Las Vegas, N.M., councilor wants vote on removing mayor from office

Tonita Gurule-Giron

A Las Vegas, N.M., city councilor wants the council to vote on removing Mayor Tonita Gurulé-Girón, whose home and office were raided last week by investigators from the state Attorney General’s Office looking for evidence of bid-rigging.

But Councilor Barbara Perea-Casey, a dedicated critic of Gurulé-Girón, said Tuesday she doubts if her request for a vote on the mayor’s removal on the grounds of malfeasance will be heard at the city council’s next meeting.

“She has rejected all of my agenda requests since she came into office in March of 2016, so I’m pretty sure she will reject this,” Casey said. “I submitted it anyway because I think it is important for people to know that the council is doing what we can to make sure that the corruption stops.”

Casey said the Northeastern New Mexico city’s charter gives the mayor and city manager the power to decide what is placed on the council’s agenda.

“The council members can discuss whatever we want at the end of the meeting,” Casey said, noting that usually by the time this occurs, most members of the public have left council meetings.

Gurulé-Girón did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

Though councilors might have a hard time getting the issue placed on the agenda, the city charter says, “The governing body shall be the judge of the qualifications of its members, and of the grounds for removal from office, consistent with state law provisions regarding qualifications and removal.”

State law says “Any person elected or appointed to an elective office of a municipality may be removed for malfeasance in office by the district court upon complaint of the mayor or governing body of the municipality. Any such officer is entitled to a hearing at a time fixed by the court.”

The attorney general’s investigation centers on the mayor’s relationship with a construction company owned by her former campaign manager, Marvin Salazar, who some witnesses have described as the mayor’s boyfriend. Gurulé-Girón for more than a year has denied having any romantic relationship with Salazar.

Salazar’s company was awarded a $94,000 “emergency” contract to fix floors at City Hall damaged by a leaking water fountain, a project that some former city officials say wasn’t really an emergency. Before that, his company also got a $9,000 contract to install hardwood floors at City Hall — but that project somehow grew to cost $19,000.

Gurulé-Girón has been at the center of a series of controversies, including firings of key staff, lawsuits against her, a scathing special audit of the city’s procurement process and finances by the State Auditor’s Office, and near-constant conflict between the mayor and city councilors, who in late 2017 voted to censure Gurulé-Girón for her hiring and firing practices.

Attorney General Hector Balderas’ office said last year his investigators also were looking at Councilor David G. Romero’s allegations that a large number of absentee ballots were mailed to the home of two of Gurulé-Girón’s campaign supporters and the home of her sister. However, this matter was not mentioned in documents filed to obtain warrants for last week’s searches.