SUNLAND PARK, NM (KRQE) - For a town of only around 14,000, Sunland Park seems to have an endless list of problems.
That list only seemed to grow longer Friday night.
Before a meeting to pick the border town's new mayor, Mayor Pro Tem and City Councilor Isabel Santos fired the city clerk and attempted to call the whole thing off. According to the Las Cruces Sun-News, Santos told reporters she had fired the clerk for disobeying orders and said the meeting itself was illegal.
The meeting started anyway and Santos walked out in protest. The city attorney told council members that Santos had no authority to cancel the meeting and advised them it was legal to continue as long as an interim clerk was appointed, which the remaining councilors did.
When the meeting continued, two candidates for the vacant mayor's spot threw their hats in the ring.
One was retail jewelry store worker Javier Perea , 24, appointed mayor by the City Council at a mid-April meeting with no vetting or background check. Perea was sworn in, but the Attorney General ruled that because the meeting room was packed and not everyone who showed up could get in, it violated the Open Meetings Act making the appointment invalid.
The other was mayoral runner-up Gerardo Hernandez, who was secretly filmed getting a lap dance from a stripper in his campaign office. Prosecutors are charging his opponent, former Mayor-elect Daniel Salinas, with paying to have that video made and attempting to use it to force Hernandez out of the race.
Salinas is facing 33 criminal charges for bribery, extortion and corruption and did not take office after being banned from City Hall when he was first released from jail. He remains in custody on the later charges.
More than 10 other city employees have been caught up in the scandal.
Hernandez told reporters and the council that he's the rightful mayor and should be appointed to the position, not a man who didn't even originally run for office.
"I feel a little out of place because to run for mayor you need to be in a campaign," Hernandez said.
"I think the greatest leaders are made in times of crisis," Perea said. "Sunland Park is at a point where they need someone to stand up."
Councilors elected not to pick either man or anyone for the vacant mayor's post. The decision is now scheduled to be made May 14 at yet another meeting.
State Auditor Hector Balderas told KRQE News 13 findings from his office's audit of city finances should be released sometime next week.
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