Shortly before being forced out as executive director of the N.M. League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) late last month, Ralph Arellanes sent a letter to Corrales Mayor Jo Anne Roake objecting to the dismissal of Village Clerk Shannon Fresquez.
In his July 20 letter, Arellanes, who has also served as chairman of the Hispano Roundtable of New Mexico, wrote that “You were elected mayor in March 2018. At that time, the Village Administrator was a Hispanic male having served in that position for two mayors. You removed that individual and hired a non-Hispanic in that position. You appointed as Village Clerk a Hispanic female. Recently you have removed that individual and replaced her with a non-Hispanic. In fact, all three of the individuals serving in the exempt positions are white males.”
Municipal governments in New Mexico have three at-will positions: Village Administrator, Village Clerk and Police Chief. Almost immediately after Roake was sworn in as mayor, she dismissed all three and submitted new names for confirmation by the Village Council.
The Arellanes to Roake letter noted that “Corrales has many members of the Hispanic community such as the Pereas, Wagners and Riveras to name a few that have contributed greatly to Corrales. So how does it happen that there is not a single Hispanic serving in your administration in one of the three exempt positions? “We question whether you genuinely believe in diversity as your actions do n ot reflect that.”
Responding to a Corrales Comment request for a response, Mayor Roake emailed “As a female mayor, it is always my goal to have a diverse and qualified workforce. I take that responsibility to the public very seriously.”
She suggested that further inquiries be sent to Village Administrator Ron Curry. When asked, Curry explained that Fresquez was not fired, but rather that the mayor had not re-appointed her. He pointed out that the Village Clerk position is, and has always been an at-will employee which gives the mayor the ability to dismiss the person without showing cause.
In what could be related, the Village and former Village Clerk Fresquez have been sued by former Corrales police officer Daniel Parsons over an alleged violation of a request for inspection of public records.
Parsons’ attorney, Tom Grover, contacted Corrales Comment by email July 22 implying that the newspaper was remiss in not reporting on the police officer’s complaint. “Silent from the June 6, 2020 article is any reference to the fact that Ms. Fresquez and the Village are being sued by a former Corrales police officer concerning a public records request violation. That’s odd given the circumstances.” The attorney cited the lawsuit D-1329-CV-2019-01756, Parsons v Village of Corrales and Shannon Fresquez.
Corrales Comment was not aware of that court action and explained that to attorney Grover, asking for a copy of his filing and an opportunity to interview his client. Grover replied August 3, forwarding a copy of his suit filed in the Thirteenth Judicial District Court.
In that email, the attorney added he would soon file a “whisteleblower’s” suit on behalf of former Officer Parsons. “Daniel Parsons has a whistleblower suit that is probably about a month out from filing,” Grover wrote. The attorney’s first lawsuit clarifies that Fresquez is named as defendant because she was the statutory custodian of the Village’s official documents and responsible for responding to requests for inspection of public records.
The court filing partially explains that Parsons wants to know what is in an investigator’s report ordered by the Village. A key clause in the suit reads: “A copy of the Robert Caswell Investigations (“RCI”) report concerning Village of Corrales employee Daniel Parsons, including, but not limited to: exhibits, summaries, synopsis, exhibits, audio and video recordings, table of contents and conclusions.” Later in the suit, Grover noted that Parsons was apparently under investigation while he was “facing disciplinary action upon him by Village of Corrales Chief Mangiacapra.”
Vic Mangiacapra is Corrales’ chief of police.
Contacted by Corrales Comment, Mayor Roake said she could not comment on the matter. “It’s ongoing, so the Village can’t comment. The Village always strives to comply with Inspection of Public Records Act requests.” LULAC’s executive director, Arellanes, was forced out of his position about a week after he sent the letter to Mayor Roake complaining about dismissal of Village Clerk Fresquez. Arellanes resigned after being told he would be replaced. But that internal conflict apparently had little to do with either matter in Corrales.
Instead LULAC members were upset that Arellanes had recently sent a strong letter to the president of the University of New Mexico demanding that course and materials critical of the Spanish conquest be discontinued. But Arellanes’ emailed letter to Mayor Roake was copied to more than 170 recipients around the country, including former Governor Jerry Apodaca and two former lieutenant governors.
In May, the mayor replaced Fresquez with Aaron Gjullin, who had been an assistant to Corrales Parks and Recreation Director Lynn Siverts. (See Corrales Comment Vol. XXXIX No.7 June 6, 2020 “Aaron Gjullin Named Village Clerk.”) Gjullin started working at the rec center as a life guard at the pool in 2008. In 2017, he was named head life guard. Gjullin earned a degree at the University of Portland after studying biology and mathematics. In the Portland area, he was general manager of a large farm from 2014 to 2017.
In 2018, he was an administrative assistant in the Village Office. In recent years, he has also managed the Village’s website and other digital media tasks. At the May 26 Village Council meeting, discussion about Fresquez’s departure was guarded and brief, since it was said to be a personnel matter.
Councillor Kevin Lucero asked for some discussion about the change, saying he was concerned about the rate of turnover in the Village Clerk position. “I want to make sure that none of my comments, in any way, shape or form, are derogatory to Aaron. I know he’s smart and everything about him. These comments are specifically about the Village Clerk.
“For whatever reasons, this particular dismissal has caught a little traction, with me anyway. I’ve had several conversations, some were emails, from around the village who are kinda wondering why the turnover is the way it is.
“I don’t like to see turnover, and probably nobody does, but with this particular position, we have to consider the amount of experience that has left [Village government]. Granted, personnel issues are always very tough and I understand that. I know there may be some issues that can’t be discussed in this forum, but maybe in a closed session,” Lucero added.
“I think it would be appropriate if we at least got everything clarified and out in the open so that I can discuss with people who are coming to me [about the turnover], that we should maybe postpone the approval of the appointment of the Village Clerk upon discussion in a closed session.” Lucero said the discussion should include Village personnel turnover generally. “This has nothing to do with Aaron; I know he’s a smart guy and I’m sure he will do a great job.”
Mayor Jo Anne Roake interrupted him. “You should be kinda careful on this issue, okay?”
She asked Village Attorney Randy Autio to join the discussion. He said he understood the mayor’s concern about the discussion Lucero initiated. “Everybody is always concerned about situations like this.” But the mayor’s choice of Gjullin to replace Fresquez is uncomplicated, he said. “Councillors can act with their vote. In other words, you either support the mayor in the person’s appointment or not.” Lucero ended the discussion by pointing out, “It’s not that I don’t want to support the mayor. I just want to ask some questions that have been posed to me, and maybe not with this particular position, but just in general. It’s just that I would like to get some of this cleared up before we move forward.”
At the vote to approve Gjullin’s appointment to replace Fresquez, Lucero joined in the unanimous assent.