Commissioner defends vote to delay censure resolution
Doña Ana County Commissioner Leticia Duarte-Benavidez is defending her recent vote to delay consideration of a proposed censure of herself.
Duarte-Benavidez said she believes she should have an opportunity to see the evidence against her before the commission votes on the issue. When the county commission chairwoman told her at the last meeting that she could make a motion to delay the vote, and the county attorney didn’t stop her, she decided voting to delay a proposed censure of herself was appropriate, she said.
“I’ve only been here for two years. I’m still like a rookie,” Duarte-Benavidez said in an interview with NMPolitics.net. “I was just following the lead of the experts.”
I authored a column late last month arguing that Duarte-Benavidez had a conflict and should not have voted:
“Duarte-Benavidez has a personal and political interest in avoiding censure, and her vote to delay things creates the appearance that she’s using her position to protect herself. She should recuse herself from any votes related to this issue.
“Instead, by voting, Duarte-Benavidez sent a message to the county employees making the allegations against her that she has a great deal of influence in the process they’ve initiated. Maybe she even plans to vote on the proposed censure when it comes up again.
“The situation could make county employees less likely to report possible misdeeds by commissioners in the future.”
Duarte-Benavidez wanted to see evidence
County management has accused Duarte-Benavidez of interfering in personnel matters involving a family member and her campaign treasurer. Late last month, commissioners were scheduled to consider the resolution, but ultimately decided unanimously to delay the decision because they want to hear more from the employees making the allegations.
Duarte-Benavidez argued at the meeting that county management should have to provide evidence, such as affidavits from the county employees accusing her. And she asked that commissioners table the item to give her the opportunity to see such evidence.
Commission Chairwoman Dolores Sadaña-Caviness asked her if she was making a motion. Duarte-Benavidez said Saldaña-Caviness told her she could, so she did.
Duarte-Benavidez said she leaned on the advice from Saldaña-Caviness because the chairwoman has been an elected official for 14 years in Sunland Park and the county. She said she also felt comfortable going ahead because County Attorney John Caldwell didn’t stop her.
“He’s supposed to be there to protect the commissioners in case we’re doing something wrong,” Duarte-Benavidez said. “When he did not speak up, I said, OK, well, I’ll make a motion to table it.”
Later, when it came to vote, Duarte-Benavidez said she assumed if she was allowed to make the motion, it would also be proper for her to vote on the motion. In spite of that, Duarte-Benavidez said she will recuse herself when the commission votes on whether to censure her, saying that’s an obvious conflict.
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