Morning Word

City of Santa Fe Announces Salary Increases

NMHU cancels classes through Tuesday following cyber attack

City initiates salary bumps

The City of Santa Fe on Friday announced its latest round of salary increases, following a classification and compensation plan approved last month by the governing body. That plan came in response to recommendations made at the end of 2023 by a consultant the city hired to execute a classification and compensation study, with an eye toward hiring and retaining workers. In total, 704 employees received an average 8% increase in their most recent paychecks. Those employees include police and fire union employees, who have new salaries; 286 city employees, who are receiving an average of a 12% increase to raise their salaries to the new minimum rate pay of $16.47 per hour; and 375 employees receiving a 3% increase, “reflecting the number of years they have served in their current position and their overall number of years of service to the city,” a news release says. Negotiations between AFSCME and the city remain ongoing. The city says it anticipates another round of increases to be part of the mix in the upcoming 2025 Fiscal Year budget process. “We will continue to do our best to recognize our outstanding city employees and pay them for their hard work,” Mayor Alan Webber said in a statement. “We want to be the best employer and the employer of choice for everyone who wants to bring their skills and commitment to public service.”

NMHU cancels classes following cyber attack

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Friday issued an executive order intended to shore up the state’s defenses against cyber attacks. The order notes an “urgent need to fortify the defenses of New Mexico’s state agencies against potential cyber intrusions” in the face of “the escalating nature of cyber threats.” To that end, the order instructs the state’s Department of Information Technology to assess security vulnerabilities to such attacks at state agencies, and to have state agencies by Nov. 1 in compliance with standards set by the National Institute of Standards and Technology. “Cybersecurity is not just a technological issue; it’s a matter of public safety and national security,” the governor says in a statement. “That’s why I’ve taken decisive action to fortify the resilience of our state agencies against potential cyber intrusions.” The governor’s order comes as New Mexico Highlands University classes remain canceled at least through Tuesday following a ransomware attack the school verified on Friday. Over the weekend, NMHU said in an announcement to the campus that its Information Technology Service office is continuing to install security software on university computers while working to restore service. Ransomware attacks last month also impacted several district attorney offices in the state, including the First Judicial District. An attack on the Office of the Superintendent of Insurance last year shut down both the office for a week and hampered the OIS website for months. National cyber attacks on health care companies, such as one on Lovelace last year, also have impacted the state.

FEMA expands claim office two years after Hermits Peak

The weekend marked the two-year anniversary of the April 6 start of the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon fire, which eventually became the largest wildfire in the state’s history. Saturday’s high winds also harkened back to April 2022, when high winds and dry conditions left nearly half the state grappling with wildfires. Both Hermits Peak and Calf Canyon ultimately proved to be the result of certain types of controlled and prescribed burns conducted by the US Forest Service, which led to the passage of the Hermits Peak Fire Assistance Act, under which the federal government is required to compensate the state’s victims. Nonetheless, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has faced ongoing scrutiny and criticism for its inadequate response to the wildfire’s victims. In response to the two-year anniversary, US Sen. Ben Ray Luján, D-NM, issued a statement noting that two years later, Northern New Mexico communities “continue to rebuild.” Moreover, Luján says, last week FEMA expanded its operations and access for families in Mora. “The work is far from over. I will continue to push FEMA to work expeditiously to compensate victims of the fire,” Luján said. US Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández, D-NM, also issued a statement about the anniversary, in which she urged the “claims office to cut the red tape and get money out faster. They must find a new director who knows New Mexico, who knows the uniqueness of our communities, and most importantly, who is dedicated to fully compensating those who lost so much as quickly and as painlessly as possible and to the fullest amount the law allows.” Finally, the Santa Fe National Forest issued a news release delineating its methods for monitoring prescribed fire projects from the 2023/2024 season, of which there were approximately 5,000 acres. Methods for monitoring and patrolling prescribed burns include “cold trailing,” which involves fire crews “feeling the ground with their bare hands for subsurface hotspots,” as well as aerial monitoring. While the Hermits Peak fire grew out of a prescribed burn, the Calf Canyon Fire was the result of a pile burn holdover.

AG issues new IPRA guide, OMA rulings

Late last week, Attorney General Raúl Torrez announced the release of an updated Inspection of Public Records Act, known around these parts as IPRA. The guide governs public records use in New Mexico, delineating the rules for public entities’ fulfillment of information to the public (not just journalists). “Despite numerous amendments to the law and important appellate decisions interpreting IPRA, the IPRA guide remained unchanged since 2015,” Torrez said in a statement. “Recognizing the evolving legal landscape, I made it a priority to revamp and enhance this essential resource. The updated guide incorporates the latest laws and court decisions and offers best practices for government agencies and requesters alike.” Torrez’s office, now called the New Mexico Department of Justice, also recently issued several decisions in response to alleged violations of both IPRA and the state’s Open Records Act, the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government announced last week. For instance, both FOG and Eastern New Mexico News Editor David Stevens filed complaints against the Eastern New Mexico University Board of Regents, alleging the regions violated the Open Meetings Act in January when it took final action approving a contract renewal for ENMU President/Chancellor James Johnston during a closed executive session. Indeed, Torrez’s office determined Johnson’s contract isn’t valid because it was not voted upon in an open session. “As the DOJ pointed out, the ENMU Board of Regents took an invalid action by voting to approve the president’s contract during a closed executive session,” FOG Executive Director Melanie J. Majors said in a statement. “These findings reaffirm FOG’s position that open meetings are vital to the public’s understanding of important issues.” Last month, SFR noted its own unresolved OMA complaint filed with Torrez’s office as part of a larger package looking at government transparency failures across the country.

Listen up

On the most recent episode of New Mexico In Focus, producer Lou DiVizio talks to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham about why she thinks a special legislative session on public safety is necessary, while correspondent Gwyneth Doland hosts a roundtable discussion with University of New Mexico Political Science Professor Timothy Krebs and ACLU-New Mexico Policing Policy Advocate Daniel Williams about the governor’s plans and New Mexico’s public safety political landscape.

Spiritual life and death in the desert

Christopher Fiorello’s recent New Yorker essay, “The Day Ram Dass Died,” opens in 2019 on the night before Dass died, when Fiorello was in Dass’ home in Maui serving as a caretaker and—spoiler alert—ends up watching his spiritual teacher die. The story also traces Dass’ rebirth from an LSD proponent named Richard Alpert to a spiritual leader called Baba Ram Dass who co-founded, in 1981, the Dying Center in Santa Fe. “The center sought, in effect, dying people who wanted to use their death to become spiritually enlightened, and staff members who wanted to use other people’s deaths to achieve the same,” Fiorello writes. A history of the Dying Center, written by a former director, notes that it operated from 1981 to 1984, serving approximately 85 clients and “was the first residential spiritual hospice in the Western world, the first place specifically created to support and guide its residents to a conscious death.” Fiorello’s own journey also intersects with New Mexico, as the friend with whom he’d discovered Dass ends up moving to Taos and living at the ashram for Neem Karoli Baba, the guru Dass met in the Himalayas who spurred his spiritual transformation. “I visited him for a fortnight of cooking group meals, wandering through the snowy high desert, and hobnobbing with Maharaj-ji zealots, including one white teen-ager who insisted that he was the reincarnation of Krishna, one of Hinduism’s most revered avatars,” Fiorello writes. “Like the young Krishna of lore, he would steal away to the temple pantry to eat pure butter until caught.” (As it happens, the Neem Karoli Baba Ashram and the Ram Dass Love Serve Remember Foundation will be holding a joint retreat at the Taos ashram on June 7-9.)

For the love of snow

Outside Senior Editor and New Mexico resident Abigail Barronian writes about her relationship with skiing, specifically the pain of loving a sport, when access isn’t just predicated on time and money, but also on the increasingly fickle weather, aka climate change. “Last fall, everyone was buzzing about the upcoming winter,” Barronian writes. “The last two La Niña winters had been slow to start, keeping us guessing until mid-February when the storms really started to stack up. In December and January, I’d get antsy, existential. When winter finally came around, I was grateful and relieved, but also frazzled. It felt like the weather was playing hard to get, and when it finally came around, my trust had been so tested I could hardly enjoy it.” When snow began falling in November, “blanketing Santa Fe in early storms,” she told her friends: “I have high hopes and low expectations. If I don’t dream too big, winter can’t hurt my feelings too much. Right?” Winter was “bluffing,” she notes and, increasingly, the tension between expectations of snow and the diminishing returns has created what she describes as a “preemptive” emotion of loss. Still, she remains devoted. “Early this year, after one of the first storms, I ran into a friend near the top of our local hill. I had walked up on my touring setup for a single lap, he was on his way up for a third. ‘Hay que aprovecharse,’ he told us—we must take advantage, when the snow falls, no matter how it falls.” Speaking of which, Ski Santa Fe closed for the season yesterday.

Ain’t no sunshine

The National Weather Service forecasts a mostly cloudy day, with a high temperature near 59 degrees and northeast wind 5 to 15 mph becoming south in the afternoon. Those cloudy skies don’t bode well for today’s eclipse watching, but, nonetheless, Santa Fe will experience a partial eclipse today for about two and a half hours, with the peak occurring at approximately 12:30 pm, during which 73.1% of the sun will be obscured by the moon. Need company? Bishop’s Lodge is hosting an eclipse event, as is the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science in Albuquerque. Here’s a playlist to get in the mood and, remember, don’t look at the sun without eclipse glasses during any point of the partial eclipse.

Thanks for reading! The Word enjoyed every minute of Kristin Wiig’s fifth time hosting Saturday Night Live, but may have liked the Pilates trailer most of all.

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