While there is currently a petition drive in the city of Las Cruces to recall three city councillors, there may be another initiative shortly to recall the Treasurer for Dona Ana County, David Gutierrez. Unlike the city recall efforts, in this case, Gutierrez has actually admitted to committing the acts he’s been accused of.
On August 18, Gutierrez had gone to the post office with a female employee on Treasurer’s Office business, then to a bank. Afterward, Gutierrez offered her $1,000 to “spend a couple of hours with him at a hotel.” The employee said no and then told a supervisor what had happened on August 20. The two then reported to Deputy County Treasurer Rene Barba. Gutierrez walked in on the meeting and, when he asked what was going on, the employee told him she was reporting him. He then asked the employee to leave the room and asked Barba and the supervisor not to report the incident to county management to give him time to “resolve the matter with the employee,” a request that was immediately denied as it would’ve been a gross violation of proper procedure. In the course of the investigation, Gutierrez admitted to propositioning the employee and even clarified that the reason for going to the hotel would have been for sex.
Gutierrez didn’t attend the county commission meeting where the incident was to be discussed, but instead had county attorney John Caldwell read a statement that said, “I apologize to the commission for not being here today. Please do not take my absence as a sign of disrespect to you. I will respect the decision that the board makes today.” However, when the commission called for Gutierrez’s resignation, he refused and, since the commission doesn’t have the authority to force his resignation, they instead censured him, which simply amounts to a public reprimand with no actual punishment.
Prior to voting for censure, County Commissioner David Garcia said “I’m very sad today these kinds of things have to happen, but when they do happen, we have to move on it. I’m glad the procedures we have in place work.”
While the procedures may have worked, they also had absolutely no impact. Gutierrez committed two violations; soliciting an employee for sex and attempting to delay the investigation. Another thing that no one seems to be talking about right now is that David Gutierrez committed an actual crime as well by soliciting for prostitution. Yet, in the face of all of this, he has continued in his position as if nothing had happened. The lack of consequences for his behavior has not gone unnoticed, however.
Friday on both local Las Cruces AM radio shows, The Kelly O’Connell Show and Speak Up Las Cruces, Dolores Connor and Francis Williams came on to talk about the course of action they’ve decided to take on this issue. Connor, a former Las Cruces City Council member and previous candidate for Mayor, and Williams, who has had a career investigating sexual harassment claims and is currently an appointee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights New Mexico State Advisory Committee, are very unhappy that, even after admitting to his behavior, Gutierrez remains in his position and is still collecting his $65,500 annual salary.
After waiting four months to give Gutierrez a chance to take appropriate action on his own, Dolores Conner went to the county commission on Tuesday to inform them that she has found a state statute providing for the removal of an elected official under these kinds of conditions. NMSA 10-4-2 lists a cause, among several others, for removal from office as:
”  G. any other act [or acts which] that in the opinion of the court or jury [amount] amounts to corruption in office or gross immorality rendering the incumbent unfit to fill the office.”
They argue that offering a female employee $1,000 for sex is a perfect example of “gross immorality.” Connor and Williams say they are currently looking into taking action through the courts and a possible abbreviated petition drive to have Gutierrez removed from office. They will be meeting with Gerald Byer, an attorney at the Third Judicial District Attorney’s Office in Las Cruces, NM to look at the law to explore those options in the coming week.
Connor also wants to propose a change to the NMSA at the upcoming legislative session to add sexual harassment to the allowed reasons for removal from office. At this point, the only actions that have been taken against David Gonzalez has been a censure that didn’t actually affect him outside of a little bad publicity and action taken by the Democrat Party Central Committee to remove him from his position with them but it is possible that, ultimately, his actions could result in not only his removal from office, but also an important and fundamental change to state law and the level of behavior required of our elected officials.