Edgewood Mayor John Bassett and the town’s governing body are the subject of a lawsuit filed Feb. 1 by Tom McGill, Jerry Powers and Howard Calkins, seeking to have Bassett removed from office. The trio is represented by attorney John Adrian Terry.
The lawsuit alleges that Bassett, through appointment of his cousin Cheryl Huppertz to the town’s planning and zoning commission, violated the town’s Nepotism Ordinance, which was enacted just a month after the incorporation of the new town in 1999.
Huppertz was first appointed to the planning and zoning commission Jan. 20, 2016 by Mayor Brad Hill, as shown on minutes from that meeting, where the matter appeared under “Matters From The Mayor.” The motion passed unanimously, including “aye” votes from two councilors still seated, Sherry Abraham and John Abrams.
Huppertz was later reappointed by Bassett, with a unanimous vote of the council both times, on March 6, 2016 and again on March 14, 2018.
The Nepotism Ordinance is just over a page long, and defines “relative” to include first cousins. It says, “No person shall be hired in any capacity or appointed in any capacity as a volunteer if the person is a relative of the Mayor, the Councilors or the Municipal Judge.”
The ordinance also prohibits a financial conflict of interest.
The penalty section of the ordinance reads as follows: “Any Town official or employee or volunteer who willfully violates this Section is guilty of malfeasance of office or position and shall be subject to dismissal or removal.” It also specifies punishment as a misdemeanor with a fine up to $500, 90 days in jail, or both.
The lawsuit names the governing body as town councilors Sherry Abraham, Audrey Jaramillo, John Abrams and Linda Holle, along with the mayor, and seeks a “quo warranto,” an order challenging another’s right to public or corporate office.
The lawsuit says Bassett is “usurping his office as Mayor for the Town of Edgewood because his violation of the Town’s Nepotism Ordinance amounts to a forfeiture or disqualification of his office pursuant to the penalties provided therein,” adding, “For the foregoing reasons, Plaintiffs respectfully request the Court to determine that, as a matter of law, John Bassett has forfeited his office as Mayor for the Town of Edgewood.”
The suit goes on to seek “declaratory judgment” “to declare and determine the acts, as alleged in this Complaint, to constitute a violation of the Town’s Nepotism Ordinance and subject to the penalties provided therein.”
The lawsuit further seeks to compel Bassett to resign: “For the foregoing reasons, Plaintiffs respectfully request the Court to issue a writ of mandamus to Mayor Bassett, directing the Mayor to enforce the Nepotism Ordinance as a duty of his office, by resigning immediately, to the extent his office as Mayor has not already been forfeited by operation of law as asserted in Counts 1 and 2 of this Complaint.”
The lawsuit’s third Count asks for a “writ of mandamus,” or a court order to a government agency to follow the law by correcting its prior actions or ceasing illegal acts: “For the foregoing reasons, Plaintiffs respectfully request the Court to issue a writ of mandamus to the Governing Body for the Town of Edgewood to file a complaint, or otherwise institute legal proceedings, against Mayor Bassett for malfeasance in office, which is their legal duty and obligation, for violations of municipal ordinance, the misuse of public monies, and violation of the Anti-Donation Clause of the New Mexico Constitution.
The fourth and final Count of the lawsuit alleges fraud, saying that Bassett “made a representation of fact, his purported disclosure of interest, that certain portions of the Project would be constructed on land owned by the Bassett Trust,” and adding that Bassett’s conduct was “malicious, willful, wanton, fraudulent, and in bad faith such that punitive damages should be awarded.”
The case has been assigned to Judge Francis J. Mathew. According to the case files on nmcourts.gov, both the governing body and Bassett are “unserved,” but town clerk Juan Torres said the town had been served Feb. 10 with the lawsuit. No date for any hearing has yet been set as of the time The Independent went to press, according to that website.
While Bassett said he would wait to hear from the lawyers before commenting to the press, Torres said the matter has been referred to the Municipal League, whose attorneys could represent the town in the matter.
That legal representation is one of the benefits of the town’s membership in the Municipal League. Torres said if the Municipal League doesn’t assign a law firm to represent the town, it would likely use its own attorney.