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Judge says Edgewood mayor violated nepotism law

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – A 1st Judicial District judge ruled the mayor of Edgewood could be removed from office after violating the town’s nepotism ordinance by appointing his first cousin to the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission.

Judge Maria Sanchez-Gagne

In judgments earlier this month, Judge Maria Sanchez-Gagne said Mayor John Bassett could be subject to a misdemeanor crime, which could mean 90 days in jail and a $500 fine, as well as forfeiting his position as mayor. The case against Bassett and Edgewood was filed in February by town residents Thomas McGill, Jerry Powers and Howard Calkins.

The original complaint says that Bassett appointed his first cousin, Cheryl Huppertz, to the Planning and Zoning Commission in March 2016 shortly after he was elected and reappointed her in 2018. In November 2019, a local resident spoke out against the appointment at a Town Council meeting and asserted it violated the nepotism ordinance. Shortly afterward, Huppertz resigned from her position.

Sanchez-Gagne issued her judgments because Bassett and the town of Edgewood failed to respond to plaintiff motions. In the default and summary judgments, the judge found that Bassett and the town were in violation of the Fraud Against Taxpayers Act and the nepotism ordinance, among other counts.

Bassett and Edgewood have since filed a motion to set aside the judgments, claiming Bassett wasn’t properly served with the legal documents. A hearing is set for Tuesday.

Edgewood Mayor John Bassett

A call to the Mayor’s Office was redirected to Edgewood Clerk/Treasurer Juan Torres, who declined to comment. He said Marcus Real, the attorney for Bassett and the town, maintains that the plaintiffs didn’t follow correct legal procedures and that the judgment orders were wrongfully entered.

Regardless, Edgewood residents have already decided to do away with having a mayor. In August, residents overwhelmingly voted to do away with the mayor-council form of government in favor of a commission-manager government to “gain better controls over elected officials,” according to a Citizens for an Open & Responsible Edgewood news release. But it will likely be more than a year before the town can transition to a commission-manager government.

In the meantime, Bassett is still mayor, pending the lawsuit’s outcome.

Adrian Terry, attorney for the plaintiffs, said anyone familiar with Edgewood knows the town’s meetings are full of contempt and bullying. He said that Bassett doesn’t listen to the will of the people and that he hopes Edgewood can get someone more responsive in office.

Terry said the case could end with the court enforcing the current judgments, or if they’re set aside, restarting the case from scratch.

There are several instances in which the mayor acted without council authorization: for instance, when he used funds to hire an engineering firm to design a residential sewer system in Edgewood, Terry said.

Despite protest from two councilors, Bassett refused to recuse himself from voting on a sewer line that would go on his family property, saying he was “sure the benefits of this project to the general public are greater proportionally than anything he would personally receive,” according to the lawsuit.

“I think the message is you don’t have to put up with corruption in your town,” said Powers, one of the plaintiffs. “Sometimes it’s accepted as kind of a thing that happens. You don’t have to accept this kind of corruption, and you don’t have to accept suppression of public input and ignoring the public’s input.”

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