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CNM, APS put projects on hold pending suit outcome

Copyright © 2016 Albuquerque Journal

Central New Mexico Community College and Albuquerque Public Schools have put their bond and mill levy projects on hold pending the outcome of a lawsuit they argue is filled with misinterpretations of basic law.

They are seeking an expedited summary judgment for dismissal of the lawsuit, which was filed Feb. 15 by local attorney Robert Pidcock in 2nd Judicial District Court.

Pidcock argues that the Feb. 2 bond and mill levy election is invalid because it violated a number of statutes.

APS attorney Zachary L. McCormick responded to each of Pidcock’s claims in a March 9 memorandum:

• Pidcock said APS changed the tax mill levy rate 12 days before the election, but no change occurred. McCormick writes that Pidcock “apparently reviewed a pre-adoption draft of the resolution … and assumed that that draft was actually adopted.”

• APS and CNM should have listed all the planned capital projects on the ballot, according to Pidcock. Voters were asked to consider only three broad items – APS’ $375 million mill levy and $200 million bond and CNM’s $84 million bond – not specifics.

McCormick said the New Mexico Constitution requires APS and CNM to describe only the money’s “purpose,” for instance “erecting, remodeling, making additions to and furnishing school buildings or purchasing or improving school grounds.”

• Pidcock claims the defendants can legally spend the bond and mill levy funds on any capital project. But McCormick points to statutes that require a detailed five-year district facilities plan.

• APS hopes to build a $4.9 million employee health clinic, which Pidcock says is not a “school building” under state law and therefore disqualified from bond funds.

The Legislature describes a “school building” as “a public school, an administration building and related school structures or facilities.” The clinic fits that definition, McCormick said.

• Pidcock believes APS and CNM engaged in “logrolling,” because voters had to approve or reject all the projects at once. McCormick argues that “logrolling” typically applies to constitutional amendments, not school bond elections.

CNM cited similar arguments in its response but noted that a number of the issues only involve APS. Both declined further comment.

Pidcock told the Journal that his lawsuit should go before a judge because the law is not as clear as the defendants claim. For instance, he feels that applying the “school building” definition to an employee clinic is “a leap.”

The bonds and mill levy were approved by a comfortable margin in an election that drew more than 30,000 voters – roughly double the average of a school bond election.