Morning Word

State Auditor Flags Environment Secretary’s $15,000 Plane Tickets

Fire evacuates Village of Ruidoso

Morning Word

State auditor flags NMED plane ticket cost

An investigation into allegations the state Environment Department misused or misspent public funds on international travel “identified several concerns and potential violations,” according to a June 13 letter State Auditor Joseph Maestas sent Environment Secretary James Kenney. According to the letter, the Office of the State Auditor undertook a fact-finding investigation into allegations that Kenney and a division director upgraded from economy to business class for October 2023 travel to Sydney, Australia, to attend the Sustainable Energy Council’s Asia Pacific Hydrogen Summit and participate in a public announcement by Australia-based hydrogen R&D company Star Scientific that chose New Mexico for its US campus. Maestas’ letter says NMED management appears to have “abused its authority”—as defined by government auditing standards—”by failing to consider the significant and excessive cost disparities” when they upgraded from the least expensive seat costing $2,058.65 per seat to ones that cost $14,922.50 per seat, the letter notes. In a statement provided to SFR, NMED says it upgraded its seats “to allow for a full and productive workday upon arrival,” which was “essential for effective participation” in the summit. NMED “acknowledges the need for stronger internal controls and the Department of Finance and Administration will replace its interim travel policy with a final travel policy for state employees next month.” Via email, the Office of the State Auditor’s Chief General Counsel Andréa Salazar tells SFR its investigation into the matter remains active.”

Fires evacuate Ruidoso

The Village of Ruidoso is under evacuation in response to two fires burning on Mescalero tribal land, US Forest Service land, and the area surrounding Ruidoso. As of press time, the South Fork Fire, discovered at 9 am yesterday, was estimated at 5,252 acres and zero containment. The Salt Fire, at 2,815 acres, also was at zero containment. The City of Alamogordo issued a statement of solidarity for its neighbor, noting that its fire chief, Jerry Ramirez, and a team of firefighters would be deploying to Ruidoso to help. As of press time, PNM had shut off power to portions of the village at the request of fire managers (updates available on its outage map). Both fires are being managed by Mescalero Apache Fire Rescue and Bureau of Indian Affairs, with Complex Incident Management Teams on order. The Mescalero Apache Tribe declared a state of emergency yesterday in response to the fires, whose causes have not yet been reported. In a statement issued last night, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said her administration “is in close contact with state, tribal and federal officials about the status of these fast-moving fires, and we are quickly deploying as many resources as possible to protect people and property.” The governor said she “strongly” urged Ruidoso residents and those in surrounding areas “to remain calm and heed official instructions to help minimize risks,” concluding with thanks to “all first responders and others who are battling these fires, managing the evacuation and providing crucial emergency services, including the town of Roswell which rapidly stood up shelter for evacuees. New Mexicans always pull together in times of need, and this time is no different.”

NM AG backs social media warning labels

In an op-ed published yesterday by The New York Times, US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek H Murthy called for warning labels for social media, describing the mental health crisis among young people as an emergency, and citing use of social media as a key factor. “Adolescents who spend more than three hours a day on social media face double the risk of anxiety and depression symptoms, and the average daily use in this age group, as of the summer of 2023, was 4.8 hours. Additionally, nearly half of all adolescents say social media makes them feel worse about their bodies,” Murthy writes. As such, he says, “It is time to require a surgeon general’s warning label on social media platforms, stating that social media is associated with significant mental health harms for adolescents.” Such labels require congressional approval. In a statement, New Mexico Attorney General Raúl Torrez says Murthy’s recommendation, which he supports, “highlights the same issues” the state Department of Justice identifies in its lawsuit against Meta, the parent company for Facebook and Instagram. “People assume that social media apps that are freely available on mobile devices are safe to use but we know that they aren’t,” Torrez says. “Until these companies change the way they do business and place a premium on the safety of their users, parents should be given explicit warnings about the risk of child exploitation and the devastating impact that these products have on the mental health of children and adolescents.”

Forest advocates question Indios Fire narrative

Online web magazine Counterpunch characterizes the recent Indios Fire in New Mexico, which began from a lightning strike May 19 seven miles north of Coyote, as a “secret fire,” and alleges the US Forest Service concealed that much of the fire was caused by the agency’s own “intentional aerial and ground ignitions.” While the Forest Service’s daily updates, which ended yesterday barring unforeseen circumstances, acknowledged “the fire was being allowed to burn for ecosystem benefit and that firing operations were being used at times in support of this strategy, these explanations were extremely understated relative to what can be seen from the aerial hot spot maps,” writes Sarah Hyden, co-founder and director of The Forest Advocate. In response to a request from SFR for comment on the story’s allegations, Santa Fe National Forest Public Affairs Officer Claudia Brookshire writes, “The primary objective for the Indios Fire was firefighter and public safety. The Indios Fire was a lightning caused fire that began in the wilderness. Because of steep and inaccessible terrain, fire managers made decisions on where to build containment lines based on the safest areas firefighters could engage and manage the fire. A key tool in managing a fire is conducting firing operations on identified hand lines, natural barriers and roadways. Firing operations were conducted both to manage the fire but also to allow firefighters to safely engage the fire despite the terrain. In addition, firing operations in the interior of the fire were conducted by using aerial ignitions to accomplish low to moderate fire behavior when necessary.” Brookshire’s statement also notes SFNF and incident management teams provided daily briefings, held weekly meetings and had public information officers “stationed in local communities” who were “honest and transparent about ways the teams were managing the fire.”

Listen up

In honor of Juneteenth, at 6 pm, Wednesday, June 19, Collected Works Bookstore, in collaboration with the Santa Fe Art Institute, will host 2024 SFAI fellow Lyzette Wanzer, author of Trauma, Tresses, and Truth: Untangling Our Hair Through Personal Narratives. A 2022 Library Journal Best Social Science title, the book explores a remaining systemic bias in today’s society, which Wanzer will discuss with Emalohi Iruobe, also a fellow for SFAI’s 2024 thematic residency on sovereignty. The free event will be live at the store (202 Galisteo St.), and available via Zoom; register here.

One door opens...

ArtNet’s “As Seen On” series, which examines artworks that have appeared in movies and on television shows, heads to the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum to check out O’Keeffe’s painting “My Last Door” (1952-1954). The painting receives a cameo in the 11th season of Breaking Bad’s third season, when Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) and his girlfriend Jane (Krysten Ritter) visit the O’Keeffe Museum at the latter’s behest because of her attachment to the “erotic nature” of O’Keeffe’s work (she convinces Jesse to go by telling him of O’Keeffe’s reputation for painting vaginas). “Jesse, despite his constant horniness, is less impressed. Sitting in his car outside the museum, he asks Jane why O’Keeffe, or anyone for that matter, would do the same thing over and over again. Where’s the fun in that?” ArtNet writes. “Taking a drag from her cigarette, Jane flips the question on its head. Why would anyone do something once and only once? Would you only smoke one cigarette? Have sex only once and never again? Would you only watch only one sunset for the rest of your life?” The story then assesses the aptness of O’Keeffe’s appearance in Breaking Bad, given both the artist’s and show’s placemaking of the state. (The story also quotes one of O’Keeffe’s controversial, if well-known, statements about New Mexico: “As soon as I saw it, that was my country.”) As for her penchant for repeatedly painting the same objects, in the case of “My Last Door,” O’Keeffe created perhaps 20 versions. This attempt to capture the vision in her mind’s eye might resonate with Jesse, the story suggests, as “an addict who spent most of his adult life chasing the next high.”

Oh say, can you sing?

As this Billboard roundup of some of the top Super Bowl performances of the National Anthem indicates, the song requires a strong set of pipes to put over to a large crowd (we’re partial to Beyonce’s 2004 rendition). Got the chops? Know the lyrics? If so, mark you calendar for July 13 when, from 1-4 pm, the Kiwanis Club of Santa Fe will hold first-come, first-served auditions at the Scottish Rite Center (463 Paseo de Peralta; park behind the building and enter at the left front entrance). The winner will sing the “The Star Spangled Banner” at this year’s 100th Zozobra, Aug. 30 in front of 65,000 people live at the event, as well as for the televised and web audiences. This year’s performer will need to attend rehearsals Aug. 17, 24 and 28. Judges will also pick first and second runners up, who will perform the anthem at the New Year’s Eve event on the Plaza and the City of Santa Fe’s 2025 Fourth of July celebration, respectively. Find more details here; auditions are open to all ages and genres.

The calm before the storm system

The National Weather Service forecasts a sunny day, with a high temperature near 79 degrees and west wind 10 to 15 mph. A taste of monsoon weather may be in the offing starting tomorrow (here’s a look at the longer-term monsoon forecast).

Thanks for reading! Having collapsed early Sunday night, The Word is now working her way through the 2024 Tony Awards performances, starting with The Outsiders (based on the SE Hinton novel). This newsletter will be off for Juneteenth, but will return Thursday, June 20.

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