A standing-room only crowd at Edgewood’s council meeting Nov. 20 brought complaints from the public, and accusations of nepotism, lying, and irresponsible spending of taxpayer money dominated the discussion.
The crowd was in response to another meeting held Nov. 14 at Legacy Church in Edgewood, hosted by a group called Citizens for an Open and Responsible Edgewood.
According to estimates from a few people who attended, some 200 to 300 people attended that meeting; CORE urged those attending to voice their opinions about town government at its council meeting.
The Nov. 20 meeting, with 60 or 70 people in attendance, laid bare an ongoing split on the town council, with councilors Sherry Abraham and Audrey Jaramillo frequently at odds with fellow councilors Linda Holle and John Abrams. In spite of that, the few votes taken at the meeting were either unanimous or had one dissenting vote.
The bulk of the meeting was taken up by public comment, and by those items on the agenda reserved for councilors and the mayor to address any topic they wish to bring up.
Issues brought up centered around the town’s wastewater system, and the town’s pursuit of the feasibility of taking over the Epcor water system through eminent domain. Epcor has said publicly they oppose such a takeover, and that they would fight it.
With a draft of the latest update to the town’s comprehensive plan on the floor for consideration, both Jaramillo and Abraham objected to some of the language it contained.
Abraham objected to having an engineering report about taking over Epcor in the document as it had not yet been brought forward for approval to the town council.
Jaramillo objected that having a “public private partnership” with stakeholders was given a time frame of 10 to 20 years in the document.
Jaramillo said there is an appearance of “undue influence into this process,” later calling it a “tainted process,” because mayor John Bassett’s first cousin Cheryl Huppertz is on the planning and zoning commission.
“This has been in the making for 18 months,” Holle said, adding that the council had voted and the contract ends in January. A handful of public meetings were held for input, along with a survey sent out to Edgewood residents.
Maida Rubin of the Mid-Region Council of Governments, which is preparing the guiding document, said the time frames had been established by a vote of the council, but said she will make changes and bring it back for another look.
From there, the council moved to public comment, starting with Jerry Powers, part of the CORE group.
Powers said the Nov. 14 meeting had over 300 people attend, calling it “unprecedented.”
He said those attending that meeting had expressed dissatisfaction with Edgewood’s governance and urged the governing body to listen to the public in attendance.
David Anderson said he is an Epcor customer. He said he is “well cared-for” by Epcor, “but not well represented by my town government.”
He added, “I’m appalled at the way this is going without inputs or approval from the public.”
Linda Hill said “the majority of people in Edgewood” are against a takeover of Epcor, saying that she expects her property values to go down and water payments to triple if the move goes forward.
Eric Shultz said he is a new property owner in Edgewood. He opposed the sewer line extension down Cactus and Church roads. “I have an issue with turning the line to your property, Mr. Bassett,” he said, adding that “nobody in this town wants the sewer system.”
Chris Orr thanked the council for work done on Horton Road, and said he strongly opposes taking over Epcor, saying it would “cost the town tons of money we don’t have.”
Chuck Ring, formerly on the town council, cautioned the audience not to “jump to conclusions” because the town is exploring whether it can take over Epcor.
Cheryl Huppertz said she is the mayor’s first cousin and said she attended the Nov. 14 meeting, where she said she heard “a lot of half truths, and lies about our mayor.”
She said the environment has become hostile, adding, “I think it needs to calm down.”
Ray Seagers said he is most worried about transparency, asking, “How do I find out what’s going on in this town?”
Seagers pointed out that some 30 percent of Epcor’s customers don’t live within the town limits, but are in unincorporated Torrance County, describing Epcor as a “regional water system.”
One woman, Nancy Adamson, said, “I resent having tyranny shoved down my throat” because she was not allowed to yield her time to Seagers.
“Pay attention to what the people want,” said Gary Hill, who said “99.9 percent of the people don’t want a takeover of Epcor.”
After the public comment section, the meeting turned to matters from the councilors and the mayor.
Audrey Jaramillo said when she voted in June 2018 for the sewer extension to Church, Cactus and Main streets, she objected that Bassett did not recuse himself, and said she did not know the line would run through Bassett property; she thought the line would run adjacent to the property.
She questioned the recent ICIP (Infrastructure Capital Improvements Plan) and asked that it be brought back to the council for another vote to make sure a sewer line extension up N.M. 344 toward Section 16 was on the list to “reflect Edgewood’s commercial corridor.”
Jaramillo said she is disappointed, and addressing the mayor, added, “Everything you accused [former mayor] Brad Hill of … is now happening in real life.”
Abraham spoke next.
She asked how much the old town office had been listed for and expressed disbelief when Bassett said he didn’t know the number offhand.
Abraham also asked for lapel or headset microphones so councilors could be more easily heard by the public. She asked about current open positions and where they had been advertised and mentioned that the police chief’s wife had been hired in a janitorial position.
Town clerk Juan Torres said the jobs were posted on the town website.
Abraham also brought up the engineering report, and said it has not yet been approved by the council. She asked if it had been submitted to any funding agencies before also expressing disappointment in the mayor.
Abrams followed with his comments. He said he has been on the council for around 11 years, adding, “It’s my duty to inform myself as well as physically and mentally possible,” he said, adding, “Be very, very certain that I am considering all aspects.”
He challenged Abraham’s residence in Edgewood after seeing an exchange between her and the mayor on the social media platform NextDoor. “It’s been brought to light that Sherry Abraham may or may not be a resident of the town,” he said. “If there is documentation please bring it.”
Abraham asked if she could respond, and was denied by the mayor. During a break later in the meeting, she offered her cell phone up to the audience asking if anyone wanted to see her lease of an Edgewood property.
Holle then spoke, offering explanations for some of the things she heard at the Nov. 14 meeting, including the town’s parliamentary procedure, time limit on public comment, placement of agenda items and the council’s vote to extend term limits.
Holle said before time limits were imposed on public comment, the amount of time people had to speak was inconsistent.
Holle also talked about the Local Election Act, legislation designed to increase participation in small elections including school boards, towns, and other entities.
The law provided two options for those entities who chose to opt in, and turn elections over to the county clerk, to be held the first Tuesday of November during odd years; previously Edgewood’s elections were held in March.
Edgewood’s council, after two presentations about the law by Santa Fe County Clerk Geraldine Salazar, voted to extend its terms, rather than cut them short. Jaramillo, Holle and Abrams voted in favor of extending terms; Abraham had left the meeting early.
Holle said about 60 percent of entities voting to opt in had increased their terms under the new law, as Edgewood did.
After a report by the town clerk, Bassett took his turn to address the concerns raised by the audience.
He showed a series of slides containing various documents including minutes of past meetings, emails, maps and letters backing up his comments, and provided those documents to The Independent.
Among those documents were requests and petitions brought forward by Jeremiah Turner, who owns Dairy Queen and Tom Torres, manager of Epcor in Edgewood, asking the town to extend a sewer line down Cactus from Church to Main.
Bassett said that extension was requested for three years in a row by Turner and others, and was placed on the town’s ICIP list and as part of a process lasting “more than a decade.”
He pointed to minutes of the Aug. 24, 2016 council meeting, in which wastewater collection on Cactus Road was approved by the council at a public hearing.
“That’s important,” Bassett said. “What that means is everybody acts like nobody knew anything, what it means is that night in August of 2016, the council that was sitting there at that time chose those five projects as their priority for putting money into it if it became available.” He added, “Anybody that tells you they didn’t know anything about it is lying to you. It’s right there, it’s in the minutes. You can look it up yourself.”
A conceptual plan for that sewer extension was drawn up by Dennis Engineering and dated Dec. 29, 2016. After it bid on the project but was informed by the town on Feb. 17, 2017 that it had not won the bid, the engineering firm tendered a notice of termination of its professional services agreement with the town, in a letter dated April 14, 2017.
Bassett said that Dennis Engineering’s conceptual map showed the sewer “turn into our pasture.”
Powers said he is a retired contractor and holds a license for underground utility construction. “In all my years of utility work I have never seen a case where the city pays for an extension onto private property,” he wrote in an email to The Independent. He said the mayor was blaming the engineering company, adding, “Engineers are like architects, they design what you tell them to, where you tell them to.”
Bassett pointed the Sept. 20, 2017 council meeting minutes, saying, “Now I can take you to the moment when this nutty theory about this wastewater collection line being done only for the Bassett family began.”
The minutes record Tappan Mahoney of Dennis Engineering “comment[ing] to Mayor Bassett that the design plan addresses his personal property in Phase I,” which Bassett said was the beginning of what he termed “business revenge.”
Bassett said the collection line “was something we felt the time had come to do it, so we did it—in full knowledge of the public, full knowledge of the council, and anybody who was well enough to get off their dead ass and come to the meetings where we voted on it.”
He said his interest in the community is “genuine,” adding that he started attending town meetings at the beginning. “I didn’t have to be prodded and poked in some meeting or have some idiots on social media corral me and run me out,” he said. “I went of my own accord and paid attention to what was going on in the community and involved myself.”
On the charge of nepotism, Bassett talked about his first days in office.
The town’s nepotism ordinance defines “relative” to include first cousins, and says “no person … shall be appointed in any capacity as a volunteer if the person is a relative of the Mayor, the Councilors or Municipal Judge.”
Bassett said Huppertz is his first cousin, and was first appointed to the planning and zoning commission by then-mayor Brad Hill. When Bassett took office there were only three people on that commission, including Huppertz, whom he reappointed.
Bassett called it an “honest mistake” and said he was more concerned with a pending application before that board at the time. “It was a stupid mistake,” he said, adding, “There was no willful intention on my part.”
Bassett concluded, “It’s my reputation that’s being smeared and slandered,” and defending his record as mayor. “We’ve tried to do the right thing every time, and that’s going to continue to be the way we do things as long as I’m in here.”