A Code of Conduct Review Board found that Torrance County Commissioner Javier Sanchez “engaged in unprofessional and inappropriate conduct” at an August meeting of Estancia’s board of trustees, but did not find that he acted from personal financial interest.
Torrance County convened a Code of Conduct Review Board, after receiving a complaint from Estancia Mayor Nathan Dial, who alleged that Sanchez violated the county’s code of conduct.
In a process that lasted five hours, the Review Board, made up of Thomas Dow, Ellen Castillo and Sarah Garcia May, heard sworn testimony from several people who had been at the meeting.
After that, Sanchez was given the opportunity to make his own statement about what had happened.
The Review Board had decided Oct. 5 to wait until after the Nov. 3 election to convene, as Sanchez was on the ballot seeking re-election to his position. He lost that race to LeRoy Candelaria.
The issue started when Sanchez called to get on the town’s agenda to discuss a county initiative for economic development in the county. Because he was past the deadline, he could not do that, but only address the board during the public comment period.
Public comment is normally limited to 5 minutes at Estancia meetings, but Sanchez was allowed to talk for about 20 minutes before the town clerk, Michelle Jones, reminded the board of the time limit. She testified that she also thought he should not continue because his item had been on a previous meeting’s agenda, but Sanchez didn’t show up. “It’s not my decision, but I wanted the board to be aware,” Jones said, adding, “I personally felt that it was disrespectful to everyone else in attendance that he was going on like he was.”
Jones said she felt “a little bit frightened about what might occur,” and thought the meeting might erupt into a physical fight. “I could not believe what I was hearing. I can’t tell you how shocked I was at what I was hearing. We’re grown people, in a professional meeting.”
While Dial and several other witnesses to the events in question said that Sanchez then became angry and aggressive, moving toward the mayor and telling him to “clock out” and take the disagreement outside, Sanchez said in his statement that Dial had moved toward him first.
Witnesses included two members of the board of trustees, Noah Sedillo and Albert Lovato, and Jones, the town clerk. Each told substantially the same story, saying that Sanchez had called Estancia “the weakest link” and had said, “You’re all shits” as he was escorted from the meeting by the town’s police department administrator, who was attending the meeting.
Lovato said Sanchez “aggressively approached” the mayor and “started swinging his arms,” throwing his clipboard on the floor. “He got his clipboard, lifted it over his head, and slammed it onto the ground,” Lovato said.
The witnesses said Sanchez left the meeting room, but not the area, waiting outside the building and then in the lobby for an hour before trying to enter the meeting again to apologize.
“He knew that it had gotten out of hand, and he wanted to re-address the board to apologize,” Dial said.
Dial and others said that Sanchez was conciliatory, and wanted to shake hands with those present.
Sanchez, for his part, said the board of trustees “didn’t want to hear me” and that “perhaps there was an aura of negativity before I even got there.”
He said he “was making reference to the governing body of the town” when he “said Estancia was the weakest link.”
Sanchez said, “I detected what I felt was snickering from the council and the mayor,” adding that he “became livid,” and saying that Dial “rose up out of his chair [and] began to advance toward me.”
He continued, “We all err, and I erred. … The whole thing escalated. … I acted poorly.”
When a member of the review board said there had been testimony from six other people saying that Sanchez had been the aggressor in the situation, Sanchez said the details “may be a symptom of the various perspectives that we all have on an incident.” He added, “My feelings were hurt, I hurt their feelings. At the end of the day, that’s simply what occurred.”
Asked if he had made the comment, “You’re all shits,” Sanchez said, “I believe my exact words were, ‘You are a crock of excrement.’”
The Code of Conduct Review Board concluded that the county’s Code of Conduct requires public servants to treat the public and each other with respect, saying that Sanchez had “engaged in unprofessional conduct.”
“He admits he engaged in inappropriate behavior,” Dow said, adding that there was no evidence Sanchez “was seeking a private or personal benefit,” and recognizing his attempt to apologize to the board. The Review Board recommended to the Torrance County commission that it accept Sanchez’ apology “in mitigation.”
The Review Board will present a formal written recommendation to the county in two weeks.