Morning Word

Amidst Financial Scrutiny, Santa Fe City Council Approves Budget

Damage assessments in Calf Canyon Fire begin as managers brace for dangerous weather

Santa Fe City Council adopts budget

Undeterred by State Auditor Brian Colón’s pronouncement earlier this week that the City of Santa Fe’s finances “are in distress,” the City Council last night passed the 2023 fiscal year budget. Colón’s criticisms, which were accompanied by an announcement of his intervention in the city’s finances, followed the withdrawal of accounting firm CliftonLarsonAllen’s work on the city’s late 2021 audit due to an unreconcilable $4 million to $5 million discrepancy making the city “not auditable.” City Manager John Blair said at last night’s meeting he and Mayor Alan Webber have already met with CliftonLarsonAllen leadership to “begin to understand causes that led them to want to withdraw from the audit [and] recommendation they have about how we can be doing better,” and says the city is treating the situation “with all the seriousness it deserves.” On Monday, the city will put out a request for proposals for a new auditor, as directed by Colón, Blair said. As for the budget, Blair emphasized the need to move forward with its approval, which councilors did unanimously. Some of the $382.8 million spending plan’s most significant increases will go to the police, finance and public utilities departments. The budget marks a 7.1% increase from pre-pandemic FY19, but represents a 0.9% decrease from FY22′s budget.

Fire managers report progress, brace for wind

Residents of Las Dispensas northwest of Las Vegas and some other residents have been permitted to return home after being evacuated for several days, and Highway 518, allowing access to Mora County, also has reopened. That being said, the Calf Canyon Fire remains complex and active, fire officials said last night, and has now burned 62,000 acres and is officially at 33% containment. While firefighters have made steady progress this week during calmer weather, they are now bracing for a forecasted return of “critical fire weather.” San Miguel County Sheriff Chris Lopez warned residents the danger is not over. “Just because you are in ‘ready’ and ‘set’ and allowed to move into the area doesn’t mean we become complacent…Be ready at a moment’s notice,” he said. Officials have not yet released damage assessments, but have confirmed homes and other structures have been destroyed. Mora and San Miguel County sheriffs are notifying individual property owners as assessments are complete.

Firefighters tackling the Cerro Pelado fire in the Jemez Mountains continue to focus on protecting structures and controlling its southeastern side. Evacuations and closures remain in place due to the potential for the weather to exacerbate fire conditions. As of this morning, the estimated size of the fire was about 5,700 acres, 5% containment, and it remains approximately 10 miles southwest of Los Alamos National Laboratory property. A public meeting will be held at 5:30 pm this evening, both in person and virtually, with more information forthcoming on the Cerro Pelado Facebook page.

New law lets independents vote in NM primary—with a catch

Come June 7, the growing number of New Mexico voters who have registered as DTS (Decline to State) will have the option, for the first time, to vote in a primary election—as will those voters registered with minor parties. As one of just nine states still operating with a “closed” primary system, New Mexico allows only voters registered with one of the state’s major parties—Democratic, Republican and Libertarian—to participate in primary races. But under a new law, such voters this year can utilize same-day voter registration at the polls, register with one of the major parties, and cast ballots. Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver and Bob Perls, founder and executive director of New Mexico Open Elections, previewed the new option during a news conference yesterday afternoon. Perls described the shift as a “baby step” toward fully opening the state’s primary elections, while Toulouse Oliver said it will hopefully increase turnout. “I truly believe—as you all are well aware as I’ve said it 100 times—the more participation we have in our democracy, the better,” she said. One DTS voter in Santa Fe, Think New Mexico Executive Director Fred Nathan, says he may utilize the option but finds the requirement of registering with a major party a “cynical” ploy to increase major parties’ voter rolls. Indeed, Perls says his organization plans to work for more sweeping reforms in the future, but this move is a step along the way to “trying to create a system where as many eligible voters can vote without barriers, and a system where all candidates and elected officials must reach out and listen to all voters all of the time, not just necessarily the party base.”

COVID-19 by the numbers

Reported April 27:

New cases: 240; 521,823 total cases

Case rates: According to the health department’s most recent case report, New Mexico has had 1,117 new cases in the last seven days—a 14% increase from the week before, tracking with expectations Health Secretary Dr. David Scrase expressed in an interview with SFR last week that cases will likely rise here at the end of the month due to the BA.2 Omicron variant. Cibola County currently has the highest case rate per 100,000 population: 25.6, followed by Los Alamos County at 23.5 and Santa Fe County at 14.8.

Deaths: nine; Santa Fe County has had 273 total deaths; there have been 7,465 total fatalities statewide. Hospitalizations: 49; Patients on ventilators: four

Transmission: According to the most recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s “community levels” tracking system—which uses case rates along with two hospital metrics in combination to determine the state of the virus on a county level—all 33 of New Mexico’s counties currently have “green”—aka low—levels.

Resources: Vaccine registrationBooster registration Free at-home rapid antigen testsSelf-report a positive COVID-19 test result to the health department; COVID-19 treatment info: oral treatments Paxlovid (age 12+) and Molnupiravir (age 18+); and monoclonal antibody treatments. Toolkit for immunocompromised individuals. People seeking treatment who do not have a medical provider can call NMDOH’s COVID-19 hotline at 1-855-600-3453.

You can read all of SFR’s COVID-19 coverage here.

Listen up

US Poet Laureate Joy Harjo (Muscogee Creek Nation), whose long ties to New Mexico stretch back to her undergraduate days at the Institute of American Indian Arts, ends her third term as the nation’s first Native American Poet Laureate this month. The Library of Congress celebrates Harjo tonight with a closing event (5 pm MST), which will be live-streamed on the Library’s YouTube channel and Facebook page. The evening will begin with a performance by singer-songwriter Jennifer Kreisberg (Tuscarora, North Carolina) and will include a reading by poet Portlyn Houghton-Harjo (Mvskoke, Seminole). Harjo will end with a performance of her poem “Remember.”

Nominate the next NM Poet Laureate

Speaking of poet laureates: Applications remain open though May 15 for New Mexico’s next Poet Laureate, a position currently held by Levi Romero. Poets can self-nominate, or be nominated by someone else; the position, as described, “serves as an active advocate for poetry, literacy and literature by participating in readings and other events at schools, libraries, literary festivals and the State Capitol.” The Poet Laureate will serve a one-year term beginning in July, renewable up to two additional years through June 2025, and must have lived in New Mexico for at least three years (and stay here during the term of service). This is a paid gig: $10,000 per year, with reimbursable pre-approved travel costs, not to exceed an average of $400 per month. You’ll find the complete guidelines here; a list of required documentation here. Submit all documentation and inquires to poetry.center@state.nm.us.

Portrait of an NM santero

Denver Art Museum Senior Curatorial Assistant in the Art of the Ancient Americas Jesse Laird Ortega interviews New Mexico santero Vicente Telles, who has work in the museum’s exhibition Traitor, Survivor, Icon: The Legacy of La Malinche (through May 8). Telles’ painting depicts La Malinche as a girl “dressed in a finely woven huipil (tunic), and uses the compositional format traditionally associated with the Virgin of Guadalupe.” He says he first came upon Malinche in Rudolfo Anaya’s story “The Legend of La Llorona.” From there, Telles began thinking about why Malinche “was considered a traitor if she was doing what was best for her and her people at that time? She knew multiple languages. She was savvy. She understood the complexities of her situation. What person, what man wouldn’t be applauded for that? I was trying to think about feminism in a different way.” Telles says his interest in making images of Malinche dovetails with the story of how he became a santero, when he learned the term from a professor during a Chicano studies course at the University of New Mexico. Learning about the practice was challenging, he says, “and, the information I found had me asking more questions than answering them. I started thinking about the santero art form as a political device. As I matured in my practice, I began to use my art to question things or tell new stories.”

Red flag warning

The National Weather Service has red flag warnings in effect for Santa Fe and New Mexico today straight on through until Friday night, with warmer temperatures and higher winds. Santa Fe’s forecast today: sunny, with a high near 79 degrees and north wind 5 to 10 mph becoming southwest 15 to 20 mph in the morning.

Thanks for reading! In search of happy endings, The Word watched this wildlife ecologist rescue a bald eagle chick who fell out of its nest on Catalina Island (here’s more backstory).

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