Morning Word

Senate Confirms Casados as CYFD Secretary

City Council adopts latest audit, albeit with concerns

State Senate confirms Casados as new CYFD head

On a 32-8 vote, with only Republicans in opposition, the New Mexico Senate yesterday confirmed Teresa Casados (hearing starts right around the 1 pm mark) as the new secretary of the Children, Youth and Families Department, which she has been leading as interim secretary since April, following the departure of former Supreme Court Justice Barbara Vigil, who led the agency for less than two years. Turnover in leadership is just one of myriad problems the agency faces. A recent report from experts designated to monitor CYFD as part of a 2020 settlement noted scant improvement over the last six months; a 2,000-case backlog; poor employee morale; and, most significantly, ongoing situations actively putting children in danger. Presenting Casados for confirmation, Sen. Michael Padilla, D-Albuquerque, who lived in foster care as a child, said in her “we have somebody now I believe is truly going to make a vast difference for that department.” Others were less certain, with state Sen. Craig Brandt, R-Rio Rancho, saying given the entrenched issues with CYFD through multiple administrations “we’re going to have to make radical changes to this department to fix things and our children deserve that.” While he said he could not support Casados’ confirmation, “I wish you all the luck in the world and I hope next year you prove me completely wrong. That’s my hope. I’m not going to hold my breath.” In a statement, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham described CYFD as an “agency and a system that needs a leader who can get things done.” Casados, she says, “is the right person for this job, and I thank the Legislature for recognizing that. We are already seeing meaningful changes at the department, and that momentum will continue under Secretary Casados—New Mexico children and families deserve no less.” Casados acknowledged during hearings the crisis the agency faces. In a statement following her confirmation, she said looks forward to “collaborating with lawmakers and advocates to find solutions-focused ideas that support a strong future for CYFD. There is a lot of work to do cooperatively, with everyone at the table focused on what is best for the children and families in New Mexico.”

Santa Fe City Council accepts audit

Despite multiple repeat findings in the City of Santa Fe’s Fiscal Year 2022 audit, city councilors at yesterday’s meeting offered mostly optimistic feedback about the condition of the city’s finances. The audit, which was made public Jan. 18, reported five fewer findings than in FY21, yet still identified 17 areas of varying concern with the city’s financial practices—12 of which were identified as recurring problems also found in earlier audits. The city’s FY2023 audit is expected May 15; City Finance Director Emily Oster said she considers a repeat finding regarding federal grant management “the most serious” issue, adding it’s “critical to the city’s ability to access federal funding in the future” (see a spreadsheet SFR compiled of the findings here.) Corrective actions, Oster told councilors, include internal training for Finance Department workers and external training for those in other departments. “Really across the board we are encouraging everyone in finance and citywide to participate in training opportunities,” Oster said. “My focus in my year and a half with the city has been building a strong team, and each person is an important part, but our team doesn’t depend on one person.” While some city councilors praised Oster for the noted improvements, District 3 Councilor Lee Garcia and District 2 Councilor Michael Garcia said they’re “concerned” with repeat findings, one of which dates as far back as 2017—the material weakness on internal controls over financial close and reporting. “Having repeat findings is kind of really where we need to focus and figure out how we can remedy these and really get back on track,” Lee Garcia said. Oster told councilors last night a payroll deficiency identified by auditors will be a repeat finding in the next audit.

NM House passes $10.1 billion budget

The state House yesterday passed on a bipartisan 53-16 vote a $10.1 billion budget bill that includes $4.43 billion in recurring funds for public schools, as well as $200 million in nonrecurring appropriations to expand K-12+ programs, career technical education, structured literacy, teacher mentorship and community schools. The bill also includes an amendment barring the Public Education Department from using its funds to institute a minimum 180-day instructional school year, “somewhat to the surprise of the Republican who proposed it,” Rep. Gail Armstrong, R-Magdalena, the Albuquerque Journal reports. Armstrong tells the Journal she brought the amendment because “we are losing our authority as the legislative branch of New Mexico…It may not be perfect. Let [Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham] veto it. At least we’re trying to do something.” Seventeen Democrats voted in favor of Armstrong’s amendment against the 180 days of instruction, which has drawn opposition from teachers as well. PED Secretary Arsenio Romero tells the Journal in a written statement Armstrong’s amendment “is just a step in the legislative process that is a long way from being finished.” The House spending bill now heads to the Senate. It also includes $100 million for workforce development; more than $20 million for Children, Youth and Families Department improvements; $531 million in public safety funds; and $2.3 billion for housing, among numerous other items. “We are at a unique moment in New Mexico’s history,” House Appropriations and Finance Committee Chairman state Rep. Nathan Small, D-Las Cruces, says in a statement following the budget’s passage. “Thanks to recent work stabilizing state revenues, we are less fearful about future economic downturns and more focused on investments that create greater opportunities, stronger communities, and a more diverse, sustainable economy for all New Mexicans.”

Vital Spaces taking over former cinema

First the good news: Nonprofit Vital Spaces recently signed a lease to move into the former Cinemacafé located in Midtown. The less-good news: Nine artists are losing their studios as Vital Spaces leaves a large retail space it has occupied since fall of 2020 in the Fashion Outlets of Santa Fe, which was purchased last year by local developer Carlos Garcia. Vital Spaces’ mission is to provide cheap studio space for artists in otherwise vacant buildings, which bakes in impermanence to the model. Nonetheless, SFR reports, the current flux feels particularly significant given Vital Spaces also will lose at some point approximately 50% of its Midtown campus space as part of that project’s planned trajectory by the city. Vital Spaces Executive Director Raashan Ahmad, however, says the new endeavor at Cinemacafé (1622 St. Michael’s Drive) signals an expansion of the organization’s mission. “This is for performance art,” Ahmad tells SFR. “It’s not for the same function as other things we’ve done. It won’t be studio space. This is about shows, concerts, film…theater groups. We’re keeping the screen up and we’re [installing] removable seating; we’re thinking about traditional lectures, yeah, but if DJs Sol and Dmonic want to throw a dance party, that can also happen.”

Listen up

Yes, it’s February, but we have about another week’s worth of additional playlists to share from the January 2024 Morning Word Playlist Project before returning to other types of audio in this space. Today’s comes from Alysha Shaw, a Santa Fe-based community organizer, musician and artist. She is a member of local Balkan girl band Rumelia Collective and “has a genre-bending solo project” called Nocturne Spark. Both are releasing records later this year.

1. “Let’s Go Dancing” by Tiga and Audion: “This track is a good way to start your day with some peppy house music.”

2. “Shum” by Go_A: “This is a song by Ukranian folktronica band Go_A. It looks like the two music videos for ‘Shum’ were filmed in the exclusion zone around Chernobyl. I love the blending of world folk music and electronic music, and this band does it well.”

3. “La Rosa Enflorece” by Nocturne Spark: “This is my original arrangement of a traditional Sephardic song called ‘Los Bilbilicos’ or ‘La Rosa Enflorece.’ The translation is: ‘The rose blooms in May. My soul darkens, suffering from love. Come more quickly, dove. Come more quickly with me. Come more quickly, beloved. Run and save me.’”

4. “Cecom” by BaBa ZuLa and Brenna MacCrimmon: “This song is featured in an extraordinary documentary about the music scene in Istanbul called Crossing the Bridge. BaBa ZuLa is a fantastic Turkish psychedelic band, and Brenna MacCrimmon is an extraordinary performer of Turkish folk music, as well as original compositions, like this beautiful love song. The translation is: ‘If I were a nightingale and sing in the gardens, and if every song I wrote was in your name, I’d sing every morning my rose. If I were a seagull and flew across the seas, if I could sail on the wind—Ah let’s fly into the dawn. My heart is in every beat of my wings.’”

5. “Acosadora” by La Misa Negra: “I had the pleasure of seeing La Misa Negra perform at the historic Ashkenaz music and dance venue in Berkeley, California some years back. This high-energy Cumbia fusion band is so much fun to dance to.”

EPA includes Rio Grande in NM in first artist residency

The US Environmental Protection Agency this week announced a new Artist-in-Residence program in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts that will focus on “treasured water bodies across America.” The program, unveiled at the White-House co-hosted Healing, Bridging, Thriving: A Summit on Arts and Culture in our Communities, is the EPA’s first artist’s residency and is intended, according to the announcement, to help “boost engagement, awareness and participation in critical water challenges ranging from aging infrastructure to climate impacts like flooding and storm surge to investment in safe drinking water.” The first iteration of the new program will include six locations, including the Rio Grande in New Mexico, and will focus on “opportunities to advance the goals” of the National Estuary Program and the Urban Waters Federal Partnership. “Through this partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts, local water leaders…will have new tools and resources to support water restoration and climate resilience,” EPA Assistant Administrator for Water Radhika Fox says in a statement. As reported by the Associated Press, artists will be “embedded in national estuaries and urban waters federal partnerships” with each watershed receiving $200,000 to support the artist.

Odds & ends

The Venice Biennale yesterday revealed the more than 300 artists invited to participate in the 2024 edition (April 20-Nov. 24), titled Foreigners Everywhere and curated by Adriano Pedrosa, with a focus on artists who have not participated in the Biennale before, and with an eye toward exploring the facets of the exhibition title’s etymological roots to include Indigenous artists, who are “frequently treated as a foreigner in his or her own land.” The list of invited artists includes Santa Fe resident, painter and printer Emmi Whitehorse (Diné).

Elle magazine’s new list of the best nonfiction books for 2024 includes the forthcoming memoir by Institute of American Indian Arts Creative Writing MFA program Director Deborah Jackson Taffa (Kwatsaán/Laguna Pueblo), Whiskey Tender, (HarperCollins, Feb. 27), about which Elle writes: “Taffa’s is a story of immense and reverent heart, told with precise and pure skill.” As recently noted in this newsletter, Taffa is one of 35 writers nationwide to receive a 2024 $25,000 National Endowment for the Arts writing fellowship

Artsy highlights “10 emerging galleries to watch” from its second online art fair, Foundations, including The Valley in Taos, which Artsy says has “emerged as a premier space for contemporary art in the Southwest United States.” The gallery, the story notes, “is developing a reputation for fostering emerging talent outside the mainstream art circuit, with a dedicated focus on craft practices and mysticism,” and its gallery roster “comprises six artists, all under 40 years old.”

The calm before the storm

The National Weather Service forecasts a mostly sunny day, with a high temperature near 53 degrees and north wind 5 to 10 mph becoming southwest in the afternoon. Today looks like our last warm dry day for the week: Tonight will likely bring scattered rain showers before 5 am, then snow showers likely, possibly mixed with rain, albeit with little or no snow accumulation expected.

Thanks for reading! This New Yorker cartoon reminds The Word of her all-time favorite cartoon by the late John Callahan.

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