Torrance County extends ICE Contract and Addresses Broadband with CNMEC

Torrance County extends ICE Contract and Addresses Broadband with CNMEC
Activist Miles Tokunow speaks via Zoom to the Torrance County Commissioners - Todd Brogowski/Mountainair Dispatch

The April 24, 2024, meeting of the Torrance County Commissioners focused on the renewal of the county's contract with ICE and CoreCivic for the Torrance County Detention Facility (TCDF). It introduced statements from Central New Mexico Electric Cooperative (CNMEC) CEO Alena Brandenberger regarding a broadband grant it was seeking. The meeting also addressed grant applications related to election security and the Torrance County Sheriff's Office patrolling the Cibola National Forest.

During public comment, activists from the New Mexico Immigration Law Center and the Innovation Law Lab continued delivering statements purportedly from detainees at the Torrance County Detention Facility. Many complaints shared by activists included statements regarding inadequate, flavorless food at the detention facility, complaints regarding the ICE adjudication process, and complaints regarding the emotional impact of being detained. Commissioner Sam Schropp expressed doubts regarding the validity of the statements read by activists, citing credibility concerns he had regarding the activists. On Monday, April 22, 2024, County Manager Janice Barela explained that the county would be seeking an extension of its contract with CoreCivic and ICE regarding the detention facility. During regular business in the meeting, the Torrance County Commissioners unanimously approved extending the contract with ICE and CoreCivic for the TCDF.

Estancia Mayor Nathan Dial also provided public comment regarding water sales by Bill King and other residents in Torrance County. Dial stated that notices are being published for water sales outside of Torrance County but not in the county.

Delinquent tax specialist Valerie Smith, with the Torrance County Treasurer’s Office, spoke regarding the auction of tax-delinquent manufactured homes. Smith asked that individuals with delinquent taxes on their manufactured home prior to the auction of the properties. Smith stated that the Treasurer’s Office would not auction homes where the property owner worked with the Treasurer’s Office to resolve the delinquency.

The Torrance County Sheriff's Office (TCSO) sought the passing of Resolution 24-17, which would change overtime thresholds. Sheriff David Frazee and Undersheriff Stephanie Reynolds explained that two deputies had resigned. Frazee stated that deputies were experiencing burnout issues due to the TCSO's current high operation tempo, including prisoner transport, investigations, and patrol operations.

Alena Brandenberger, CEO, and information technology professional Ed Burkhardt, representing Central New Mexico Electric Cooperative, Inc. (CNMEC), a subsidiary of Touchstone Energy, spoke to the county commissioners regarding progress on its broadband efforts. CNMEC stated that it was seeking an FCC grant to construct rural broadband capabilities using the telephone poles preexisting in the county rather than buried broadband lines. Two aspects of their project that the commissioners expressed concern regarding included anti-competitive provisions in the grant process and the impact of using telephone poles to provide broadband service in inclement weather. Brandenberger said she hoped for the county's support in getting the word out regarding CNMEC's plans.

County Manager Janice Barela announced numerous job openings available to the community, including summer internship positions,

Commissioner McCall singled out the Pilot Truck Stop in Moriarty for its efforts to clean trash in front of the facility. McCall said that the truck stop engaged in the clean-up after the commissioner and a Moriarty Planning and Zoning Committee member encouraged them to clean up the area.

Commissioner Schropp chastised the Torrance County Fair Board for violating the Open Meetings Act in its meeting on Monday, April 22, 2024. Schropp said that the Fair Board engaged in a rewrite of the competition rules with 105 days left before the start of the county fair. Schropp singled out Fair Board member Johnny Perea for telling him, "This is the way we have always done it," in response to concerns that the county fair board was violating state law. Schropp recommended that the rule changes made by the Torrance County Fair Board be vacated due to the problems he perceived at the meeting. While Schropp expressed concerned regarding the notification process used by the County Fair Board, County Manager Barela said that the Fair Board provided documentation that it had posted notice regarding the meeting within the time frame required by law.

Following this, the Torrance County Commissioners went into executive session, closing the public portion of the meeting. The next meeting of the Torrance County Commissioners will be May 8, 2024, at 9:00 AM.

Update: During the meeting, activists attempted to share an audio recording from a detainee named Edwin Garcia that could not be heard due to technical difficulties. Innovation Law Lab was able to share that audio with the public at this link.

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