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Appeals Court Sends Palenick Case Back To District Court

RIO RANCHO, N.M. — A new court decision will resurrect the issue of whether Rio Rancho owes back pay to a former Rio Rancho city manager who was fired in December 2006.
A state Court of Appeals opinion issued on Thursday reversed a 2009 District Court decision that the city didn’t owe Jim Palenick more than $120,000 in back pay he claimed he was due because he was fired illegally.
The Appeals Court has remanded the case back to Sandoval County 13th Judicial District Court Judge George P. Eichwald.
Palenick sued the city in early 2008 claiming he was owed back pay after the Attorney General issued an opinion in September 2007, saying conversations between former Rio Rancho mayor Kevin Jackson and several city councilors before they voted to fire Palenick, violated the Open Meetings Act, rendering their action invalid.

In November 2007, the council voted again to fire Palenick, to correct the violation.
Eichwald agreed in his ruling that there had been a violation but maintained that the city council action — 11 months after the violation — cured it “retroactively.”
The Appeals Court opinion disagreed, saying, “No authority in New Mexico supports the City’s attempt to retroactively make the prior invalid action valid and effective as of the date it was taken.”
Rio Rancho City Manager James Jimenez said he hadn’t had a chance to study the opinion but he said the city would continue to argue its case.