, yes, it will still be windy but slightly less so with north wind 10 to 20 mph. About the same tomorrow, after which our daytime highs will start climbing back into the high 40s and low 50s. Next chance of snow currently forecast to hit next Sunday—a lifetime away.

Thanks for reading! The Word found it soothing to look at the winners of the 2020 Underwater Photography contest.