Months of contention have boiled over in the village of Tijeras, with the mayor’s husband describing the village council as made up of “liars and thieves,” and one councilor calling special meetings in an attempt to force action.
The latest dispute that has pitted Mayor Gloria Chavez against the village council centers on the employment of Diane Klaus, who has been named deputy clerk, interim clerk and acting clerk at various times in her 6-year tenure with the village.
The village council voted unanimously last week to “disapprove” of Klaus being hired as village clerk. Mayor Chavez had put Klaus’ name forward at its Sept. 18 meeting.
Minutes from that meeting say that Mayor Chavez “would like to start Diane [Klaus] at $47K.”
Minutes from that meeting show every councilor voting yes on a motion “to disapprove Diane Klaus for the position as Village Clerk,” but also show the motion as “failed.”
Since that point, Councilor Jake Bruton—who is running for re-election to the village council—has both blocked action on five meetings and called three special meetings to address Klaus’ employment with the village.
Bruton’s actions have had the full support of the rest of the village council. Meanwhile, Jimmy Chavez, Mayor Gloria Chavez’ husband, has alleged that the council has had a “rolling quorum.”
At a special meeting last week, Chavez went further, saying that the council was made up of “liars and thieves.”
Earlier in the meeting, Councilor Felix Garcia was accused by Mayor Chavez of stealing scrap metal pipes from the village.
Garcia contended that he had permission from a village employee, whom he did not name, to take the scrap metal; he sold a load of scrap including the pipes for about $54.
Garcia paid the village $25 and said he would be willing to pay the difference.
Asked if she felt being reimbursed for the value of the whole scrap load would be “adequate,” Gloria Chavez replied, “I have no idea, because we don’t know what the value of it was. … The value of it is irrelevant. I think the main thing is he took things knowing, he’s been mayor from the past and he knows you don’t take things, although that’s how he built his garage—taking surplus from here.”
When pressed, the mayor would say only that she wanted to “talk to legal” before taking further action.
Bruton made a motion to “absolve Felix Garcia of any wrongdoing” providing he paid the village a total of $54. The motion passed unanimously, with Garcia himself voting “definitely yes.”
The council then moved on to consideration of Klaus’ employment.
“I’ve attempted to try and get you to put this on a council meeting for at least five meetings now,” Bruton said. He said in an interview with The Independent that he and his fellow councilors then postponed action on every agenda, trying to force action from the mayor.
“In September we had a no confidence vote,” Bruton said. “She was removed from deputy clerk position. We voted to make Mike Wisner deputy clerk and then voted against her as clerk. It should have evaporated, so to say.”
Bruton said Klaus “has had a lot of complaints against her.” He added, “[The mayor] says that none of the council people’s words are credible. None of the letters are credible. None of the information presented at the workshop was credible. … [Mayor Chavez] doesn’t want to address it and that really bugs me.”
Asked for a comment by The Independent, Gloria Chavez replied only, “I have nothing to say right now, but thank you.”
At the Jan. 31 meeting, Mayor Chavez said the clerk’s position had not been advertised “because I can hire from within.”
Councilor Maxine Wilson said at the Sept. 18 meeting Mike Wisman was hired as deputy clerk—he subsequently resigned—and Klaus had not been approved. “So that means she did not have the position. [The deputy clerk] resigned and you placed [Klaus] back in that position.” She also said that the “interim” position held by Klaus is temporary. “It’s been temporary now for four years.”
Councilor Don Johnson said that within “about six months” of Klaus’ employment “I started getting complaints about her.” He suggested Klaus might be transferred to a position with less contact with the public.
Garcia suggested that Klaus and others in the village take courses on customer service, but was told that was a “ridiculous” idea by the mayor’s husband. Gloria Chavez shot back at him, “We have all taken classes. … Unlike you who doesn’t take any classes at all.”
Gloria Chavez said running elections means that the village must have a clerk.
The village council then voted on a motion for “verbal warnings and written reprimands” to Klaus, which also passed unanimously.
The next item was “to decide Diane Klaus’ employment status” with the village.
“I think we’ve got enough conversation at this point,” Bruton said. “We’ve had three special meetings, five regular meetings, and a no confidence vote from September.”
Bruton then made a long and specific motion “to disapprove Diane Klaus as the mayor’s appointee to deputy clerk, interim clerk, acting clerk or employee status.” The motion named Klaus last day of employment, and when her last paycheck would be issued. It passed unanimously.
Next on the agenda were comments from the council, then comments from the public. First up to speak was Jimmy Chavez.
“The recklessness and shamed behavior this council has been involved in a sham. You’ve accomplished nothing but been on a witch hunt for the last five months. You seem to forget who you work for, you work for the residents of the village of Tijeras. You wasted the taxpayers’ money by postponing all agendas while you hold village residents hostage to air out your own personal vendetta and agendas.
He added, “When all this is all said and done and the lawsuit is settled at our expense, it will show this was caused by a shadow government within a government, a rolling quorum that the five of you continue to have and discuss Village of Tijeras business also your own personal gossip sessions.”
Jimmy Chavez said allegations against Klaus are not credible or confirmed. Other allegations except one “were all people who refused to follow the rules, much like the council.” He added, “It’s unfortunate the council is made up of liars and thieves.”
Wilma Garcia said she has been a resident off and on since 1988, adding that she is back, running for the council, and calling for “respect.”
Rita Rivera, who manages the Tijeras Senior Center, said “only a handful of employees” had issues with Klaus.
After the three had spoken, Gloria Chavez said she had “been in consultation with the attorney–the attorney did put this together.” She then read what she described as the final part: “As chief administrative office, it is my duty to administer progressive discipline actions upon receiving credible evidence against any employee. As the evidence you have presented had has not been deemed by me, has been deemed by me as not credible, she will not face any disciplinary actions. Diane [Klaus] will not be fired.”
The mayor then banged the gavel, ending the meeting.
Bruton said that is not the end of the story, however.
He told The Independent Tuesday that he had contacted the Attorney General’s office, and was told that he should file a criminal complaint form if he believes the mayor has broken the law. “My intentions are to do that,” Bruton said, adding that the decision will be based on the advice of legal counsel.
According to the N.M. Municipal League’s Pocket Guide for New Mexico Municipal Officials, state law gives the mayor responsibility for supervising employees; it further says that the mayor may discharge and appointed offical or employee “with the approval of a majority of all members of the governing body.”
On appointees, the Pocket Guide paraphrases state law to say, “The mayor shall appoint all municipal officers and employees except those holding elective office, subject to the approval of all members of the governing body.”
For coverage of the race for Tijeras council, see next week’s issue of The Independent.
Leota started working for The Independent in 2006, working her way up through the ranks. An employee buyout in 2010 led to her ownership of the newspaper. Leota has served on the board of the N.M. Press Association, and is currently its First Vice President. She is passionate about health and wellness, especially mental health, and loves making art. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.