Council censures embattled mayor in Las Vegas, N.M.

Councilors accuse Gurule-Giron of interfering in process of appointing city officials, renewing contracts


The Las Vegas, N.M., City Council decided in a 3-1 vote this week to censure embattled Mayor Tonita Gurule-Giron, accusing her of interfering in the process of appointing city officials and renewing contracts, shortly after she announced the resignations of the city manager and police chief.

The action was the latest sign of conflict in a city government that in recent months has been marked by strife and infighting.

City Manager Richard Trujillo will be leaving Dec. 29, while police Chief Juan Montaño will step down Dec. 31. A councilor claimed the mayor had failed to inform the governing body of Trujillo's decision to retire and had tried to keep contract renewals for other officials off the agenda for Thursday's meeting.

Earlier this year, Montaño, who has worked for the police department for nearly 20 years, filed letters of intent to sue Gurule-Giron. He claimed the mayor has created a hostile work environment and retaliated against him for performing his duties.

Gurule-Giron, who is up for re-election in March, told the council that those claims have been settled, though the terms of the settlement have not yet been made public.

Gurule-Giron's administration also is facing an investigation by the State Auditor's Office over allegations of "conflicts of interest with a city vendor, contracting without seeking competitive prices, and budget adjustments without the approval of the Las Vegas City Council."

City Councilor Barbara Perea-Casey, who has been for months one of the mayor's sharpest critics, made the motion to censure her Thursday "for her lack of professional ethics by circumventing the process of appointing an interim city manager" and "reappointing the police chief, city clerk and city attorney."

Contracts for the city clerk and city attorney are up for renewal, a process that requires the council to review the contracts and vote this month on whether to approve them.

"It is my understanding that the mayor refused to put the contract renewal on the agenda for this month's meeting," Pera-Casey said.

Speaking to the council Thursday, the councilor said, "Being that the mayor has not informed the council about the city manager's retirement and his intention to leave the city's employ, one can only surmise that the mayor is keeping important information from the council members. ... Can we surmise that the mayor has already appointed someone to this position as an interim city manager without the consent of the City Council?"

Gurule-Giron denied the allegations. In a statement issued through a spokesman, she called the censure "an underhanded political ploy."

"Three of the councilors were notified well before the meeting that I would be scheduling a special meeting on Thursday, December 28, to discuss the contracts of the city officers, and that we couldn't do it at the regular meeting because we had possible retirements pending," she said. "I attempted to notify the fourth but was unable to reach her prior to the meeting.

"I did not withhold information from the council, and it was dishonest of them to claim that I did," Gurule-Giron said.

Joining Perea-Casey in voting for the censure were Councilors Vince Howell and David Romero. Councilor David Ulibarri, who was appointed by Gurule-Giron, voted against the measure.

The council will consider the contracts for the city officials Dec. 28.

In a written statement emailed to The New Mexican, Montaño did not answer a reporter's question about why he is retiring and whether his departure is related to the settlement over his threat of legal action.

"Nothing in my career has brought me more pride than serving as Police Chief for the City of Las Vegas," he wrote.

The chief thanked the City Council for its "unwavering support and commitment to public safety."

He did not thank Gurule-Giron.

Contact Steve Terrell at 505-986-3037 or sterrell@sfnewmexica­­ Read his blog at www.santafenewmexica­­dup.