The Española City Council ratified Mayor Javier Sanchez’ picks for city manager and police chief on Tuesday night–over the objections of Mayor Pro Tem Dennis Tim Salazar, Councilor Peggy Sue Martinez and Councilor John Ramon Vigil, who have opposed Roger Jimenez’ promotion to the head of the city’s Public Safety Department since November 2019.
In a letter read to the Council, Jimenez’ attorney Carlos Quiñones pointed to Vigil’s ongoing criminal charges involving former city councilor Phillip Chacon as reason to believe that he was unable to rule fairly on the police chief’s appointment.
Quiñones also argued Martinez could not rule impartially because of her alleged involvement in an incident at the McCurdy polling site on March 3 during the municipal elections. That incident is currently pending review by an unspecified “outside agency,” Quiñones wrote.
Jimenez collected statements from the election judge and other poll workers reported to the New Mexico Secretary of State’s Office on March 26. That makes him party to the investigation of Martinez.
City Manager Xavier Martinez and City Clerk Melissa Velasquez won unanimous support to continue overseeing city operations.
Vigil’s ability to rule fairly could be undermined by text messages uncovered in the Española Police Department’s pursuit of charges against former city councilor Phillip Chacon for the March 21 stabbing of Jacob Smith.
Four days earlier, Chacon punched one of his tenants for being a week late on rent, and hospitalized a man on March 7 by striking him in the back of the head with a handgun, court records show.
Vigil is alleged to have tried to communicate with Chacon regarding the Smith stabbing but Chacon said he did not know anything, and instead that he had been in Santa Fe.
A bench trial in the stabbing scheduled for April 28 and an arraignment scheduled for May 4 were both canceled.
Jimenez filed a city ethics complaint against Vigil on April 21, citing the text messages uncovered in stabbing, showing that he was “voting on the proposed condemnation by the City of certain property of which the suspect had an interest,” Quiñones wrote.
Chacon and Mayor Sanchez had traded angry looks across the Planning Commission chambers in January as the Council held a hearing on the property, which sits along North McCurdy Road.
The texts led Española Det. Ernest Saucedo to charge Vigil with three counts of felony bribery on May 11 and a misdemeanor count of refusing to aid an officer.
“Based on these facts, it is likely both Councilor Vigil and Councilor PS (Peggy Sue) Martinez will seek to retaliate against Mr. Jimenez by voting against his confirmation to remain City Police Chief and or by voting to remove him,” Quiñones wrote.
Vigil’s attorney said he would not recuse himself. Martinez said she would not recuse herself either.
After an hour-long discussion, Ricci moved for Jimenez to become chief of police. Councilor Manny Martinez seconded the motion.
Vigil and Peggy Sue Martinez, along with councilors Denise Benavidez and Dorothy Valdez, voted against Jimenez. There was a tied 4-4 vote, and Sanchez broke the tie vote and voted in favor for Jimenez, who was immediately sworn in.
Española Police Officer Jeremy Apodaca told councilors 26 out of 27 officers had voted in favor of Jimenez in a vote of confidence. He said the officers feel comfortable with Jimenez and are calling in sick less often than ever. He said the Department is finally fully-staffed.
He said the Department has a wait-list of officers waiting to join, which he said has never happened in his time there.
“I have a total of 14 years in law enforcement, twelve-and-a-half of those years is with the Española Police Department,” Apodaca said. “In my 14 years I have worked under 16 chiefs. He and his leadership qualities are truly the key to the success of this police department.”
State Auditor flags complaints
Sanchez said on Monday had agreed to put the positions up for a vote after originally wanting to keep his appointments the same because of the pandemic. He said in an interview before the meeting he is happy to work with the councilors and have the appointments made.
“I recognize that to make the best decisions, we have to work together as a group,” he said.
The move came after New Mexico State Auditor Brian Colon warned that not putting the positions up for a vote could violate city ordinance. Colon’s warning was in response to complaints filed against Sanchez by three city councilors.
Peggy Sue Martinez, Vigil and Mayor Pro Tem Dennis Tim Salazar had alleged that Sanchez violated state law and city ordinance by not submitting the names of the people he wanted to appoint.
Colon had written to Sanchez that the city code “may have been violated through the Mayor’s alleged failure to submit for confirmation by the City Council the names of persons to be employed by the City to fill positions including city manager, city clerk and chief of police as required.”
Martinez had tabled the vote to appoint Jimenez permanently into the police chief position in October 2019, and a month later declined to put the vote back into play. She said at the time that an email from City Attorney A.J. Salazar stated Sanchez needed to receive a legal opinion from the state Attorney General about procedural concerns Salazar raised in the 11th hour at a previous meeting.