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Posturing for power

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By Optic Editorial Board

What’s behind the latest feud among Luna Community College board members? More than meets the surface.

Last week at Luna’s Board of Trustees meeting, Abelino Montoya Jr. and Jerry Maestas traded verbal jabs over alleged improper use of funds and facilities, and just how much they have, or haven’t, been working. Montoya started the fight by accusing Maestas of receiving too many reimbursements, accepting $95 per diem for committee meetings that last only a few minutes, and giving gymnasium keys to people for their personal use. Maestas countered that he’s been following policy, hasn’t given his gym keys to anyone and has done nothing wrong.

Montoya, who was well prepared for the attack, implied that Maestas’ misuse of Luna money was setting a bad example. The heated exchange was sparked by a discussion about how Luna will have to tap into its reserve fund if expenses aren’t reined in.

Central to Montoya’s argument was a document he had that breaks down the money paid out to each board member. It shows that Maestas was paid a total of $5,977 during the last fiscal year in per diem, telephone expenses and mileage. In contrast, Montoya’s total for the same expenses during the same period of time was $3,048.

So Maestas was paid nearly twice what Montoya received. In a multi-million budget, that’s not likely to send the college into its reserve fund, but it does make one wonder if Maestas is abusing his privileges.

Still, why is Montoya raising this issue now? He said it’s because, while he’s been out campaigning, people have asked him why board members are getting paid so much money for committee meetings. Really? Voters knew this? We didn’t. In fact, we never saw any sort of rundown of Luna board expenses until Montoya produced it for us — after specifically requesting the information, he said.

More likely, this is little more than a campaign tactic. Granted, it has substance — Maestas should be held accountable for what appears to be unnecessary reimbursements — but it’s coming up now because of the upcoming election.

Montoya and Maestas aren’t running against each other — Montoya is opposed by Anthony D. Marquez and Maestas is being challenged by Kenneth C. Medina — but each incumbent represents a different faction on the board. An election loss by either of these candidates would result in a power shift — especially as it relates to Luna President Pete Campos.

Essentially, Maestas backs Campos and Montoya doesn’t.

Luna’s board has at times been a place where money, power and frills all intersect in questionable ways. So when Montoya raises these issues as the March 5 election looms so near, one has to wonder if Maestas’ behavior is really an exception. The same goes for Maestas’ counter-punch that Montoya isn’t holding his education committee meetings as often as he should be. Yeah, right, as if that’s really what  concerns Maestas.

Interpret all this as you will, but we think it has more to do with power and election posturing than any sincere intentions to improve Luna as an institution of higher learning.