Jesus ‘Ruben’ Segura’s 12-year tenure as mayor does not represent the good old days in Sunland Park. It’s just another page in a scandal-plagued chapter in the city’s history that needs to come to an end.
Listening to former Sunland Park Mayor Jesus “Ruben” Segura speak recently, you’d think his tenure as leader of the scandal-plagued city represented better times.
It’s true that then-Gov. Bill Richardson and the state pumped a bunch of money into Sunland Park while Segura was mayor, but that doesn’t mean the city’s government was acting with integrity and transparency.
No, Segura operated in the dark and was a master of backroom deals; he contributed to the culture in which the scandal currently plaguing the city was born.
Segura opted against seeking re-election to the mayor’s office in 2008. Now, with the city in turmoil because of the recent criminal charges brought against the former mayor pro tem, city manager and nine others – and with Segura hoping Sunland Park will elect him to the state Senate seat being vacated by Cynthia Nava – he’s back.
He showed up a recent city council meeting, which ended up being delayed because the crowd was too big for the venue and got rowdy, and demanded that the council set up a microphone for those outside to hear what was going on. Not doing so, he correctly pointed out, would violate the Open Meetings Act, according to the Las Cruces Sun-News. You can watch Segura shouting at the council courtesy of KFOX-TV in El Paso.
In a separate interview with KFOX, Segura said the city needs “a change in governance,” talked about the days when he was mayor, and said seeing what’s happening now “really hurts.”
He also said, in response to a question about possible state takeover of some city functions, that, “sometimes Sunland Park is a forgotten community, and sometimes I feel the state needs to get more involved.”
State could have, but didn’t, take over in 2003
Here’s what I wrote in February about the time the state could have, but didn’t, take control of the city away from Segura in 2003:
“Why shouldn’t Sunland Park operate this way? It’s done it before, been caught doing it, and somehow avoided consequences. In 2003, the State Auditor’s Office released a damning report that included findings of fiscal mismanagement surrounding a $2 million loan and violations of the state Open Meetings Act, procurement code, and nepotism laws. Then-State Auditor Domingo Martinez recommended that the Department of Finance and Administration suspend elected officials and take over the city.
“But an investigation that began before Bill Richardson took office instead went away quietly during Richardson’s first year as governor.
“You see, in Sunland Park they’re masters of political theater – as evidenced by strippergate and other recent incidents. A town full of Hispanic Democrats opposed Richardson’s involvement in its battle with Doña Ana County over water. Led by the mayor, residents burned Richardson campaign T-shirts in front of El Paso TV cameras.
“And – surprise! – the special audit went away, and Richardson and Sunland Park officials became friends again. Martinez was appalled, but also powerless.
“I’m oversimplifying the way it went down, but the reality is that Richardson had the evidence to justify stepping in and the authority to clean up this mess, but he chose not to do it.”
Details of the 2003 special audit
I recently got my hands on the 2003 audit report. You can read it here. Then-State Auditor Domingo Martinez’s office found that Segura and the city council:
- “Willfully violated State laws with regard to the Open Meetings Act; Inspection of Public Records Act; State Constitution anti-donation clause; State statutes regarding loans, nepotism and residency; Procurement Code; and Mileage and Per Diem Act.”
- “Willfully violated DFA fiscal regulations.”
- “Willfully failed to perform duties imposed by the laws that the secretary of the DFA is charged with enforcing.”
- Minutes of meetings weren’t kept in many instances; when they were, they often weren’t approved in the timely manner required by law. Those were among dozens of Open Meetings Act violations the auditor identified.
- Purchase orders were issued after purchases were already made.
- The city wasn’t reporting income to the IRS.
- The city was in some instances overrunning budgets. In other instances, it was not even establishing a budget.
What was going on? Segura and a council that, for at least part of his tenure, was aligned against him, were fighting for control of the city. They broke laws in their efforts to wrestle control of certain issues from each other. Segura, for example, violated the Open Meetings Act to try to keep the council in the dark about what he was doing. And he violated state law by refusing to take action on council-approved items.
Segura, a master of politics, faced no consequences. Neither did city councilors.
Another page in a chapter that needs to end
I will say that Segura was a champion for his community as mayor. He was operating within a system in which political factions were accustomed to fighting over power for their own selfish reasons, and he negotiated a great deal of money from Richardson for infrastructure and other improvements in Sunland Park.
He also led Sunland Park into an agreement with Doña Ana County to end years of legal fighting and create a joint utility to help growth in the region.
I’m not saying residents of Senate District 31 shouldn’t vote for Segura. That’s up to you to decide. I’m simply responding to Segura’s recent remarks and actions by pointing out what really happened. A man who has complained about Open Meetings Act violations by the current city council used to intentionally violate that very act all the time.
What Sunland Park needed when Segura was mayor – and still needs – is an end to the days of backroom deals, nepotism and general lawlessness. Segura mastered that system and used it to bring some good things to Sunland Park, but he was still part of and perpetuated a system that led to the outrageous actions of the slate of city officials currently facing criminal charges.
Who knows what else happened on Segura’s watch?
No, Segura’s 12-year tenure does not represent the good old days in Sunland Park. It’s just another page in a chapter in the city’s history that needs to come to an end.