Facilities-use policy still at issue

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Some pay less for use of Kennedy Hall

By David Giuliani

Highlands University Regent Jesus Lopez says he was surprised to find out that the university allowed political rallies and any number of private events to be held on campus.

At a recent meeting of the university’s finance committee, Lopez said he found out about such events when he opened up the newspaper after June’s Democratic primary. On the front page was a picture of an elated state Rep. Richard Vigil, D-Ribera, who was celebrating his victory over three opponents at his party at the university’s Kennedy Hall.

Vigil paid $200 for the use of the hall, which is where the regents meet, according to the university records.

That was less than the amount required under the university’s facilities policy, which says nonprofits can use the Kennedy meeting room or the student center ballroom for $300 per day. Commercial entities get a price of $400.

But Vigil’s campaign was no exception. Barack Obama’s campaign paid the same price in 2008, and Rico Giron, an independent candidate for sheriff, forked out the same amount for the student center’s ballroom recently.

Highlands spokesman Sean Weaver said the reduced rates were because the groups agreed to the rooms’ existing setup, which saved on the university’s labor costs.

The Democratic Party has been able to use Kennedy Hall many times for free, according to records obtained by the Optic.

In one instance in 2005, after the university told the Democrats that it would waive the fees, an internal document indicated that then-Highlands President Manny Aragon said the school would have to do the same for the Republicans.

Under Highlands’ policy, if university officials determine that an event has a civic, educational or cultural value, they can waive the fees. Groups that sell tickets to their events in Highlands buildings must pay the full amount, the policy states.

The university’s policy says it will charge a $25 late fee for any group that doesn’t request a facility two weeks in advance. Plenty of groups didn’t make the timeline, yet the documents don’t indicate the fee was paid.

Weaver said the fee has been assessed on a  “hit or miss” basis. He said the university is now trying to enforce it consistently.

Highlands waived fees for public officials such as U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, U.S. Sen. Tom Udall and Public Regulation Commissioner Jerome Block, all Democrats. But because they are sitting officeholders, the university could argue that such events have civic value.

It also didn’t charge for use of its student center ballroom to District Judge-elect Matt Sandoval, who used the building for his swearing-in. Hundreds attended the December 2008 event.

While Vigil got to use the Kennedy meeting room for $200, a sorority had to pay $300 for its use a month earlier. The university deemed the sorority’s event unrelated to the school.

Weaver said the university charged the regular rate to the sorority because the group required university labor to set up the room.

The university also rents out its facilities for weddings and graduation parties, among other events.

The university’s Office of Campus Life has long operated by the policy governing use of facilities. Now the administration is asking that the regents approve it.