The village of Tijeras settled for $60,000 with Floy Watson after a civil rights lawsuit about a controversy over scrapbooks created by Doris Lark.
“I don’t have any comment on that,” Chavez said Tuesday. “We came to an agreement and all parties were mutual, and it’s done.”
Watson, by contrast, had a lot to say.
“Doris has been vindicated, and that’s worth so much for the hell they put her through,” she said Tuesday. “The village can spin it any way they want. They lost, we won, and Doris has been vindicated.”
The controversy started in 2013, when Lark and Watson, and others at the Tijeras Senior Center were unhappy with some of the policies there, and had asked to be able to administer money they raised themselves rather than have it go through the village for approval.
In early 2013, the village announced it was cutting hours at the senior center to half time, which also met with protest from some people who used the senior center, including Lark and Watson. They asked to see the budget.
At the time, Chavez gave no specific rationale for cutting hours at the senior center.
Late that year, some people at the senior center said some items had gone missing, and in January, 2014, Watson helped Lark carry four scrapbooks she had made out to her car. Lark said at the time she wanted to take the scrapbooks home because of items reported missing at the center.
In March that year, Watson went to the senior center, even though a letter from Chavez had banned her from the center. She and Lark were then cited for criminal trespass and asked to leave by Bernalillo County deputies, who had been called there by Diane Klaus, who was village clerk.
A police report in February said the pair “were observed on video surveillance” taking the scrapbooks, which neither denied. The police report listed the value of the scrapbooks at zero.
Watson said she and other seniors were targeted because they were vocal opponents of the mayor, especially over the way the senior center was run.
The Independent at the time asked the village on what basis it claimed the scrapbooks it acknowledged Lark had made, with supplies she herself had bought; the village offered no evidence of its ownership claim.
Lark at that time said she left the books at the senior center “for others to enjoy all the fun we used to have,” but did not donate them to the center, or the village.
“We didn’t act out,” Watson said at the time. “We just didn’t back down. We kept inquiring and inquiring and things simply got more difficult.”
For her part, Chavez at that time said, “At some point I will be able to speak and I will speak,” but said she could not comment due to “threatened litigation.”
Lark and Watson filed a lawsuit alleging their civil rights had been violated, saying they were targeted for speaking publicly against Chavez at the senior center. Lark died April 26, 2014.
In June, 2014, the Tijeras village council went against the wishes of its mayor, voting to lift the ban against Watson from entering the senior center, and not to press charges against her for theft, after which the large crowd in attendance at the meeting burst into applause.
Councilor Jake Bruton, who was elected to the council that March, was the only dissenting vote, saying at the time that it was clear the women had taken the scrapbooks, and questioning who owned them. The village’s attorney did not have an answer for him.
Bruton met with Jim Lark in hopes of reaching an amicable agreement that would allow the scrapbooks to stay at the senior center, he said Tuesday.
“I did come into the issue a little bit late—it had been going on for quite a few months before I was elected,” Bruton said, adding that “$55,000 is not terrible,” and saying the village would likely only be out of pocket for about $5,000 because it has insurance.
“I’m fairly happy with the outcome, that we’re getting [the scrapbooks] back,” Bruton said. He initially said, “I haven’t had any information,” on the settlement until it was read to him by this reporter.
Councilor Maxine Wilson said despite the fact that she and the mayor have been working on increasing communication—and in fact had a meeting the day before the settlement agremeent was reached last week—that she also had not heard the details of the settlement.
“We don’t have a clue what happened. We don’t know anything about it,” she said at first Tuesday, later adding, “I think the whole thing was just hurtful and sad. I wish it would never have happened, any of it.”
Watson said prior to the accusations of stealing by the village, she had never even had a traffic ticket, and that the experience had humiliated her and Doris Lark.
“We were just a bunch of old farts who just wanted to have lunch,” she said. “They made Doris out to be someone you wouldn’t want your little sister in the same room with. … We had not stolen anything—it was Doris’ property—her memories.”
Watson said the message she wants the Village of Tijeras to hear is, “Stop bullying the people in the village.”
She added, “It won’t stop until people stand up and say, ‘You have no right to do this.’ Get an attorney. … Don’t let them get away with it. Gloria Chavez has been running that village like her own little fiefdom.”
She said the village brought forward the provision of the settlement saying that as long as Gloria Chavez holds elected office in the village or Rita Rivera is manager of the senior center, that Watson will stay out of it.
“That’s why they wanted me kept out of that senior center,” Watson said Tuesday. “They knew I’d go right back in and practice my civil rights, and talk about the mayor and the village. … But there’s other places.”
Remembering her friend, the now 77-year-old Watson said Doris Lark was “so sweet and kind and generous.”
Doris Lark taught craft classes at the senior center, including scrapbooking. Watson added, “She took so much pleasure when somebody made a craft that came out pretty. … She was so generous with her time and certainly her money—she was a totally classy lady. That’s an old-fashioned word but that was Doris.”
Watson said she will continue to oppose the policies of the mayor, especially if she runs for office again. And because the settlement agreement states that it is “not confidential,” Watson said she will continue to be vocal about it.
“It’s sad that Doris wasn’t here when she was vindicated. That’s the saddest part.”