Copyright © 2015 Albuquerque Journal
A number of high-ranking Albuquerque Public Schools staffers complained to then-board President Analee Maestas of intimidation and harassment involving Winston Brooks in the months leading up to the former superintendent’s resignation and $350,000 buyout under terms of a still-secret deal.
In deposition testimony in a public records lawsuit filed by the Albuquerque Journal and KOB-TV, Maestas described the complaints as “serious” and said the employees felt “intimidated,” “harassed” and were “fearful for their jobs.”
Maestas said, however, that she took no action for a period of two to three months and said she made no record of the complaints. She ultimately hired a private lawyer who interviewed witnesses and compiled a two-part report: one part dealing with factual findings and the other consisting of legal analysis and recommendations.
The Journal and KOB-TV filed a lawsuit under the state Inspection of Public Records Act seeking to make public the factual findings upon which the APS board based its decision to buy out Brooks’ contract.
The disclosures of the complaints in depositions by APS witnesses were made in connection with the district’s legal efforts to explain that the investigative report was prepared in “anticipation of litigation” and is therefore exempt from disclosure.
Maestas, who currently is vice president of the board, said seven people complained to her about Brooks in the spring and early summer of 2014, according to her deposition on Nov. 16.
She said five APS employees and two former board members approached her with problems she described as so severe they “could lead to possible litigation.”
Still, Maestas did not keep any records as the allegations came to light over several months or discuss them with the district’s human resources office. In her testimony, Maestas could not recall a number of basic facts, such as the identities of several employees who spoke to her.
The allegations against Brooks came from the following individuals:
• Monica Armenta, head of APS communications.
• Joseph Escobedo, who had been Brooks’ chief of staff and who is now in the communications office.
• Brenda Yager, executive director of board services and government affairs.
• Two longtime human resources employees; Maestas said she could not remember their names.
• Kathy Korte, former APS board member.
• Paula Maes, former APS board member.
Maestas painted a picture of an embattled district fraught with conflict and said she decided to hire an attorney, Agnes Padilla, in July 2014 to investigate the complaints.
“We wanted additional facts in order to get information, in order to get guidance and direction in terms of the allegations that had been given to me,” Maestas said.
Maestas’ attorney, relying on an order entered by the judge presiding over the records lawsuit, advised her during her testimony not to provide details of the complaints. She did note that Armenta had consulted an attorney because she felt Brooks had violated her “rights as a human being.”
None of the complainers had directly threatened legal action, Maestas said.
In a separate deposition, former APS board President Marty Esquivel described Maes as having told him she tangled with Brooks and his wife, Ann, in a “rather bizarre phone call” that occurred after Maes had left the school board.
“The gist of it was Winston was instructing Paula to no longer call or email him because he was a married man and she, Paula, could hear Ann Brooks saying this in the background, ‘Tell him – tell him.’ ”
When contacted by the Journal, Korte said she voted against retaining Padilla during a special board meeting in November 2014 because she objected to the process that led up to it.
“I voted no in the November meeting because I was being asked to retroactively approve a contract that I was not asked to vote on in the beginning,” she said in an email. “I objected to the process by which Analee claimed she had authority to hire Agnes without majority approval of the board.”
Korte declined to say whether Maestas should have brought the complaints to the human resources office, but she said the board president had “other options” in dealing with the complaints.
The other APS staff and former board members who reported problems with Brooks declined to comment. Brooks’ attorney did not return a call seeking comment.
Maestes said there are few other documents connected to the report because she communicated with Padilla by phone.
Brooks at the time was already on a “performance plan” approved by the board after a three-day suspension and letter of reprimand for his now infamous “Moo, Moo, Oink, oink!!” tweets he posted in November 2013 comparing New Mexico Secretary of Education Hanna Skandera to livestock.
Brooks resigned Aug. 15, 2014 – less than two weeks after Padilla delivered the report – and received a $350,000 contract buyout.
The deal also called for him to get a positive letter of reference and a promise that the report would be kept somewhere other than in his personnel file. The district promised it would not disclose it even to future prospective employers.
APS also bought out its next superintendent. Luis Valentino lasted roughly three months, stepping down Aug. 31, 2015, after the revelation that his hand-picked deputy superintendent is facing child sex assault and assault charges in Denver. Valentino received an $80,000 buyout.