State suspends Questa school board until Jan. 1

Questa school board member Ellis Garcia (right) attended the Oct. 30 board meeting, despite having been ordered on Oct. 23 to step down by the New Mexico attorney general. Also shown, from left: board president Daryl Ortega and board vice president Mathew Ortega. Doug Cantwell/Taos News

Questa school board member Ellis Garcia took his usual seat at an Oct. 30 board meeting, despite having been ordered to resign his position by the New Mexico attorney general due to Garcia's 1992 felony conviction for conspiracy to commit arson, which recently came to light.

New Mexico law prohibits anyone with a felony conviction from holding an elected office.

The Oct. 23 demand letter signed by Chief Deputy Attorney General Tania Maestas gave Garcia 14 days – through Nov. 6 – to vacate his position, and he apparently intends to use them. The letter did not address the question of whether any board action approved by a majority that includes Garcia during that 14 days would be deemed valid.

Board vice president Mathew Ortega, standing in for absent board secretary Jose Lovato at the Oct. 30 meeting, took attendance and declared a quorum. The meeting proceeded, in spite of the additional absence of board member Tammy Jaramillo, who was out of town attending to family medical issues.

One of the attendees announced himself as Aaron Rodriguez from the New Mexico Publication Education Dept., who apparently was there to observe the proceedings. A number of community members have recently filed complaints with PED about the conduct of the Questa board.

When asked by the Taos News about the purpose of his visit, Rodriguez said simply "work."

PED could not be reached for immediate comment, but the department's website lists Rodriguez as deputy general counsel, the number-two position on PED's legal team.

Halfway into the meeting, the board went into a closed-door executive session to discuss the hire of a new superintendent. Afterward, Ortega announced that the board had taken no action, having decided it would be inappropriate to do so in the absence of board members Lovato and Jaramillo.

The board will not have time to take further action on hiring a superintendent before Tuesday's (Nov. 5) school board election. Both Garcia and board president Daryl Ortega are running for reelection; Garcia's candidacy was ruled invalid by the attorney general.

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