Edgewood latest town council meeting broke down in conflict and resulted in no action on Jan. 13, and the town’s Mayor Pro Tem John Abrams asked the police chief to escort councilor Sherry Abraham out of the room.
An agenda item for hiring a police officer died on a tie vote; and an item relating to sale of the old town hall building on Route 66 became an item of contention when Abraham said she had “ex parte communication” with someone who contacted her about the property.
Abrams said that meant she couldn’t take part in the closed session about the sale.
According to Randy Van Vleck, attorney for the N.M. Municipal League, ex parte communication is applied narrowly, in legal and quasi-judicial proceedings. He said that sale of the town hall was neither, and said unless a councilor has “a specific, direct, conflict of interest” that it would be highly unusual to be blocked from participating.
Abraham has worked as a real estate agent, but told The Independent that she let her license lapse in November.
After Abraham said she would not recuse herself, Abrams made a motion to exclude Abraham from the closed session on the sale, seconded by councilor Linda Holle; after a 2-1 vote, with councilor Audrey Jaramillo voting against the motion, Abrams asked Abraham to leave. When she said no, he asked the police chief to escort her out, and Abraham left the meeting.
After closed session, the remaining councilors voted to kick the can down the road, postponing a public hearing on the sale to its Jan. 27 meeting.
The council also could not agree on its consent agenda, normally items that are passed automatically with every meeting, and they did not hire the candidate for police officer brought forward by the chief, even though the department is short staffed.
Division & Dysfunction
Edgewood’s council has been the seat of conflict and strife since some members of the public started alleging that John Bassett—whose status as Mayor of Edgewood is in limbo, with two cases in front of the Supreme Court—was improperly enriching himself and his family.
In 2020, a vote by a large margin approved changing Edgewood’s form of government from mayor-council to commission-manager. Tasks that must be completed before this year’s town election in November include the creation of districts and a transition plan for the town government.
The Independent asked Edgewood’s councilors what they could do move the governing body out of gridlock, what part of the ongoing fight they take responsibility for, and whether they would support the idea of mediation.
“I could be respectful,” said Abraham, adding, “listening to each other, not kicking each other out of meetings. We need to be respectful.”
She said when she asks for items to be added to the agenda they are “not allowed.” She continued, “We can only do what’s on the agenda.”
Holle said she is discouraged by the current state of the council, adding that when she decided to run for office, she saw it as one more volunteer activity in addition to several she already enjoyed.
She said that even when the vote doesn’t go your way, the whole council has to put its support behind decisions that the council makes. “That just really hasn’t happened,” Holle said. “Last night we couldn’t even hire a police officer.”
She said both sides have “dug their heels in,” and said hers are dug in because she feels bullied by the public, and she will continue to correct the record on misinformation about Edgewood issues. “I’m tired of the bashing. … Inaccurate information, and spin being put on things is very frustrating to me.”
She said the town is in a holding pattern because the lawsuits against Bassett have not been decided yet.
Jaramillo questioned Abrams’ decision to cut public comment and comment from the councilors on the agendas for the past several meetings, and said if Bassett, Abrams and Holle feel attacked by the public, that it’s their job to hear what the public has to say.
She said she has been trying to get discussion of how to transition to commission-manager on the agenda for months, without it ever appearing. “I’m ignored time and time and time again,” Jaramillo said.
“My fight is for the people,” she said, when asked what part of Edgewood’s dysfunction she would take responsibility for. What she’s after, Jaramillo said, is an open and transparent discussion of issues before the town.
She said of Abraham’s removal from the meeting, “To my experience or knowledge, there’s nothing that legally allowed that,” adding that she sees “inconsistency of principle” in how she and Abraham are treated.
All three councilors said they would be willing to take part in mediation, although none without a note of discouragement or caution.
Abrams did not return requests for an interview before The Independent went to press.