[Editor's Note: This will be the first of several articles about the Grant County Commission work session on Sept. 15, 2020 and later in the series the regular meeting on Sept. 17, 2020. This meeting was fraught with YouTube stoppages, so it may take a while to get all the information.]
By Mary Alice Murphy
Gila National Forest Silver City Ranger District's Beth Ihle gave the first presentation at the Grant County Commission work session on Sept. 15, 2020. She gave two handouts to the commissioners addressing a collaboration between the Forest Service and the Natural Resource Conservation Services for the Joint Chiefs Landscape Restoration Project.
"It will take place across federal, state and private lands," Ihle said. "Last year the USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) funded this program with $40 million. We felt like the local landscape had a lot of opportunities, so we have applied for funding for two potential projects. We have to do it with ones that have completed at least the first year of a NEPA process. We're working on projects in the Signal Peak Fire area, as well as in the WUI (wildland-urban interface), Feeley, Bear Creek, Pinos Altos and the XYZ Ranch."
She said the NRCS said they have contractors in the area willing to work on these projects, primarily in watershed and vegetation management. After a field trip with interested parties to the Bear Creek area, "we felt we had more needs there and defined our project area to be Bear Creek to Signal Peak. The proposal is due October 1." It needs to be signed by several area directors before submittal.
"We have met with several landowners in the Bear Creek area and have met virtually with NRCS," Ihle continued. "The first year will have $1 million funded. We are not launching into a new NEPA. We have an EQIP (Environmental Quality Incentives Program), we've been working on with landowners around Pinos Altos and Bear Creek. The NRCS has more flexibility with the program, so we're working with them in the mixed conifer, with WUI thinning. For other projects for years 2 and 3, we will need more appropriations."
She said there have been issues with storm flows off the Tadpole fire scar. "We want to reduce the potential of fires around WUI areas. I want to put in a plug for the Sheriff's Department and all their help with road patrols during the Tadpole Fire. Thankfully, we had no evacuations."
With no questions from commissioners, the next presentation was from Edward Santa Maria, Pre-Trial Services Program manager at 6th Judicial District Court, and Deidre Vega, who did not speak.
"The whole point of pre-trial services is to keep as many offenders out of jail as possible," Santa Maria said. "There are nine risk factors that we use to recommend to judges." Vega handed out pamphlets and a handout to the commissioners.
Santa Maria noted that during COVID-19, the procedures for the pre-trial services have changed. "They only come in for the first check-in. They used to have to come in for all of them. Now we do phone check-ins with them. We recently rolled out new risk criteria, which we are about a year away from putting in place."
District 2 Commissioner Javier "Harvey" Salas asked if the services were only for those charged with a felony.
"We handle not only those with felonies but also those with high misdemeanors that involve violence," Santa Maria replied. "We serve about 90 clients per month, and it takes about 60 days to get a case taken care of. But for them to be in jail, it costs about $92 a day to house them. This program costs $27.60 a day."
He noted that one of the criteria for release is whether the person has employment. "Of course, some have the risk of re-offending. Judges are not using bonds as much now. We're trying to balance release with public safety. We do a background check on every client. If a person has two or more violent offenses or two or more failures to appear, they will not be released pre-trial. Release is not an option for homicide suspects. The person charged with drug offenses, theft or fraud has the potential to be released. The scoring is 1-10, with 10 the highest risk."
District 1 Commissioner and Chairman Chris Ponce asked what percentage are in the higher risks.
Santa Maria said about 52 percent are at a level five, which is the highest risk, and about 15.8 percent at level 4.
District 3 Commissioner Alicia Edwards asked if all the offenders that are released are non-violent.
"Some have violent charges," Santa Maria said. "If they have no prior history, they may be at a lower level risk. We simply provide the recommendation to the judge."
Edwards said it sounded like a lot of check-ins for the offenders. "Do you have a lot of people doing the supervision and do they do mixed-level cases?"
Santa Maria said the program has only one officer. "We assist, as does an adult court probation officer. The offenders are not separated by risk. They have not yet been adjudicated. Before this program, there was a magistrate court component. We have replaced that, and all of us are well trained. The drug court clients are already adjudicated."
Edwards asked if they considered the program successful.
Santa Maria said: "Our involvement is we get them to court. Our relationship with the clients is not adversarial. We try to build a relationship of trust to get them to court. It saves money, but it does come with the risk of some of them re-offending."
Edwards asked about if the offenders don't have transportation or have medical issues. "Can you refer them to other resources?"
"Yes, we refer them to other resources," Santa Maria replied. "We tune into their lives and help if we see issues."
Edwards said it seems like the positions are a sort of case management.
Santa Maria agreed and said they use Tu Casa and Bridges to Care along with other services.
The next article will cover the update from New Mexico Department of Health, which will require this author listening to a recording of this part of the meeting that buffered and then quit.