The ethics committee meeting scheduled for Sept. 9 to investigate ethics complaints against City Councilor John Ramon Vigil has been postponed indefinitely, due to one of the committee members uncovering a conflict of interest.
In late April, then-interim Chief of Police Roger Jimenez submitted a formal ethics complaint accusing Vigil of withholding evidence from police, of having a conflict of interest concerning a piece of property that was scheduled for demolition, and of having general “distaste and discontent for the law” that places the police “at risk of wondering if Councilor Vigil has been obstructing the agency’s progress for criminal or political gain,” the complaint states.
Evidence supporting these charges was uncovered when police searched Española resident Phillip Chacon’s phone during an unrelated assault investigation. The complaint specifically alleges that Chacon sent Vigil images of his assault victims, and that Vigil did not report these images to the police. Vigil claims that the messages were deleted immediately upon receipt and he did not have the chance to see their contents.
It also alleges that Chacon and Vigil conspired against city employees and the governing body in trying to prevent a property from being demolished under the city’s Clean and Lien program.
In addition, when Chacon informed Vigil that he was suing the city over the matter through text message, Vigil replied, “Lol good.”
Vigil was then charged in Rio Arriba County magistrate court in May with felony counts of conspiracy and unlawful interest in a public contract, with a misdemeanor charge for refusing to aid an officer.
Under city code secs. 40-8 & 9, city council has 10 days after receipt of the ethics complaint to decide whether to investigate, which they did. Then, the mayor and city councilors each submit the names of two citizens to serve on the investigating board, from which list the City Manager randomly selects five. The committee then has 60 days from the complaint’s date of receipt to hold a hearing.
Due to the complicated nature of the situation, the city has run into some issues in implementing the ethics committee protocol within the time requirements. “Because of the extenuating circumstances, we’re just having to sort of play by ear and do what we can to get it resolved,” Mayor Javier Sanchez said.
Vigil’s submissions were struck from the list of eligible ethics commission candidates, due to obvious conflicts of interest, Sanchez said. However, details in the ethics and criminal complaints against Vigil indicate that at least two other councilors may be involved in the matter.
A sentence from the ethics complaint reads, “The suspect [Chacon] also asks Councilor Vigil about another Councilor and suggests using him for a vote not to condemn the property.” This councilor is unidentified in the complaint.
The criminal complaint filed in May states Chacon offered Vigil $25,000 toward his and Peggy Sue Martinez’s campaigns if they would remove Planning and Land Use Director Richard Hubler, who is responsible for the city’s Clean and Lien program.
Neither the unknown councilor nor Martinez’s submissions are being struck from the list of eligible members.
The only scheduled business for the Sept. 9 meeting was to elect the board chair. It was postponed because one of the members selected to serve on the committee needed to recuse himself due to an unrelated conflict of interest.
According to city code, “No person shall serve as a member of the Board of Ethics if the person has, or has had within the preceding one-year period, any interest in any contract, transaction, or official action of the City.”
The individual in question realized that this disqualified him from serving at the last minute and notified City Manager Xavier Martinez. Now, Martinez needs to select a new name from the list of submissions randomly at the next City Council meeting.
“One of my issues is that it’s conflicting right now,” Sanchez said. “And everybody’s going to find some kind of a conflict with somebody on that board. I mean, I’d still prefer it were farmed out to either a different organization or a different city or something like that for perceived objectivity.”
The city code does not detail how outsourcing such a procedure would be done. The City Attorney advised that it could be done if the whole governing body agrees to such a measure.
“I don’t see that that’s going to happen,” Sanchez said.