Courier staff writer
CONEJOS — North Conejos School Board of Education Director Gloria Lucero will not be recalled.
On Thursday, Conejos County Clerk Lawrence Gallegos decided after a public hearing at the Conejos County Courthouse that the petition to recall Lucero was invalid because of lack of official witness to signatures.
According to the recall petition document that circulated from March through May, the general statement for grounds for recall was that Lucero, who has served on the board for three years with one year remaining in her term, “has failed to serve the students, the teachers and staff, the administration, and the residents of South Conejos School District in her capacity as Board of Education Member and officer.”
More specifically, residents pursued the recall because Lucero failed to support the employment of those persons best qualified to serve the school; used her position as a board member for personal or partisan gain; failed to remember always that her first and greatest concern is the educational welfare of the students attending South Conejos School District; and because she had publicly and repeatedly displayed unprofessional and unethical behavior unbecoming of a public official in the South Conejos School District during school events in the presence of students, parents and the public, to the extent that law enforcement was required, according to the document.
At the public hearing, those protesting the recall said they found the grounds for recall untruthful, the language defamatory and that some of the signatures were allegedly fraudulent.
When he delivered his judgment, Gallegos said the protesters did not provide enough evidence to prove the grounds for recall were untruthful or the language defamatory since they were unable to produce a witness under oath to speak to the matter. Their only submittal was written statements that were not taken into consideration.
He did, however, find four of the recall petition’s signature sections invalid after hearing two of three eligible electors testifiy to not having witnessed each individual signing. The invalid sections brought the total number of valid signatures significantly under 270, the number required to force a recall election. Before the sections were invalidated, the petitions had acquired 274 valid signatures after 16 signatures had previously been removed from citizen request or incorrect information.
“The petition is deemed insufficient,” Gallegos said. “Because the statute is the way that it is, I have to invalidate the sections.”
Conejos County attorney Steve Atencio, who mediated the public hearing, concluded, “There will be no recall election. The county considers the matter closed. This is done. The county is not going to take any further steps.”
Citizens for and against recalling Lucero gathered at the courthouse to participate in the legal recall process that began with opening statements.
Rosanne Johnson, the school district’s former finance director, represented the protestors and spoke first.
“We have verbal and written statements that say the petitions were circulated by someone other than the names on the affidavit,” Johnson said. “There is more than one instance.”
She explained that at least six people who did not include Geneva Gurule, Natalie Gallegos or Jeremy Romero were allegedly soliciting signatures in addition to the allegedly untruthful grounds for recall and acts of defamation.
Gurule represented the petitioners and, in lieu of an opening statement, said, “The petition speaks for itself.”
With both parties unfamiliar with public hearing process, witnesses were called to the stand with little warning or preparation.
Johnson first called Natalie as her first witness. She asked her whether or not she witnessed least 10 specific recall petition signings.
“I really don’t know,” Natalie answered. “I guess I should have witnessed it... I was smoking a cigarette in my vehicle. I thought I would take a break.”
She added that she felt her “teammates” could witness signings even though they were not eligible electors.
She also could not explain why some recall petition dates where out of order.
Gurule was next to take the stand. She also admitted to having not witnessed several signatures.
“Several people in the community wanted to be team members,” Gurule said in her defense. “They wanted this recall.”
Johnson also questioned her about the dates in addition to two signatures that appeared in two different recall petition sections with different spellings.
Gurule testified she had various pages of the recall petition in her car, in her house and on her person causing the signatures collected to appear out of order.
“It is like I tell you,” Gurule said. “Sometimes I would just grab a petition.”
In regards to the duplicate signatures, Gurule was able to defer to the individuals who were present and called to testify.
Lynette Trujillo admitted to signing the recall petition twice and explained it was because of spelling inconsistencies on her birth certificate and her voter information. Her birth certificate reads “Linette,” but most of her life she has spelled her name “Lynette.”
Trujillo offered to provide a handwriting sample, but Gallegos found it unnecessary and she was excused from the stand.
Darlene Garcia also signed the recall petition twice and was present to testify. She said her situation was similar to Trujillo’s and she admitted that she could not remember scratching out one of the duplicate signatures.
With no one left to testify on the protesters’ behalf, Gurule called her only witness to the stand, Marlene Ruybalid.
Once Ruybalid took the stand, Gurule shared a story about an alleged incident at a peewee basketball game between Lucero and Veronica Lopez, a youth coach who was not present at the public hearing. She said that she had heard Lopez was “scared of Gloria” and that law enforcement had to escort her out of the gym.
Ruybalid said Gurule was wrong on nearly all accounts.
“Gloria and Veronica are just at odds,” Ruybalid said before being excused. “Gloria was not escorted out of the gym.”
When asked after the public meeting closed, Lucero, who did not testify, pinpointed a number of inaccuracies in Gurule’s story. She said the alleged altercation between herself and Lopez had to with her son not being allowed to participate in a pay-for-play sport.
“You pay, your child plays,” Lucero said. “My son wanted to play that night. He had paid his fees and he was on the team. The coach (Lopez) told him he could not play.”
She said she accepted Lopez’s decision, but then Lopez allegedly confronted her son and she reacted like a bear with a cub in danger.
“She was making fun of him,” Lucero said. “She was asking him if his feelings were hurt because he couldn’t play. I did get upset. You don’t talk to my son like that.”
She said she was surprised the recall petitioners were using the alleged incident as fuel for their cause.
“It (the incident) has nothing to do with me being a school board member,” Lucero said. “I ran for school board because I had my best interest in the school district. I wanted to make sure I could help ensure that we have a school district to send our kids to in South Conejos.”