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Sunland Park Mayor Sworn In, Some Challenge His Appointment

After months of controversy and weeks of waiting after former Mayor Elect Daniel Salinas could not be sworn in because of his bond restrictions, the city of Sunland Park finally and officially has a new mayor.

Twenty-four-year-old Javier Perea was sworn in this morning. To start off his first day of work, Perea quickly realized what he was taking on: a city that has been plagued with negative publicity surrounding ongoing criminal and financial investigations.

Perea walked into his new office to find it had no computer, a result of the aforementioned criminal investigations. The state seized that computer, as well as several others from City Hall, a few months ago as part of an ongoing extortion investigation involving Salinas and several other former city employees.

Many question Perea’s lack of political experience and young age, but he said he has the best interests of the city in mind.

“I think we reached the darkest hour,” Perea told ABC-7. “Maybe there might be a couple more investigations. I welcome those investigations. Let’s air out everything that needs to be aired out and clean up whatever has to be cleaned up.”

Perea said he wants to create a much-needed change for the controversy-ridden town, even if it means changing current personnel.

“I’m talking to each and every one of them. I want to see where they stand, see what they have done, what they plan to do, and if those things align with where I want to be, then they have no reason to fear their jobs,” Perea said. “But if we can’t meet this new standard of excellence, then that’s where we’re going to have some problems.”

Another hot topic concerning Perea is the fact his mother is the chief secretary at the Sunland Park Police Department. With his claims of wanting to stop nepotism in the city, ABC-7 confronted Perea and city councilor Carmen Rodriguez, who voted for him, and asked if his mother’s position had anything to do with his appointment.

“No, it didn’t,” Rodriguez told ABC-7. “It was his presentation when he approached the council, his speech, the way he presented himself, very professional. That to me gave him a lot of points.”

“When it comes to matters with my mother, I’ll let the city councilors decide what they have to decide, and I will recuse myself from situations where there is a conflict of interest,” Perea said.

Perea was appointed mayor after he presented his resume to City Council at last week’s council meeting. After councilor Rodriguez suggested former mayoral candidate Gerardo Hernandez for the position and he was rejected in a 4-2 vote, the meeting broke out in chaos. Citizens shouted for councilors to appoint a new mayor and someone suggested Perea. In a discussion by city councilors that lasted all of 10 minutes, they voted to appoint Perea.

While he officially made it through his first day in office, some say he shouldn’t get too comfortable just yet.

There are several legal challenges pending that could remove Perea from office.

The New Mexico Foundation for Open Government (FOG) said the city may have violated the Open Meetings Act on Wednesday. In the city’s second attempt to hold its council meeting, dozens of residents were locked out when the building the meeting was held in reached maximum capacity again. Not being able to accommodate the large crowd was the reason the first meeting was postponed.

“Our Open Meetings Act is very clear in saying that any meeting of a public body has to be public, and they have to let in everyone who wants to be there,” FOG Executive Director Gwyneth Doland said.

Residents were angry to be left out of the public meeting for a second time.

“It’s just ridiculous that we can’t go in and hear about our own community and about the issued and voice our opinions,” Sunland Park resident Jesse Grajeda said.

Grajeda was especially angry since he’d planned on putting his name forward for consideration as mayor.

“It’s an important issue, a critical time for Sunland Park. They just don’t give people the option, that opportunity to speak up. It’s just sad,” Grajeda said.

Doland said anyone who feels their rights were violated can their case to court.

“If it is determined that the meeting violated the open meetings act, everything they did is invalid. This guy’s not the mayor anymore and none of the other stuff during that meeting is real, and they have to do it all over again,” Doland said.

Newly sworn in Perea said he would not fight a decision from the courts to remove him from office.

“If the courts rule that this is not entitled to me, or that the elections were in favor of Gerardo, I respect that,” Perea sad.

A pending challenge to the March municipal election results could also cause another change in mayor if the court rules in favor of Hernandez.

“Everybody knows right here that the campaign was won by me when the elections were supervised by the county and by the state. There was no chance to cheat. Then I won three to one,” Hernandez said.

Hernandez told ABC-7 last week the evidence of voter fraud is clear, and he thinks justice will be served in court.

Perea said despite all the controversy, he will continue to do the job he was chosen for.

“In the meantime, I have been appointed in this position, and its a responsibility to take seriously,” Perea said.

Grajeda said he will file a formal complaint with the Attorney General’s Office concerning last week’s council meeting violating the Open Meetings Act. Then an investigation will begin, and it will ultimately be up to the court to decide if the city infringed on citizens’ rights and will have to hold a new meeting and appoint a new mayor.

Hernandez’s challenge to the election results is pending trial.

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