KRWG

Madison Staten

Multimedia Reporter

Madison Staten is a Multimedia Reporter for KRWG Public Media.  You can hear her stories on KRWG-FM and watch on KRWG-TV's Newsmakers.

Originally from Portland, Oregon, Madison spent her college years at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. She received both undergraduate and graduate degrees from the institution.

 

Madison worked on a variety of shows for Arizona PBS during her time in college—including Arizona Horizon and the television magazine program Catalyst.

 

She is passionate about storytelling and public media, and believes in the the mission of public broadcasting: to educate and inform with depth and accuracy.

 

She strives to uphold the core principles of journalism, and looks forward to serving the region.

 

Madison joined KRWG in July, 2020

More than 70% of New Mexico’s snowpack will be gone by the end of the century, according to state water specialist and Congresswoman Melanie Stansbury. She addressed how regular drought conditions have been exasperated by climate change at the 2021 Next Generation Water Summit.

“With climate change, and we have already seen the signal over the last decade and a half here in New Mexico, we're seeing a lot of irregularity, a reduction in snowpack, a reduction in runoff, and the whole system is completely changing,” Stansbury said. “And when you think about it in a historical standpoint, it means that our traditional systems, that are adapted to hundreds of years of the current system, are going to have to be modified.”

The Las Cruces Board of Education is one step closer to filling the vacant seat left in the wake of Former Board Member Terrie Dallman’s resignation, finalizing hiring process decisions ahead of July 6 interviews.

Each member of the board will be responsible for asking between 1-2 questions per candidate, depending on the number of applicants. To include students in the interview process, the LCPS Student Advisory Council will also have the opportunity to ask a question to prospective candidates.

Board Member Maria Flores emphasized the temporary nature of the position, saying community members will have an opportunity to be heard when the seat is up for re-election in the fall.

City of Las Cruces

Over 24.7 million dollars will be distributed to the City of Las Cruces under the American Rescue Plan Act. Funding priorities, which include support for both public safety programs and infrastructure projects, were presented to the Las Cruces City Council Monday.

Councilor Gabe Vasquez says he would like to see a portion of ARPA dollars go toward projects that foster a long-term economic recovery plan, pointing to a previously proposed business incubator as one example.

Doña Ana County

Doña Ana County Commissioners are currently reviewing the best way to allocate millions in American Rescue Plan Act funding.

The county, which was allotted over 42 million dollars, has identified four areas of focus—longstanding public health issues, negative economic impacts, premium pay for essential county workers and critical infrastructure investments.

Part of the proposed plan recommends funding for a new Office of Emergency Management facility. The current building is 5,000 square feet, which the county says has led to operational challenges. County Manager Fernando Macias says funding for the new 16,000 square foot building could come from both the American Rescue Plan Act and FEMA.

“The intent is to ultimately have a standalone building that is dedicated to the Office of Emergency Management, and that represents and contains space in order to do the full coordination involving all of the local governments in Doña Ana County,” Macias said. “We would be looking to FEMA, hopefully, to at least provide 50% of the funding related to the building.”

1.5 million is being proposed to support small businesses. Already, the county has used over 3 million dollars in additional funding to help local businesses through the pandemic, but Davin Lopez, from the Mesilla Valley Economic Development Alliance, says he sees how more funding could be needed to adequately address the hardship.

  

An extreme drought has been declared by the Las Cruces City Council, limiting the locations legal fireworks will be allowed within the city for the next thirty days.

The resolution, unanimously passed by the council, will restrict the use of legal fireworks like flitter sparklers and crackling devices to completely barren land or areas that have readily accessible sources of water. Aerial fireworks remain illegal. 

Las Cruces Fire Marshal Cody Haver says he looks forward to resuming more normal Fourth of July celebrations this year but emphasized protecting the Las Cruces community remains his number one priority. He noted the resolution has no bearing on the City of Las Cruces/New Mexico State University firework display.

“I think it is absolutely wonderful that we're able to celebrate the Fourth of July more this year than maybe we did last year, but, you know, please be safe about it,” Haver said. “Drought is a real thing here in our area…And so, we don't want to put that extra stress on our emergency responders to have to deal with those things as well as our normal call volume.”

LCPS

Ralph Ramos will officially take over as Superintendent for Las Cruces Public Schools, following a 4-1 vote by the LCPS Board of Education. Ramos, who has been acting as interim superintendent since March 1, says he will work to ensure continued improvement within the district.

“It's not about myself, it's about the team that we have with LCPS here…I know we have a lot of work together,” Ramos said. “I know we're going to do it. I know that you will be proud of Las Cruces Public Schools and everything we continue doing for students.”

City of Las Cruces

Members of the police auditing group OIR introduced themselves to the Las Cruces City Council during Monday’s work session.  The council approved a contract with the auditing company, which will report findings on a semi-annual basis, in February.

Councilor Gabe Vasquez says he hopes that OIR will identify complaint trends and develop a clear narrative so that action steps can be taken when necessary.

“In our previous relationship with our police auditor, the presentations to council, I would say left a little bit to be desired, in terms of identifying the trends of just the types of complaints and whether they were substantiated or unsubstantiated,” Vasquez said.

OIR’s Michael Gennaco says he hopes the new contract brings increased transparency for both city staff and the general public.

For 45 years, Edmund Ogaz has worked the fields of his Garfield farm. A self-proclaimed jack of all trades, he can be found planting chile, growing pecans and harvesting onions.

But a lack of water has significantly impacted how Ogaz irrigates his crops. When he first started farming, water from the local irrigation district was enough to sustain his farm. Now, Ogaz has had to rely on groundwater pumping—a practice that has become increasingly more common statewide.

“We’d start irrigating, from the irrigation district, in February, or early March,” Ogaz said. “We would already have water in the irrigation system from the river. But now, like this year, we're not going to get water until the first of June.”

Members of the New Mexico Legislative Finance Committee say more needs to be done to address pandemic related learning losses.  At a recent meeting, Representative Javier Martínez called on the legislature to find creative ways to reengage lost students.

“I'm concerned because I don't know that laptops or Twittering or sending the screen is going to re-engage any of those middle school to high school students,” Martínez said. “And I'm scared. If you look at the crime rate across the state, if you look at Albuquerque, those are 15–16-year-olds that are out of the system, right, completely out. I'm not sure we're going to get them back with laptops and an extended school year.”

So far, the majority of the state’s pandemic-related expenditures have gone toward instructional purchases like technology resources, but the increased investment has not been enough to keep all students engaged in the classroom.

Las Cruces Public School District

The Las Cruces Public School Board stood by their decision to implement a LCPS policy designed to promote equity in the classroom amidst critical public comment. The policy, which was adopted in April, calls for additional curriculum to be created that takes into account both the home cultures and languages of students.

During a second reading of the policy, School Board Member Maria Flores spoke about the impact it will have in the classroom.

“It's not to learn to hate anyone,” Flores said. “On the contrary, it is first and foremost, a local thing, that each class can be tailored to the students themselves. The students that are there are the ones that will dictate what they want to learn, and only to learn about themselves and others, that is what ethnic studies is about.”

A unanimously adopted ordinance will require hundreds of homes to move onto the city’s sewer system, following an update to the municipal code by the Las Cruces City Council.

The Water and Wastewater System Master Plan Update, which has been in development since 2008, includes a prioritization plan to help keep the Las Cruces water supply clean. Preventing water supply contamination from septic tanks was cited as the main reason for the code change.

But the estimated $5,000 initial cost per property, one that homeowners will be responsible for, gave some city council members pause. Councilor Tessa Abeyta-Stuve highlighted the burden placed on homeowners, saying the cost of switching from septic to sewer was a concern among her constituents.

las-cruces.org

The Las Cruces City Council is reviewing which projects will be eligible for TIDD funding. Three funding options were presented to the council, detailing how three million dollars in TIDD revenue could be allocated.

A project to establish a business incubator facility was highlighted by many on the city council. The million-dollar investment would provide both retail and workspaces for entrepreneurs and small businesses, something Councilor Johana Bencomo says is desperately needed.

“I think it'd be a huge mistake to not invest in something like this incubator,” Bencomo said. “I think it's an outstanding idea. And as I think about our priorities as a city, and, you know, really trying to impact and reduce the wealth inequality in our city, this could be huge. This could be a huge player in that.”

White House photo by Adam Schultz/ Public Domain

The Leaders Summit on Climate is calling attention to global conservation efforts and the government regulations needed to enforce them.

India is working to install 450 gigawatts of renewable energy.  Japan is setting higher emission reduction goals. The Republic of Korea is ending overseas coal financing.

And here in the United States, President Biden is pledging to cut carbon emissions in half by 2030, using 2005 emission levels as the baseline. 

“The signs are unmistakable.  The science is undeniable.  But the cost of inaction keeps mounting,” Biden said. “The United States isn’t waiting. We are resolving to take action, not only our federal government, but our cities and our states all across our country; small businesses, large businesses, large corporations; American workers in every field.”

The American Lung Association’s 2021 State of the Air Report has compiled air quality data from 2017 through 2019 to identify the nation’s most polluted regions.

Laura Kate Bender of the American Lung Association says that three out of every eight Americans are living in counties with a failing ozone grade. That includes residents of Doña Ana County, which recorded an average of over 22 high ozone level days annually.

Despite the failing grade, Bender says the number of ozone days reported nationally has gone down since the last published report.

ALLIANCE FOR EXCELLENT EDUCATION

No additional days will be added to the 2021-2022 school calendar, following a unanimous vote by the Las Cruces Public School Board.

Options presented to the board included the addition of ten extra days to the calendar as well as an expansion of the school day by 30 minutes for elementary school students—which failed to be approved.

School Board Member Teresa Tenorio says the district needs to explore other options to help with the student learning experience, such as smaller class sizes and more support staff, rather than just adding extra time.

“Going forward, I just don't understand how 30 extra minutes a day, or ten extra days, where everything else is structured the same, would benefit my kids or any kids in our district,” Tenorio said. “Because it's not working, it hasn't worked. We need to really try something different.”

City of Las Cruces

Hundreds of houses could be required to move onto the city sewer system if a proposed council ordinance is adopted.  The Las Cruces City Council reviewed the ordinance, which would modify the current municipal code to include mandatory sewer hook-ups, during a work session Monday.

Interim Assistant Utilities Director Adrienne Widmer says the switch from septic tanks was proposed in order to prevent sewage contamination.

“The plan was developed to determine the potential of contamination from leached wastewater from septic tanks into our water supply,” Widmer said. “Based on that plan, nearly 2,000 parcels with septic tank locations were identified.”

Widmer says the plan, which has been in development since 2008, investigated the distance of tanks to water supply wells, the depth of groundwater and the density of septic tanks in order to prioritize select areas.

Government employees will not be able to use qualified immunity as a legal defense in state court under the recently ratified New Mexico Civil Rights Act.

Laurie Roberts, a state policy advocate for the Innocence Project, says the act will create an easier path for those seeking to bring a claim against a government body, relying on state courts rather than the federal judicial system. 

“Instead of having to go to federal court and allege a violation of your federal constitutional rights, instead, you can go to your local district court, in front of a judge or a jury of your peers, you know, a judge elected by New Mexicans,” Roberts said. “And the local governments are not able to use qualified immunity as a defense the way that they would be if you were forced to go into federal court.”

Reidar Hahn, Fermilab

Only 5% of the particles that make up the universe are currently known to physicists—but scientists believe a new particle is on the verge of being discovered.

Recent experiments conducted in Illinois show the potential for particles that are not predicted by the Standard Model, the system used to classify known particles and forces of nature. Los Alamos Scientist William Louis says Standard Model particles make up only a small part of the universe’s composition.

“The Standard Model particles make up only about 5% of the mass-energy of the universe. 95% of the mass-energy of the universe is unknown,” Louis said. “It's either in the form of dark matter, or dark energy. And so, the fact that there's all this missing energy, makes it not surprising that there could be a zoo of new particles.”

Stores in Las Cruces may soon be switching to a paper bagging system, as part of a proposed city effort to limit single-use plastics. While an official ordinance has yet to be drafted, City Sustainability Officer Lisa LaRocque reviewed a proposed plan with the Las Cruces City Council during a work session.

She outlined the reasons single-use plastic bags can be harmful, saying they are often only in use for an average of 12 minutes.

“Litter and plastics buried in the landfill can persist there for hundreds of years, and we have this throwaway mentality that needs to be stopped,” LaRocque said. “On average, we use 1,500 single plastic-use plastic bags a year, and on average we use them for only 12 minutes. So, it is a very excessive use of a product that has such a long shelf life.”

Couy Griffin

In a 2-1 vote, the Otero County Commission shot down a resolution calling for a 100% county reopening Thursday. Commissioner Couy Griffin, who proposed the resolution, was the only one to vote in favor of a full reopening.

“I'm doing it, trying to bring representation and trying to hold the line, trying to keep people from feeling like they have to wear a mask or they're going to lose their job,” Griffin said. “That's not fair. That's why people have elected officials like us, to stand in that gap.”

Nora Sackett, the governor’s press secretary, told KRWG in a written statement that such a measure would have had no legal effect and existing state guidelines would remain in place. Currently Otero County is in the yellow reopening category, allowing for indoor dining at 33% capacity.

Walk into a Las Cruces Public Schools building, and it’s obvious things are a little different—partitions, shields and temperature checkpoints are just some of the measures the district is taking in the fight against COVID-19.

But the biggest change is one that can’t be seen at all.

Bobby Stout, the executive director of the district’s physical plant department, says MERV 13 air filters have been installed across the district, helping to ensure clean air in schools.  Mandated by the New Mexico Public Education Department, the upgraded filters remove 75% of particles between the size of 0.3 and 1.0 micrometers.

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland says the Biden Administration is considering ideas from political leaders on both sides of the aisle in order to rethink the management of energy and minerals on public lands.

“There is no doubt that oil, gas and coal energy from our public lands and oceans have helped build our economy and power our nation,” Haaland said. “Fossil fuels will continue to play a major role in America for years to come. But too often, the extraction of resources has been rushed to meet the false urgency of political timetables, rather than with careful consideration for the impacts of current or future generations.”

Haaland noted the increase in leasing permits given out under the Trump administration, an action she says did not benefit the American people.

Dzaki Sukarno

Dzaki Sukarno is no stranger to failure. As a young Las Cruces musician, he remembers nervously preparing for local performances, scared of the public’s reaction.

“I remember standing up on stage, freaking out, forgetting lyrics and just stopping in the middle of the performance,” Sukarno said. “Going to sing at the farmers market, just the local farmers market, and being so nervous, being timid, not projecting my voice because I was like, ‘What are people going to think?’”

The 20-year-old has come a long way from those first timid performances, a contestant on this season of American Idol. Sukarno says it’s his failures that have helped him to hone his craft, giving him the courage to pursue his dream.

City of Las Cruces

In an update on COVID-19 vaccination efforts to the Las Cruces City Council Monday, Councilor Tessa Abeyta-Stuve reported that 31.8% of Doña Ana County residents have received at least one dose of the vaccine.

It’s something she attributes in part to an increase in the weekly number of vaccines from the state, which has more than doubled since the beginning of February.

“It's been about an 82% increase,” Abeyta-Stuve said. “In terms of rankings, we have not still moved as far as I think we should. A report out last week was a ranking on how many vaccines we've distributed per population per county. We were at the bottom fourth. Now we're at the bottom eighth. So, we’ve moved up a little bit.”  

Las Cruces firefighters Ariel Caro and Matthew Castrejon aren’t only distributing the COVID-19 vaccine, they’re bringing hope to many of the city’s most vulnerable residents.

The pair is part of a team assigned to the city’s homebound vaccination program, targeting those who are not physically able to travel to a vaccination site.  

Firefighter Ariel Caro says she’s thankful for the opportunity to serve.

“They love that we are helping out, going to their house and making their life, and their loved one’s life, a little easier for them,” Caro said. “I’m glad that the fire department is a part of this program and the ones that are sponsoring the program just so that way people can see that we’re here for them.”

Arvind Balaraman / www.freedigitalphotos.net

All Las Cruces Public School District students will have the opportunity to return to the classroom starting April 6, in accordance with state guidelines mandating that in-person learning resume.  

Las Cruces School Board President Ray Jaramillo outlined the state’s reopening directive, prior to the board officially voting to certify the date of reentry.

“On March 8, 2021, the PED issued an expectation that all schools be in full reentry, no later than April 5,” Jaramillo said. “April 5 is a LCPS school holiday. Moreover, the PED considers full reentry to be satisfied with either four or five days a week of in-person learning.”

Las Cruces Public Schools Attorney Elena Gallegos says the board was left with little power to determine the timeline for reopening schools.

The Las Cruces City Council is calling for equitable distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine for both the city of Las Cruces and the entirety of Doña Ana County. 

Council members unanimously passed a resolution urging the New Mexico Department of Health to provide an equal number of COVID-19 vaccines to Doña Ana County. City Policy Analyst Christopher Dunn says Doña Ana’s vaccination rate is approximately 5% less than 19 other counties in New Mexico, despite being the second-most populous county in the state.

“Currently 19 counties have vaccinated, or partially vaccinated, more than 30% of their population, and Doña Ana County has partially vaccinated 25.2% of the population,” Dunn said. “We have been able to fully vaccinate 12.6% of the population…The city of Las Cruces and Doña Ana County are here to distribute vaccines efficiently as well.”

Las Cruces City Councilors reviewed proposed ordinance revisions for the Animal Service Center of the Mesilla Valley during Monday’s work session.

Animal Service Center of the Mesilla Valley Executive Director Clint Thacker outlined proposed revisions to the current animal control ordinance, which would include eliminating the pet licensing requirement, in favor of relying on microchipping. Historically, licensing has been required to ensure animals receive the rabies vaccine, something Thacker says can be regulated differently.

“Now people are starting to question, ‘What do I get out of my license?’ The answer really is maybe another form of ID, is what we get out of it, because the actual rabies [shot] is still required by law,” Thacker said. “So, what we're stating is you can take and remove the license part out of it, have the microchip, the animal control officers will still be able to enforce not having a rabies [shot].”

City of Las Cruces

The Las Cruces City Council reviewed proposed changes to the current election process during a work session Monday.

Las Cruces City Clerk Christine Rivera recommended that the city implement updates to key election procedures, including a transition to an electronic system for prospective candidates and a focus on ranked choice voting education.

Councilor Johana Bencomo says that transitioning to an electronic system will help to increase election transparency as the documents can be made easily available to the public online.

  

In January, Doña Ana County introduced a mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy for some employees. The county says it’s a critical safety measure, but some critics argue the directive infringes on the rights of employees.

Just recently, litigation was filed by one Doña Ana detention officer claiming the county did not have the authority to mandate vaccination.

Approximately 390 essential Doña Ana County employees have been directed to receive the COVID-19 vaccine by the county. The mandate affects public safety personnel, including law enforcement officers and full-time paid firefighters.

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