Questa school board member admits to felony conviction at candidates’ forum

Community questions if this nullifies prior decisions made by the board

Doug Cantwell dcantwell@taosnews.com
Posted 10/9/19

Six candidates running for two open positions on the Questa Independent Schools board voiced their concerns and outlined their visions for the troubled district at a forum held last night (Oct. 9) at …

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Questa school board member admits to felony conviction at candidates’ forum

Community questions if this nullifies prior decisions made by the board

Posted

A decades-old felony conviction  of a Questa school board member has some in the district asking if he's qualified to run for reelection and whether board decisions he participated in should be nullified. 

The issue was raised Wednesday night (Oct. 9) when the six candidates running for two open positions on the Questa Independent Schools board outlined their visions for the troubled district at a forum held  at the VFW post in Questa.

One of them, incumbent board member Ellis Garcia, addressed the "elephant in the room" that no one had so far mentioned in public – his prior felony conviction.  

The moderator during the forum randomly opened sealed questions that had been submitted anonymously by community members, some of them addressed to specific candidates. “Mr. Ellis Garcia,” one of them asked, “have you ever been convicted of a felony and, if so, when and what was the charge? How does this qualify you, or disqualify you, as a board member?”

Garcia replied, “I was convicted back in 1992 of conspiracy to commit arson while in the military. I got a deferred sentence. It doesn’t qualify me to be a board member, but I stepped up to the plate when no one else was willing to. I’ve broken no laws since then and I’m registered to vote. I have as much right to serve as anyone else in this community.

“I’m sure it’s just more dirt-digging,” Garcia continued, “just more dirt for everyone to kick around, and I’m sure everyone gets a kick out of it. So, you guys all laugh, and I’ll laugh with you. It happened over 25 years ago. Since then, I received an honorable discharge from the military, and I went to college, I went to graduate school. I continue to strive to make this a better community.

“But see, it’s little things like this that make this community what it is,” he said. “It’s the haters and everyone else who just keep on digging. You know, it’s hard when people can’t take defeat easy. But this is what democracy is all about, so whatever you guys feel, I defend it, because it’s democracy.”

But does Garcia in fact have as much right to serve as anyone else?

According to New Mexico Statutes Annotated 1978, chapter 31, article 13, section 1, “A person who has been convicted of a felony shall not be permitted to hold an office of public trust for the state, a county, a municipality, or a district, unless the person has presented the governor with a certificate verifying the completion of the sentence and been granted a pardon or certificate by the governor restoring the person’s full rights of citizenship.”

According to information for political candidates on the secretary of state's website, this law has not been amended, and still stands. 

Costilla residents in particular are asking whether Garcia's prior conviction nullifies actions approved by the board during Garcia’s tenure, such as the recent Sept. 17 decision to permanently close their elementary school, the tiny but high-performing Río Costilla Southwest Academy of Learning. The motion was approved 3-2 by a majority that included Garcia.

For a full report on the candidates’ forum and other Questa school district news, see next week’s edition of the Taos News.

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