LOS LUNAS, N.M. (KRQE) – The hearing for the Los Lunas School Board members who were suspended is set to begin Wednesday. The entire five-member board was indefinitely suspended by the New Mexico Public Education Department in May.
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Officials say some members violated procurement and public access laws as well as the state public school code and professional ethical standards. The suspended school board consists of President Eloy G. Giron, Vice President P. David Vickers, Secretary Frank A. Otero and members Bryan C. Smith and Steven R. Otero.
PED had four witnesses testify including the district’s former interim Superintendent, the district’s CEO, the owner of a company who did field maintenance for the district, and the district’s director of maintenance and construction. The witnesses painted a picture of a board breaking laws and having such ‘erratic’ behavior, district staff asked for panic buttons to be installed in the district office.
“They feared the wrath of Mr. Otero and Mr. Giron. they didn’t want to be denigrated, they didn’t want to be yelled at, they didn’t want to be embarrassed, in one case they feared physicality. Now I don’t have any reason to believe that that was the case but if someone fears something it’s real,” said Walter Gibson, former interim superintendent of Los Lunas schools during the tenure of the suspended school district.
The witnesses testified Wednesday that the board abused its power to favor certain vendors and even went to an employee’s family member to pressure them to get their way. PED claims the board also violated the Open Meetings Act by wrongfully entering closed, executive meetings at times. It also claims the board violated the Inspection of Public Records Act by using personal emails to conduct district business and then not handing it all over when requested.
PED claims the board wrongfully used and paid a lawyer who was not contracted by the department. During cross-examination, the attorney representing board members Brian Smith and Eloy Giron, Joe Goldberg, argued the district had also used the same lawyer for other matters.
PED also claims the board launched an unapproved audit of an employee because board member Steven Otero had a ‘personal vendetta’ against him for not giving Otero a job, prior to his election to the school board. During cross-examination, Goldberg argued it was the district’s former superintendent, Dana Sanders, behind the special audit.
“Isn’t true Mr. Gibson that the idea of hiring an auditing firm to address these concerns raised by Mr. Otero was Ms. Sanders’ idea? It was not the board’s idea and it was not any member of the idea initially,” said Joe Goldberg, the attorney representing two board members. PED said the board exceeding its scope of authority by interfering with the district’s day-to-day operations and failed to develop educational policies for the school district.
Board members Steven Otero, David Vickers, and Frank Otero are representing themselves. The hearing will continue with the board members presenting their cases on August 24.