Albuquerque residents to vote on minimum wage increase in November

The question for Albuquerque voters
From - By: Danielle Todesco, KOB Eyewitness News 4 - Voters will decide whether or not to raise Albuquerque's minimum wage this November. The State Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that despite a typo in the wage petition, the issue can go on the November ballot. The issue finally landed in the Supreme Court after weeks of battles. The group Ole gathered enough signatures to put it on the ballot, but a typo in the wording held things up. Wednesday, the Supreme Court ruled that the typo does not affect the general meaning of the initiative. Now, voters will decide if the minimum wage will go up from $7.50 to $8.50 an hour. The initiative also includes a cost of living increase every year. "I'm very excited for my coworkers. We've put a lot into this and it's nice to see first of all, our work pay off for one," said President of Ole, Mary Lee Ortega. "But it's also nice to see what good we're going to do this community, this city that deserves so much.' The Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce said raising the wage will put local businesses in a crunch and will hurt the local economy. "We're disappointed," said President of the Chamber of Commerce, Terri Cole. "We hoped that we could keep this off the ballot, but you know the last time the voters had a shot at increasing the minimum wage in this community, they voted it down and they're going to vote it down again." Read more

Violet violin: Tibbetts orchestra won't allow instrument

From the Farmington Daily Times - By Ryan Boetel - FARMINGTON — The girl with the purple violin and the Tibbetts Middle School Orchestra couldn't settle their differences. Camille Cruz, an 11-year-old sixth-grader at Tibbetts, switched her elective from orchestra to choir Tuesday morning, said Sherry Lopez, the girl's mother.  She made the choice to switch music programs over the brouhaha caused by her nontraditional violin. Cruz was told last week that her purple violin was not suitable for a middle school orchestra and she would have to use one of the school district's wooden-bodied instruments.  The order struck a nerve with Lopez. She argued with the teacher, the principal and the school district to try to get the purple violin in the classroom. The dust up was to no avail.  Lopez said the district told her Monday that the purple violin was not allowed in the orchestra. "Some people are saying I just wanted to start drama and that wasn't the point," Lopez said. "I was just trying to show Camille that she could fight for what she believes in." Read more

Feds propose rare NM salamander listing

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The federal government is proposing to add a rare salamander found only in northern New Mexico to the endangered species list.
The proposal unveiled Tuesday highlights questions about how many Jemez Mountain salamanders still exist following changes to its moist forested climate and back-to-back years of wildfire and drought.
Researchers spent the last three weeks using a team of specially trained dogs to help sniff out populations of the salamanders in an effort to learn more about what makes the tiny creatures tick. The salamanders breathe through their skin and spend much of their lives underground. Aside from the listing, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing setting aside more than 140 square miles in three New Mexico counties as critical habitat for the salamander.
Environmentalists have been pushing for salamander protections for two decades. Read more...


LANL gets grant for vehicle efficiency

LOS ALAMOS, N.M.  - Researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory will be working on improving vehicle efficiency thanks to a $1.2 million grant.
The funding was awarded through the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy's Vehicles Technology program.
U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Lujan's office says the program is investing in three new projects that focus on increasing the efficiency of engines and powertrain systems for future vehicles. The research will also be funded by $300,000 in private investment.
Los Alamos researchers plan to focus on developing a low-cost nitrogen oxide and ammonia sensor package for lean-burning engines.
Lujan says improvements in vehicle efficiency will help reduce carbon dioxide emissions and reliance on oil.

New Mexico State Fair opens today

The New Mexico State Fair will open at 2 p.m. Wednesday - and there are some big changes this year. The fair will be open 12 straight days instead of 13 days over a 17-day period like last year. The reason for the change?Attendance and revenue was down last year.. so organizers re-grouped and shot for a later start and fewer days. Another big change is the price.Expect to pay more to get in - admission is $10 dollars for adults and $7 for seniors and kids 11 and under. Kids five and under get in free. However, this year, parking is free. New rides and attractions this year include a zip line open daily at 10 a.m. and a smaller carnival just for younger children, located off the Midway. New food items include a donut burger, fried frog legs, fried beer and deep-fried lemonade cake.


More Martinez Chief of Staff audio surfaces

Additional audio from a secretly recorded conversation of Gov. Susana Martinez's chief of staff is raising more questions this week.

Chief of Staff Keith Gardner
In the audio, which was taped without Keith Gardner's knowledge during a conversation with a Roswell man, Gardner calls longtime Democratic legislator Tim Jennings a "son of a bi%$#" and says the governor feels he is an "as%$&^*."  He goes on to call Jennings worse names, saying he was problematic during a special session held almost a year ago.
Gardner also discusses trying to get out a speeding ticket because "my dad was the judge" while he was near Reserve many years ago.
This all comes after last week, Democratic attorney Sam Bregman released a small clip of the conversation, in which Gardner discusses never using state email accounts.
Bregman and groups like the Independent Source PAC say the comments are indicative of an administration policy which was to use personal email accounts to discuss state business because it was more difficult to trace.
Garnder and the governor's office point out that a large portion of the conversation was actually about a sexual assault case, and that Gardner was simply referring to how he hopes authorities know you can track every state and school email address.
Martinez told Action 7 News Tuesday that she is behind Gardner and it's time to "move on."
"This was a private conversation between two men...I've been called names myself, 'Mexican,' and I've moved on," she said.
The Martinez administration has since mandated all state business be conducted on state email.


ABQ Journal poll shows Governor Martinez approval rating up

SANTA FE – Fresh off her prime-time speech at the Republican National Convention, Gov. Susana Martinez is riding high among New Mexico voters.Sixty-nine percent said they approve of the Republican governor’s performance 20 months into her first term, a new Journal Poll found.Just 17 percent of voters polled Sept. 3-6 said they disapprove of her job performance, while 14 percent were undecided.
Martinez, elected in 2010 with 53 percent of the vote, has pursued an apparently popular agenda, campaigning against driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants, pushing for tougher school standards, opposing new taxes and trimming the size of state government without mass layoffs, Journal pollster Brian Sanderoff said.
“She’s focused on issues that are popular among the voters,” said Sanderoff, president of Research & Polling Inc. “As a Republican governor, she has not followed the curve of other Republican governors who have tried to balance the budget by cutting Medicaid or school funding.”
Martinez’s prime-time speech at the Republican National Convention on Aug. 29 in Tampa probably boosted her approval rating back home, Sanderoff said. She spoke between former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and GOP vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan, though several major television networks skipped most of her address. She was the subject of vice presidential speculation early on but ruled it out to stay home.


Democratic super PAC forms in New Mexico

SANTA FE, N.M. - Labor unions and a retiring Democratic legislative leader have provided about $393,000 to a newly formed political group planning to make independent expenditures to influence New Mexico campaigns, including races that will determine whether Democrats retain control of the Legislature.
A finance report filed by Patriot Majority - New Mexico PAC shows it collected $250,000 from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and $83,000 from retiring House Speaker Ben Lujan's political committee.
The PAC registered with the secretary of state last month and its president is Washington, D.C.-based Democratic strategist Craig Varoga.
He runs a national super PAC called Patriot Majority that's active in U.S. Senate and congressional races.
Varoga said in a statement the New Mexico group will support state candidates in non-federal races.


PNM offers tips to prepare homes for winter

New Mexico has been getting just a taste of cooler weather this week but before you know it, winter will be here. While you are probably prepared to shield yourself from the cold, are you doing the same thing for your home's interior? PNM energy efficiency engineer, Eric Seelinger, said the time to prepare is now. "While the weather is nice right now, it's a great time to go around your house and weatherize," Seelinger said. An easy rule of thumb is to work from the outside in - start with your doors and in your windows by using weather stripping to seal your house in. The obvious starting spots include any gaps, cracks or crevices around perimeter of your home. That includes sealing in that evaporative cooler and draining its water feeder hoses. Seelinger said these basics can save you a ton of energy and some cash. "Even a crack around your door, if it's not fully sealed, that's like having a 10-inch window open so it's those little spaces when you add them all up make a big difference." Winter days are shorter, and people tend to use a lot of energy lighting the house. PNM said consider switching your traditional bulbs to CFLs. If that is not your flavor, you can try new LED light bulbs which are even more energy efficient - but be warned, they are an investment. Now is also the time to inspect your furnace for leaks. "Sometimes that combustion chamber, over time, will leak carbon monoxide," Seelinger explained. If your heater's condition is questionable, call a professional to check it out. Even after that, go that extra mile to keep your family safe. "In addition to your smoke alarms put, a CO detector," Seelinger said.


APD police chief gives his own department an "A"

Albuquerque Police Chief Ray Shultz 
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) - If you had to give the Albuquerque Police Department a letter grade what would it be? 
Albuquerque Police Chief Ray Shultz gave his department a grade Tuesday, and he did not go the safe route with a B, instead he issued APD an A. 
He says APD scores a 94 percent. He came up with the grade after comparing his department to two other cities where the Department of Justice has stepped in to clean things up. 
In the wake of 25 police shootings in the past 32 months, a string of costly lawsuits, officers caught on tape roughing up suspects and officers arrested for high-profile crimes, there's been a call for the feds to crack down on APD. 
Tuesday the chief launched his own preemptive attack. 
He says he compared APD to New Orleans Police where the DOJ stepped in after five officers were convicted or pled guilty to shooting unarmed suspects and to Seattle where the DOJ is investigating claims of racial discrimination and use of excessive force. 
  If departments compare police shootings, though, Seattle PD only averages a couple police shootings a year, but Chief Schultz says according to Tuesday's report, Albuquerque exceeds the Department of Justice standards of transparency, training and following police procedures almost perfectly. 
"If we learn from the times that we didn't do things right, that's a win," Chief Schultz said. "That's where I give us credit for not sitting back and being aggressive and learning from our mistakes." 
Chief Schultz also pointed to the new lapel cameras as more evidence that his department wants to be transparent. 
No word on when the DOJ will announce if it's going to order APD to make changes. 
Chief Schultz says he's implemented dozens of new procedures since 2010 and they are part of the reason he gave such his department such a good grade. The chief has also promised to improve the screening of people who get hired to be officers. Read more...

Schott Solar set to lease out plant

ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) - When Schott Solar opened the doors of its Albuquerque plant at Mesa del Sol in 2009 there was no shortage of optimism.
Although the German-based company only started out with about 350 workers in Albuquerque, the expectations were that about 1,500 would ultimately work at the 200,000 square foot facility.
"Ultimately it's about the market for solar products expanding in the United States," said Mac Moore with Schott Solar in May at the plant's grand opening. "As that market grows we will expand this facility to meet the demand of the [United States] market."
But because of a tough global solar market, Schott announced in late June it was shutting down in Albuquerque. That left 250 people out of a job and the state out about $16 million in tax incentives paid to bring Schott  to the state in the first place.
Those jobs may be coming back though.
A Schott Solar spokesperson tells KRQE News 13 the company is finalizing a deal that would allow a new company to effectively take over Schott's lease.
Monday morning, the New Mexico Finance Authority approved changes to the deal it had with Schott to pave the way for a new firm to come in. Marquita Russel, the NMFA's chief of programs, wrote News 13 in an email saying the deal may have to be modified again as final negotiations wrap up.
The state, city, NMFA, Mesa del Sol and Schott Solar could not or would not disclose the other company involved in the deal. 


PERA sends out new ballots following error

PERA logo
An error on ballots sent to around 29,000 retired workers has forced the New Mexico Public Employees Retirement Association to print and mail new election ballots.
Association Executive Director Wayne Propst tells The Albuquerque Journal  the error will probably cost the public retirement system about $20,000 for the election of a single board seat.
The error was a phrase that required those voting to certify they were "municipal" voters. It should have said "retiree" voters.
Propst says the ballots could have been deemed legally invalid without correcting the language.
A similar election for the association was halted last year after board members discovered the names of two candidates had been in printed in the wrong order on ballots already been mailed.
Information from The Associated Press and Albuquerque Journal