Three San Miguel County residents have filed for a restraining order and injunction against Las Vegas’ mayor and city manager in an attempt to prevent them from closing a museum exhibit highlighting artifacts from a Morada with alleged connections to Las Gorras Blancas.
Lorenzo Flores, Elisha Romero and Jeffery Tenorio filed the injunction in Fourth Judicial District Court on March 18, three days after City Manager Leo Maestas wrote a letter to Museum Director Wanda Salazar saying the exhibit had to be removed.
According to Annette Garcia, Chair of the Friends of the City of Las Vegas Museum and Rough Rider Collection, this exhibit has been in the works for nearly three years. She said it contains artifacts from one Morada, of which Las Gorras Blancas were involved.
She said the Morada had been destroyed and the artifacts from it had been spread out to various people. The intent of the exhibit, according to Garcia, is to provide the public a chance to view the rare artifacts before the Morada is rebuilt and taken away from the public eye.
Garcia said the exhibit is not meant to give away any secrets of the Penitentes, and is instead focused more on the historical aspect of the artifacts.
“The public should be able to view these artifacts and make up their own minds,” Garcia said.
In the letter addressed to Salazar, Maestas highlights several issues with the exhibit. He claims that proper procedures were not followed to create the exhibit, including the fact that it was not approved by the Museum Advisory Board and that several requirements outlined in the proposal to create the exhibit did not conform to the museum’s loan policy. He also said that the loaned artifacts do not conform to the “purpose within the mission of the museum.”
After the exhibit first received publicity in January, when the San Miguel County Commission approved $10,000 for it, Mayor Louie Trujillo said he would not allow it to open.
However, after speaking with the Friends of the Museum and people involved in the project, they agreed to allow it to move forward.
In the minds of the city officials, that changed when they were made aware of photographs circulating on Facebook advertising the exhibit of men inside the museum wearing white hoods, which is associated with Las Gorras Blancas.
According to Trujillo, nobody knows when the photos were taken or who gave the men permission to wear the hoods inside the museum.
“It concerns me that this happened inside a government building,” Trujillo said.
Trujillo said people associated with the exhibit had previously told him the exhibit had nothing to do with the “white hats,” and that he was increasingly against allowing the exhibit to open once he saw the photographs.
In January, Trujillo told the Optic he was concerned about the racial overtones associated with the exhibit, due to the actions of Las Gorras Blancas. He said he did not want to highlight racial intolerance in a government building.
“Las Vegas is big enough for everyone,” Trujillo said.
After doing more research into the exhibit, Trujillo said the city officials realized procedures had not been followed to create the exhibit.
However, Garcia disagrees with that.
She said that different procedures have been in place for many years regarding opening an exhibit, as the Museum Advisory Board was not functioning from 2006 until last year, when it was reinstituted. Since being reinstituted, she said they have only met once, in May 2021, due to being unable to establish a quorum. This exhibit was not brought up during that meeting.
Garcia said that Museum Manager Cabrini Martinez has the ability to develop exhibits as part of her job description, and that the Friends of the Museum have acted in an advisory capacity for several years without the Museum Advisory Board being active.
She believes developing this exhibit followed the same procedures as previous exhibits have.
Garcia also said that Maestas, along with City Councilor Michael Montoya and San Miguel County Commission Chair Harold Garcia met with museum staff in late 2021.
She said Maestas and Montoya were supportive of the exhibit at the time, and Garcia offered to allow the Friends of the Museum to apply for funding for the exhibit, which was approved unanimously.
However, in Maestas’ letter, he said proper documentation has not been provided to the city about the more than 200 artifacts in the exhibit, and that even loaned artifacts, such as the ones in this exhibit, must be approved by the Museum Advisory Board, regardless of what may have been done in the past.
Maestas set the deadline to have the artifacts out of the museum as this Friday, March 25. Trujillo said they will go ahead with that deadline unless a judge tells them otherwise based on the injunction filed in District Court. Trujillo said the city’s attorney was reviewing the injunction to determine its legality.
Several local residents protested outside the city’s museum on Saturday. The city closed the museum that day, citing staffing shortages. City police were present at the protest, which lasted from 10 a.m. until the early afternoon.
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