HSD Secretary Scrase announces retirement
Just about a year ago, we had one of our periodic conversations with then Acting Health Secretary Dr. David Scrase about—you guessed it—the COVID-19 pandemic. During that particular conversation, we asked Scrase, who took on leading the health department in addition to his duties as cabinet secretary for the Human Services Department for the better part of the pandemic, whether he was thinking about retiring at any point. “I think we’re making great progress at DOH,” Scrase said. “I like what I’m doing. I have lots of energy. I debate most days on the way home from work about which team I enjoy more: DOH or HSD, it’s kind of a tie. They’re both phenomenal. I’m a public servant and sometimes being a public servant means having to deal with COVID-positive patients. Sometimes it means having two or three jobs. I’ll probably wait on the substitute teaching just a little bit longer, but eventually I bet I’ll show up in a classroom. Hopefully it’s biology and not art.”
At the start of January, Scrase scaled down to just one job as Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham named a new health secretary. And on Friday, the governor’s office announced Scrase will be retiring as HSD secretary come Feb. 24. Scrase is currently on leave due to a family emergency. “Dr. Scrase has been a valued member of state leadership since the very start of my administration,” the governor said in a statement. “For many, he was the face of the state’s pandemic response, and his leadership contributed to countless New Mexican lives being saved.” During his tenure at HSD, a news release notes, the department expanded the number of Medicaid providers and Scrase also led efforts to bridge gaps in physician shortages, particularly in rural communities. “It has been an incredible honor to work for the governor for the past four years, and I am proud of all that we have accomplished together, particularly in managing the COVID pandemic in New Mexico,” Scrase said in a statement, thanking his staff, members of the Legislature, his wife and family. “I am deeply grateful for everyone with whom I have crossed paths during this time,” he said.
Gov: Education Secretary’s last day was Friday
While Scrase will be skedaddling from state government come February, Education Secretary Kurt Steinhaus’ last day was Friday, Jan. 27, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s office announced on Saturday, Jan. 28, approximately one week shy of Steinhaus’ one-year anniversary in the position. In a statement, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham thanked Steinhaus, a retired superintendent of Los Alamos Public Schools, “for his lifelong and tireless service in pursuit of improving educational outcomes for every New Mexico student. Under his leadership, New Mexico teachers are now the highest paid in the region and educators have more tools to do what they do best—teaching New Mexico students.” In turn, Steinhaus described himself as “deeply proud to have given my best to this job,” but said “at this time I have a critical need to focus on my family and health.” Steinhaus’ departure means the governor will be searching for her fourth education secretary in as many years. Children’s Cabinet Director Mariana Padilla will serve as interim department leader until a permanent appointment is named. The Steinhaus announcement brings the total number of recently announced vacant or soon-to-be vacant cabinet secretaries to three. The governor’s office last week said General Services Department Secretary John Garcia’s last day will be Feb. 3. Garcia, who has been secretary of the General Services Department since late 2021, and previously served as tourism secretary and later economic development secretary under Gov. Gary Johnson, said in a statement he was resigning for personal reasons. Anna Silva, currently serving as the department’s facilities management division director, will serve as the acting secretary until a permanent secretary is selected.
SFPS board extends Supt. Chavez’s contract
And in another instance of what has inadvertently become a Monday morning personnel report, the Santa Fe Public Schools on Saturday approved a three-year contract for Superintendent Hilario “Larry Chavez, which runs Feb. 1, 2003 through Feb. 1, 2026. Chavez’s current two-year contract extension would have expired June 30, 2024; the new contract has the same terms. “The Board considers Superintendent Chavez to be an exemplary leader for the district,” SFPS Board President Sarah Boses said in a statement. “In the past year, he has demonstrated a willingness to collaborate and apply his knowledge and out-of-the-box thinking. We are particularly excited by the innovative programs and how this has positively impacted the district. This next year holds a great deal of promise for continuing and building on SFPS’ successes. Our district is well-positioned for the future while meeting student and family needs today.” Chavez, in a statement, thanked the board “for believing in a shared vision for SFPS. Over the next three years, we will continue moving the district forward through a focus on improving teaching and learning, bettering student outcomes and supporting and investing in our staff.” According to a news release, Chavez’s specific areas of focus for the 2023/2024 school year will be: increasing innovation; strengthening and expanding community schools; improving the district’s financial position; enhancing teaching and learning experiences; soliciting feedback from the community; and streamlining resources.
Game Commission puts kibosh on Richards Ave. purchase
The Santa Fe City Council will hold a special meeting at 6 pm this evening to vote on terminating an agreement to purchase property on Richards Avenue from the state Game Commission. The meeting—and the vote—follows the Game Commission’s rejection on Friday of the city’s $2.1 million offer to buy 23 acres of land between Rodeo Road and Siringo Road owned by the Department of Game & Fish for the city’s long-discussed controversial Richards Avenue extension project. As SFR reported earlier this month, the $2.1 million offer followed a third appraisal for property. Initially, the city had intended to pay $3 million; a second appraisal came in at $1.4 million. the Santa Fe New Mexican reports the Game Commission voted to reject the $2.1 million offer without comment following a private executive session discussion. Game and Fish spokesman Ryan Darr told the paper the commission rejected the offer because it’s “well below” the appraised value the agency obtained for the property. The commissioners voted to hire a real estate agent and put the property back on the market. Proceeds from the property’s sale will benefit fish and wildlife conservation, Darr told the paper.
As for the Game & Fish Department, two bills introduced in this year’s Legislature—both sponsored by state Rep. Matthew McQueen, D-Galisteo—would drastically shake up both the department and the Game Commission by abolishing the department and rolling it into the Energy, Mineral and Natural Resources Department, while eliminating the commission’s districts in favor of seats dedicated to particular issues. Speaking of the Legislature, both House and Senate reconvene at 11 am today. Among the many bills slated for discussion: one that would add an official “state aroma” to the state’s roster of official foods, plants and animals—the aroma of “green chile roasting in the fall,” obviously; the Senate Indian, Rural and Cultural Affairs Committee is slated to discuss that proposal during its 9:30 am meeting today.
COVID-19 by the numbers
Reported Jan. 27: New cases: 157; 664,355 total cases. Deaths: four; Santa Fe County has had 387 total deaths; 8,943 total fatalities statewide. Statewide hospitalizations: 72. Patients on ventilators: four
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s most recent Jan. 26 “community levels” map shows four county categorized as “yellow”—medium risk—for COVID-19, compared with one last week: De Baca, Curry, Quay and Roosevelt counties. The rest of the state—including Santa Fe County—is green, aka has low risk. Corresponding recommendations for each level can be found here.
Resources: Receive four free at-home COVID-19 tests per household via COVIDTests.gov; Check availability for additional free COVID-19 tests through Project ACT; CDC interactive booster eligibility tool; NM DOH vaccine & booster registration; CDC isolation and exposure interactive tool; COVID-19 treatment info; NMDOH immunocompromised tool kit. People seeking treatment who do not have a medical provider can call NMDOH’s COVID-19 hotline at 1-855-600-3453. DOH encourages residents to download the NM Notify app and to report positive COVID-19 home tests on the app.
You can read all of SFR’s COVID-19 coverage here.
On the most recent episode of Our Land from New Mexico PBS, senior producer and environmental journalist Laura Paskus talks to Brady McGee, Mexican Wolf recovery coordinator for the US Fish and Wildlife Service, about f2754, aka Asha, the Mexican wolf who traveled from the Rocky Prairie Pack in southeastern Arizona to Northern New Mexico and was recently captured on private land near Angel Fire. Paskus also wrote about the wolf for SFR’s most recent cover story, “Northward Peril.”
As the federal government’s Jan. 31 deadline for states to come to an agreement on their Colorado water use approaches, the New Yorker examines how Native Americans will shape the future of the water in the West. The story opens with Gila River Indian Community President Stephen Lewis, upon his return from a celebration in Santa Fe for the centennial of the Colorado River Compact. In Santa Fe, the story says, “Lewis took note of a black-and-white photograph of the compact’s signers—white men in dark jackets, gathered around a wooden desk.” While tribal nations are only passingly mentioned in the 1922 compact, they have been in recent years “asserting their legal rights to the contentious, increasingly scarce commodity of water.” As for the overall negotiations, the New York Times reports, “negotiators say the odds of a voluntary agreement appear slim. It would be the second time in six months that the Colorado River states, which also include Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming, have missed a deadline for consensus on cuts sought by the Biden administration to avoid a catastrophic failure of the river system.” Minus an agreement, the US Interior Department will have to impose cuts and, as one expert says, “someone is going to have to cut back very significantly.”
Come for the margs, stay for the art
Once again, Santa Fe fails to appear on a list of the country’s most beautiful towns. In this case, Travel & Leisure singles out Taos as one of the US’s 20 most beautiful towns because “you can ski one day and mountain bike the next” thanks to the “beauty of New Mexico’s high desert.” Santa Fe, on the other hand, makes T&L’s list for one of the seven best places in the US to buy a ski vacation home. In less 1% news, The Points Guy points Spring Break travelers toward Santa Fe in a roundup of the 15 best spring break destinations for 2023 and says the city is best for “art aficionados,” opining that “history buffs will admire its compelling museums, while others will appreciate its eclectic restaurants and exhibits.” Actually, according to a January Tourism Santa Fe marketing report prepared for the City of Santa Fe’s Occupancy Tax Advisory Board, the city might be best for margarita aficionados. According to TSF, as of December, 2022, 15,924 Santa Fe Margarita Trail apps had been downloaded onto Apple or Android devices; 16,007 paper passports had been purchased; 6,294 people had earned an official Margarita Trail T-shirt by collecting five stamps on the trail; and 206 people had completed more than 30 stops on the trail, earning them a custom Margarita Trail bartender kit (among other data points).
You’re getting warmer
The National Weather Service forecasts a sunny day with a high temperature near 46 degrees; southeast wind 10 to 15 mph becoming southwest in the afternoon. We’re looking at a mostly sunny and dry week, with temperatures in the 40s.