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Judge upholds nepotism rulings against Edgewood mayor

Edgewood Mayor John Bassett

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – First Judicial District Judge Maria Sanchez-Gagne declined to set aside previously held judgments against Edgewood Mayor John Bassett for violating the town’s nepotism ordinance during a hearing Tuesday. As a result, Bassett is subject to removal from office and a possible misdemeanor crime for appointing his first cousin to the town’s Planning and Zoning Commission.

Shortly after he was elected mayor in March 2016, Bassett appointed his first cousin, Cheryl Huppertz, to the commission. He reappointed her again in 2018 but she resigned after concerns were raised about a nepotism violation last year.

On Tuesday, Sanchez-Gange ruled Bassett couldn’t be represented by the town attorney because it would be a conflict of interest, which was brought up in a motion filed by town councilors Sherry Abraham and Audrey Jaramillo.

Town attorney Marcus Rael previously filed a motion to set aside Sanchez-Gagne’s judgments, which Abraham and Jaramillo said the attorney didn’t have the authority to do without the council’s permission. Rael said he was acting in the mayor’s defense, which they also asserted he couldn’t do without their permission.

Rael didn’t respond to calls from the Journal requesting comment Wednesday.

“Our stance is that the mayor needs to defend himself,” Abraham said. “He should not be defending himself with citizen taxpayer money. The governing body needs to authorize that if that’s going to happen.”

The case against Bassett and the town of Edgewood was filed in February by town residents Thomas McGill, Jerry Powers and Howard Calkins. According to them, Bassett is no longer the mayor of Edgewood.

“I believe that a reasonable interpretation of the court’s judgment is that he is no longer Mayor for the town of Edgewood,” said Adrian Terry, attorney for the plaintiffs. “That judgment has not been executed by force, as in the sheriff executing a writ, but we are going to request that a writ be issued if the mayor intends to proceed any further in local government.”

The court case aside, Edgewood residents voted in August to transition from a council-mayor to a commission-manager form of government. The transition could take more than a year to take effect.

The parties must now prepare an order to determine how, and if, the town plans to proceed with the lawsuit, which is due Friday.

Bassett said he plans to appeal any decision against him, claiming he still hasn’t had his day in court and wasn’t properly served with the court case. Sanchez-Gagne ruled in Tuesday’s hearing that the defendants were properly served.

“Well, the charges in the lawsuit are totally bogus,” Bassett said. “They’ve conjured them up from a number of events and things that happened over the period of my term here. And then they turn them around and they reverse engineer them, claiming there’s some kind of giant conspiracy or criminal enterprise that I’m running. Nothing could be further from the truth.”

Bassett accused the plaintiffs in the case of working with the water company EPCOR to get him removed because the town, under his direction, was trying to purchase the utility company. Terry refuted that allegation.

Bassett also said Huppertz was serving on the commission under the previous mayor and he just continued with her approval. He said he thought everyone knew she was his first cousin.

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