Appointment of a permanent Española police chief could be pushed back as far as after the March 2020 municipal election.
At Tuesday’s City Council meeting, Councilor Peggy Sue Martinez, a longtime detractor of interim chief of police Roger Jimenez, declined to put a tabled vote on his appointment for the permanent position back into play and signaled she may keep the matter tabled for months.
As the councilor who moved at the Oct. 22 meeting to table the vote, Martinez has the power to keep it in limbo.
She said Tuesday that an email from City Attorney A.J. Salazar stated Mayor Javier Sanchez needs to receive a legal opinion from the state Attorney General about procedural concerns Salazar raised in the 11th hour at last month’s meeting.
Salazar, who, along with Jimenez, was not present at Tuesday’s meeting, said last month that because the Council voted to deny then-deputy chief Jimenez a promotion to Public Safety Department director in May, he could not be presented for appointment to the same position again.
He pointed to a state law requiring mayors to present another candidate for an appointed position at the next Council meeting when a first appointee is not ratified.
While some Councilors argued at the time that the position of public safety director is distinct from chief of police due to the recent dissolution of the Public Safety Department into separate police and fire departments, the Public Safety Department and director position were created in the city budget and in practice about seven years ago but never codified.
Salazar, backed by Martinez and Councilor John Ramon Vigil, argued that the lack of a formal designation meant the director position—historically held by the city’s top cop—was the same as police chief for the purpose of state law.
However, the statute Salazar cited, State Statute 3-11-5, appears to refer specifically to the procedure for appointments at the organizational meeting at the start of a new governing body’s term and not appointments in general.
Martinez said Tuesday that the contentious issue has torn the community and the City Council apart and that because Jimenez currently receives the same compensation and powers in his interim capacity, there is no rush to address the appointment again.
“I really believe that there is no reason to pull this off the table at this time until we do have an opinion about what the law is,” Martinez said. “It gives us the opportunity for (Sanchez) to do (his) due diligence and get the opinion that we need, and by that time more than likely March will be here and possibly there will be a new governing body and another appointment made anyway.”
Jimenez said in a text statement he is willing to remain in his interim role for potentially months more.
“This doesn’t sway or shake our mission,” he said. “We have changed the reputation of the Department in only a year-and-a-half. Now agencies from across the state have come to the heart of Northern New Mexico to receive training. When has this ever happened before?”
Sanchez said in a text statement he is proud of the work Jimenez has done so far.
“His leadership has proven to be an outstanding beacon for our officers,” Sanchez said. “I truly believe the members of the Council want to see Chief Jimenez succeed and keeping things the way they are will achieve that goal.”
Former Department evidence technician Randall DeAguero spoke in support of the interim chief Tuesday. At previous meetings, numerous Department officers and members of the community have backed Jimenez for the promotion.
“I know you all want to do what’s best for the community, but when the community comes out and speaks their minds doesn’t that supersede what you think is best for the community?” he told the Council. “For the last seven months, you’ve all been playing ping pong with a man’s career and wellbeing.”
No councilors spoke against Martinez’s decision to leave Jimenez’s appointment on the table.