LOS LUNAS — The war of words between Los Lunas School Board President Bryan Smith and Los Lunas Superintendent Dana Sanders continues, as the two respond to letters.
The two are accusing one another of unprofessionalism, interfering with employment issues and alleged Open Meetings Act violations.
The rift between Sanders and Smith became public after she was placed on paid administrative leave in April.
In response to the letter Sanders sent out on May 14, Smith sent out his own letter on May 27.
“You have been less than honest in your letter. You have hidden behind the confidentiality that is granted to the personnel actions taken by an employer and then claim in your letter to now provide the truth from ‘behind closed doors.’ You have now opened that door,” Smith wrote to Sanders.
“It is regrettable that you have made public the employment issues that exist between you and members of the board of education.”
Smith went on to write that Sanders has deflected attempts from board members about concerns regarding allowing a former employee to remain on school property while facing criminal charges.
Sanders sent out a response to Smith’s letter on May 28 and said specific topic was explained that to the board in an executive session on Feb. 14 of this year.
Smith said he has never seen a formal complaint from Sanders on his performance as a board member. In Sanders’ response letter, she said she filled a complaint with the entire board of education in July 2015.
The News-Bulletin filed an Inspection of Public Records Act request with the district for the formal complaint.
Sanders filed the formal complaint on July 16, 2015, via email to the board president at the time, Georgia Otero Kirkham. In the email, Sanders wrote she had a conversation over the phone with Smith about his wife’s position within the district during the 2015-2016 school year.
She wrote that the conversation “continued to escalate,” claiming Smith berated other employees, and stated he would be talking to his wife’s supervisor.
“It is inappropriate for a board member to confront me or one of my employees about decisions that have been made regarding personnel that they supervise, especially if the employee is a board member’s spouse,” Sanders wrote in the complaint.
In Smith’s letter, he said he received documentation that a recall committee has been formed to remove him from public office.
“A petition sponsored by your aunt and an individual business owner you frequent all supported conveniently by your letter,” Smith wrote to Sanders.
In the letter Sanders sent out as a response to Smith’s letter, she wrote she has the right to address the issues she has presented.
“As a constituent living in your voting area, I have the right to support a recall for your continued, ignored, violation of employee rights, laws and your repeated interference with the day to day operations of the district,” Sanders wrote.
In a phone interview on Tuesday, Sanders said she is not the petitioner.
According to documents filed with the 13th Judicial Court District, Barbara Duncan requested an evidentiary hearing with a judge to determine if a recall election will move forward.
In rebuttal to Sanders’ statement that Smith was working alone against her, he wrote the board members voted 5-0 to place Sanders on paid administrative leave and hire an acting superintendent.
“Your placement on paid leave arose from you requesting extended FMLA supported by your healthcare provider for a medical condition you suffered,” Smith wrote. “Despite rumors, it is simply untrue that you sought leave to care for a family member.
“It was only upon the entire board temporarily filling your position with an acting superintendent that you made what appeared to be an incredible recovery and sought to return immediately.”
He said the entire board of education voted to have Sanders remain on paid leave pending the result of the financial investigation.
“You cannot publicly spin this into any independent action by me to otherwise get you. The board is doing its job and it is regrettable that you cannot or will not recognize and respect this,” Smith wrote.
Smith goes on to address Sanders’ accusation that he violated the Open Meetings Act.
“It is dishonest to allege this being wrong when you have repeatedly threatened the board with legal action and when the board and you have had the board’s legal counsel support the board in meetings, including with you being present and fully participating in setting the meeting agenda for many years under different board presidents,” Smith wrote.
Sanders maintained in her response letter she has not threatened litigation.
During a phone call on Monday, Smith said, “any time she tells me I’m in violation of something is threatened litigation.”
Melanie Majors, the executive director of the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government, wrote a letter to the editor in response to the article published in May about Sanders’ initial letter of complaints.
“The law is pretty succinct on this item. The exception does not protect discussions about possible or potential litigation,” Majors said during a phone interview discussing the letter. “If that is something that’s cited, the attorney must be in the closed meeting and any action they take has to be after they reconvene when they come back into open session. They have to come out, reconvene the meeting and someone has to make a motion, get it seconded and ask if there’s discussion.
“If there is no actual or credible threat of litigation, it’s an unwarranted extension of the exception and the meeting may not be closed,” Majors said.
Smith said there was misinformation circulating that he’d like to correct.
“The board has not offered any particular dollar amount for a settlement of the disputes between you and the board of education to have you resign,” Smith wrote of Sanders.
He said in the letter there was a meeting authorized by the board to “explore if there was a means of parting ways with you before the relationship reduced to this public fight where the cost is my complete loss of trust and confidence in you as a school superintendent.”
Smith said during a recent meeting where the board explored if there was a means of parting ways with the superintendent, he endured personal attacks from Sanders, and her bashing of the K-5 Plus program calling it the “dumbest program I have ever seen.”
In closing the letter, Smith said he has never acted maliciously in any way and is confident he has performed the duties as a school board member by placing his personal feelings aside and acting in the best interest of the district.
“I have not the time nor desire to carry out further arguments publicly after this response,” Smith wrote. “In the end, I will not give up working for our children and making decisions that I feel will provide the very best for them.
“I state again, here, that the board of education has the very best interest of the school district in mind and believes in its staff and I believe in them as well. There is room for only one pedestal in the school community and I will continue to work to have our students standing at the top.”
Editor's Note: This article has been corrected to indicate the quotes from Melanie Majors, executive director of the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government, were from a phone interview in regards to the letter, not excerpts of the letter itself.