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2010: A look at the year’s top stories

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By David Giuliani

1 Over the last year, residents have clashed over how to regulate wind farms in San Miguel County, making it the Optic’s top story for 2010.

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The controversy brought out the issue of economic development.

Many argued that opening the door to wind turbines would boost the area’s economy and increase tax revenue by hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars every year.

But others argued that turbines would adversely affect the area’s scenery, create constant noise for neighbors and kill wildlife.

The county mulled over a new wind ordinance all year long. That effort started because Chicago-based Invenergy wanted to have a wind farm on the Bernal Mesa in the Valley.

In response, many Valley residents called for strict regulations of wind turbines. They called for a three-mile distance between turbines and homes. But Invenergy contended such a rule would effectively shut out wind development.

The County Commission ultimately established the setback to a half mile, angering many of the residents in the Valley, some of whom yelled, “Shame, shame.”
 

2 In September, San Miguel County Treasurer Alfonso Ortiz revealed that the property taxes for east-side residents would increase by 30 percent. That was a surprise to taxpayers as well as then-Superintendent Rick Romero.

Many called for Romero to resign in the wake of the unexpected tax hike. Romero put much of the blame on the district’s financial adviser, Al Clemmons, who took some responsibility for the situation.

The increase happened a year after voters approved the renewal of the tax, which pays for building improvements. Officials had promised that approval of the tax wouldn’t mean an increase.

Some residents vowed to retaliate against the school board in the February 2011 election.

Romero did resign, but it apparently wasn’t because of the tax increase. He called it quits after the board placed him on a seven-day suspension for reportedly giving a flash drive with inappropriate materials to a subordinate.

He said in a letter that he was departing for health reasons.

Just weeks after he left, the board named Sheryl McNellis-Martinez, the district’s special services director, as the interim superintendent.

In so doing, it passed over Associate Superintendent LeeEtte Quintana, who had served as acting superintendent for a few weeks.

Quintana publicly criticized the board for “disrespecting” her during the selection of an interim superintendent.

3 The U.S. Air Force’s Cannon Air Force Base proposed flying its planes as low as 200 feet over northern New Mexico and southern Colorado. It said it needed training for its flights in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

But many San Miguel County residents protested the plan, saying the noise would be bad for them and livestock. Others said that to oppose the Air Force’s plan was a slap in the face of servicemen and women.

Mayor Alfonso Ortiz immediately joined the effort against the low-flying plan. The city was the first government entity in northern New Mexico to pass a resolution opposing it. Later, members of the San Miguel County Commission said they supported the proposal, saying it was important to back the military.

4 The Las Vegas Fiesta Council grabbed a lot of attention in the second half of the year.

It started right after Fiestas de Las Vegas, when the group’s president, Mathew Martinez, terminated six of the council’s 18 members, saying they were conspiring against him.

Then he and the other remaining members waged a public battle with the 2009 queen, halving her scholarship and reportedly telling her she wasn’t welcome at the 2010 festivities. They argued that she didn’t show up at required appearances; she said she was tending to her dying grandfather, who raised her.

Other problems also surfaced: The Fiesta Council botched its event schedule, turned in a late event permit, forgot to ask the city for its annual donation and didn’t recognize its parade winners.

Martinez blamed those problems on the six ousted members, saying they were a distraction from the task at hand.

In November, the City Council decided to take over Fiestas, noting that the events occur on city property.

5 The Las Vegas City Schools district settled with the alleged victim of former Robertson High School teacher Jay Quintana. She got $375,000. That was before Quintana’s criminal trial and before the women even filed a lawsuit.

Quintana was accused of multiple counts of having sex with the student, who was also a member of his golf team. During a preliminary hearing, she identified a spot in the golf simulation room where she contended Quintana had deposited semen. An analysis later found she was right, according to testimony.

Quintana’s criminal trial is now set in District Court for late February.

This month, Quintana’s wife, LeeEtte Quintana, the associate superintendent, said the allegations against her husband were bogus and untrue. She said she was passed over as interim superintendent because of her husband’s situation.

6 Actor Val Kilmer had a simple request: He wanted the county to approve a lodging business on his property.

But many of his neighbors wanted the County Commission to reject the proposal, not based on its merits but for comments he purportedly made to national magazines.

In interviews years ago, the “Batman” actor had been quoted as insulting San Miguel County residents by calling 80 percent of them drunks and Vietnam veterans by describing them as “borderline criminal or poor.”

As a result, many residents accused Kilmer of being anti-Hispanic — in a county that is overwhelmingly Hispanic.

The story made national news, and Kilmer showed up at a County Commission meeting to say he was misquoted, apologizing for any misunderstandings that had taken place. The commission then approved his request.

7 A district judge sentenced 18-year-old Michael Gallegos to two years in a youth jail for his major role in the assaults of his Robertson High School football teammates during a team camp in the Gallinas Canyon in 2008.

Gallegos, the son of former City Councilman Michael Gallegos, was accused of being the ringleader in sodomizing underclassmen with broomsticks. The case attracted state and national attention.

Five other players were previously convicted in connection with the assaults.

Gallegos wiped tears from his face before he was sentenced, begging for mercy.

“I’m not a monster. I had a lapse in judgment for two days of my life. I beg you not to judge me on that. I’ve tried to show that I’m not that person you see in the news,” he said.

In sentencing Gallegos to two years, the judge said he had to hold the teen accountable.

8 Robert Jones, 70, a medical marijuana user, fought to keep his housing subsidy and won.

In the fall, Gilbert Almanza, San Miguel County’s housing director, informed Jones that the tenant would be losing his housing subsidy because he was using medical marijuana.

Jones, whose case garnered coverage in USA Today, argued that he was certified to use medical marijuana and that he desperately needed the housing subsidy. Even Jones’ landlord said he had no problem with his tenant’s use of the drug.

Almanza apparently based his decision on a memo sent by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, saying local agencies couldn’t allow any marijuana use, including use for medical purposes.

But in interviews with the Optic, HUD officials gave conflicting explanations on whether medical marijuana was allowed in federally subsidized housing.

The issue reached the County Commission, which sided with Jones, allowing him to keep his subsidy.

Jones’ housing subsidy troubles came just weeks after his medical marijuana caregiver, John Emerick, was charged with illegally growing cannabis on his Las Vegas property. Jones came to Emerick’s defensive, saying the confiscated pot plants were his.

9 The city of Las Vegas made significant progress in cleaning up the junkyard along Interstate 10 — which the city attorney called the worst eyesore in the history of Las Vegas.

Over time, frequent alleged codes violator Tony Ortega had placed around 150 old inoperable cars and trucks on the property, many of them obtained at government auctions. There was assorted other trash on the property as well.

The city has cleared much of the garbage and now is in the process of getting the cars removed. It is working through the state Division of Motor Vehicles so that it can crush the vehicles for scrap metal, which is expected to more than pay for the project.

10 Las Vegas marked its 175th anniversary very quietly in the spring, but by the fall the celebration was in full force. In September, the Chamber of Commerce organized a bunch of events to celebrate the milestone, while Mayor Alfonso Ortiz held a charity ball as part of the festivities.

Las Vegas was established on April 6, 1835, soon after settlers received a land grant from the Mexican government.