ESPAÑOLA – Northern New Mexico College has hired a private investigating firm, but officials at the school aren’t saying why, citing it as a personnel matter.
This revelation is the latest in a series of events at the college that has caused many faculty members to be at odds with the administration, claiming retaliation against educators who speak out in opposition to some budget cutbacks and other actions.
College officials have denied any retaliation.
Concerning the private investigators, Ricky Serna, vice president for advancement and college spokesman, said, “Once in a while there’s a personnel matter that requires a disinterested third party to get involved so all parties have a chance to give their side. This is one of those incidents that rises to that level.” He did not elaborate.
Serna said NNMC President Nancy “Rusty” Barceló decided to hire H&H Private Investigations, which will be paid $5,000.
James Biggs, an assistant professor, said he knows why the college hired the firm. He said he’s already talked to H&H investigators about an alleged incident in February over which he filed assault charges against the college’s human resources director, Bernie Padilla.
No charges have been filed against Padilla.
Biggs said the incident occurred when he met with Serna and Padilla on Feb. 18, less than a week after the Rio Grande Sun reported Biggs filed a complaint alleging misuse of federal grant funds. During that meeting, Biggs said, he was accused of telling students to transfer out of NNMC and urging them to start a petition to have him reinstated as director of the department, allegations Biggs denies.
Biggs said he told Padilla and Serna he would leave if they did not stop the accusations, but they persisted. After he stood up to leave, Biggs said Padilla jumped up from his chair, leaned over the table and started yelling, “Hit me, hit me!”
Biggs said he felt Padilla was going to strike him because Padilla raised his fist. Unbeknownst to Padilla and Serna, Biggs tape-recorded the meeting.
Biggs said he had planned to go into the meeting with department head Mario Montes-Helu so he’d have a witness, but decided to record the meeting after Montes-Helu was called away and was unable to attend.
“I certainly didn’t want to go in there unprepared,” said Biggs, who also claims he was denied tenure this year in retaliation for the complaint he filed and for publicly speaking out against administration.
An Española police report Biggs filed said the tape recording meeting was tagged into evidence.