Montoya: Chairman is bilking taxpayers

-A A +A
By Martin Salazar

Less than two weeks before Luna Community College’s Board of Trustees election, two incumbents are trading verbal jabs, one accusing the other of unnecessarily padding his pockets at the expense of taxpayers, among other things, and the other saying he did nothing wrong and calling his critic a “liar.”

The drama played out at Wednesday evening’s Board of Trustees meeting, with Abelino Montoya Jr. making the accusations and calling for Board Chairman Jerry Maestas to resign.

Maestas defended himself, saying he followed policies on the reimbursements he received and saying that Montoya was lying in his allegation that Maestas had given out keys to Luna’s gym.

The heated exchange was sparked by a discussion about Luna having to tap into its reserves in order to meet its budget. Montoya, quoting finance committee meeting minutes, said that if Luna’s budget isn’t decreased, the college will not be able to maintain the required 3 percent reserve.

Seeking to tie that back to Maestas, Montoya said that now that he has been campaigning, one of the key questions people are asking is why board members are getting paid so much money for committee meetings. Montoya said he recently requested a breakdown of money paid out to each board members.

“When I got this, I got shocked to see what was going on here,” Montoya said, noting that his own per diem for last fiscal year was $2,090, his telephone expense was $509 and mileage payments he received totaled $449.

By contrast, Montoya said, Maestas over the same period received $4,980 in per diem, $831 for telephone expenses and $166 in mileage.

Montoya said board members receive $95 in per diem for each meeting they attend, though they don’t have to accept the money. He said he accepts no money for committee meetings.

“My concern is this as a taxpayer,” Montoya said. “You’re working for another tax-supported agency, West Las Vegas. You come up here, and you have meetings during your lunch hour or right around that time. When you come up here, it’s going to take you 15 minutes to get here, 15 minutes to get back to work, and then you have a meeting.

“I’ve attended one of your meetings, only one. That finance committee meeting that I attended had no agenda, and we basically sat for about 45 minutes.”

Indeed, Montoya said that most Luna meetings are very short. He said that Maestas goes to his job at West, where he oversees facilities, while at the same time collecting about $400 a month in per diem from Luna.

Montoya also said Maestas has  keys to facilities on campus, such as the gym. He accused Maestas of giving keys to individuals so they could use Luna’s facilities at night and on weekends. He expressed concern about the liability to taxpayers, should someone get hurt or killed in Luna facilities after hours, saying taxpayers would be on the hook.

Montoya said there have been loud parties  that neighbors have complained about and added that he brought the issue to the board and to President Pete Campos previously.

Montoya went on to say that equipment has gone missing from the campus, yet there were no breakins.

“So are you accusing me of all that, Mr. Montoya,” Maestas asked.

“No, sir,” Montoya said.

“Let me say something,” Maestas interjected. “First of all, I do have a key to the gym. We used to go to the gym in the morning on a regular basis. I haven’t been to the gym probably in over a year. Nobody else has that key but me. I’ve never given it to anybody else... so, if you’re implying that I gave it to somebody else, I’m sorry to say, but you’re lying. Parties, I have no idea what you’re talking about. You’re lying again.”

Addressing the per diem and other reimbursements he has received, Maestas said he follows Luna’s policies. He said board members are required to attend their meetings, and he added that he initially wasn’t on the finance committee, but started attending the meetings because board member Ambrose Castellano stopped attending. He then tried to turn the tables on Montoya, saying that Montoya only had about four education committee meetings in the last year and a half.

“So by our policy, I don’t feel you’re doing your job as an elected official, sorry to say,” Maestas told him. “You can say whatever you want, Mr. Montoya.”

Montoya responded that he doesn’t feel compelled to have monthly committee meetings, saying his committee has been productive nonetheless.

“What you’re failing to tell people,” Montoya told Maestas, “Is that you’re only here for about 45 minutes in those meetings. That’s $95 for 45 minutes. You continue to use the tax dollars of people and put people in jeopardy with liability of the gym.”

Castellano, who is not seeking re-election didn’t attend Wednesday’s board meeting. But in a telephone interview with the Optic on Thursday, he disputed part of what Maestas said at the meeting, saying that he, Maestas and board member  Tony Valdez all used to attend finance committee meetings.  He said he stopped attending because they weren’t productive and he felt they were a waste of time. Castellano added that most of those meetings occurred during the lunch hour and were short.

The Luna election is March 5.