Huge $150M+ Win Against PNM; Somos Wins Wage Suit; City Council sets RCV Rules

PRC deals PNM stunning defeat and NY City & State divest from coal. Judge Thomson (same as RCV judge) forces Workforce Solutions to enforce wage laws and City Council goes from 3-10pm to develop rules governing RCV.

New Energy Economy Wins HUGE Win for Ratepayers.  In a win of enormous consequence, the little agency that could, New Energy Economy, won the ratepayers at least $150 million and finally was able to get the PRC Commissioners to see behind the PNM curtain of deception. In a stunning 4-1 vote, with two Commissioners who historically have always side with PNM leading the charge, the PRC determined that the $150 million was the floor, not the ceiling to its disallowance of PNM claims and in the near future will determine if still more of PNM’s claims should be disallowed. This is a very complicated case and I will want to take a few days to soak up all involved before reporting. But yesterday David slew Goliath big time.

“This is a great day for New Mexicans. The PRC has declared that PNM’s reckless decision to invest in the costly and polluting Four Corners coal plant was imprudent and therefore rejected ALL capital costs associated with that investment – stating that forcing the ratepayers to  reimburse those costs would not be fair, just, reasonable or in the public interest. The PRC agreed with New Energy Economy that ratepayers must be held harmless from any amount irresponsibly invested. The immediate savings to ratepayers will be over $150 million and in a subsequent hearing PNM is at risk of having the entire Four Corners coal plant investment disallowed. Coal doesn’t make financial sense and New Energy Economy has prevailed at the Commission level in proving our case,” said Mariel Nanasi, Executive Director, New Energy Economy.  It is no secret how much I admire New Energy Economy. Under the leadership of Mariel Nanasi and board chair David Van Winkle, they have been mounting an unceasing battle with PNM on behalf of the people and the planet. Several weeks ago, after the last Supreme Court hearing, I suggested that the tide was turning. It just did. Big time. 

As if that were not enough, later in the afternoon the State and City of New York announced that it would divest from the fossil fuel industry. Combined, the city and state pension funds are worth a whopping $390 billion, making this the largest coal, oil and gas divestment in THE WORLD. A good day for the planet.

Somos’ staff Attorney Gabriela Ibańez Guzman at Roundhouse podium announcing settlement.

Somos Delivers Another Win for Economic, Racial & Social Justice. Judge Thomson, the same judge who forced the City to advance RCV, has now weighed in on wage-theft. The judge accepted a settlement that was negotiated during the last several weeks and finalized Tuesday, But the real heroes here are Somos Un Pueblo Unido and their partners the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, the organizations that filed the lawsuit that precipitated the settlement. The agreement, which resolves accusations that Workforce Solutions had failed to enforce provisions of state law by improperly dismissing complaints, failing to pursue claims over $10,000 and not holding employers liable for damages. As a result, Workforce Solutions will have to investigate more types of claims, including some that go back several years.

From the New Mexican:  “One of the plaintiffs in the case, Jose “Pancho” Olivas, spoke Wednesday. He brought the complaint after he said a restaurant in Farmington denied him more than $10,000 in back wages for regular and overtime shifts over eight months. He asked the state to help him collect $15,000 for himself and $25,000 for his wife, but the Department of Workforce Solutions refused the case because of the high dollar amounts, asking they go directly to court. Under the settlement, his case and others will be reopened and investigated, though a finding could be months away. “Because of this settlement, both me and my wife will be able to move forward with our complaints,” Olivas said. “It’s a lot of money.”

 Under the settlement agreement the state has agreed to:
  • Vacate the practice of not accepting wage claims above a certain amount or beyond a year old and investigate all claims regardless of value.
  • Seek statutory damages arising from claims so workers might be paid back three times the amount of back wages they are owed, for cases that go to enforcement.
  • Adopt procedures to allow claimants with limited English proficiency to pursue their claims, including translating forms and materials in Spanish and providing for translation services for both telephone inquiries and hearings.
It also compels the state to pursue stiffer penalties against businesses of up to three times the amount of lost wages when there is a finding of employer fault. Somos Un Pueblo Unido is another one of our local heroes, ceaselessly working for social, racial and economic justice. Kudos to Somos!

City Council Makes All Decisions to Govern RCV

I have been more than a little critical of the Mayor, the City Attorney and the Council for many, many weeks in relation to RCV. I would still assert that had the Council voted in July to form a Task Force of staff, RCV experts, and a Council member to deal with all the issues covered last night, then we would have been ready earlier and would be advancing with more certainty.  But last night the City Attorney, Asst. City Attorney, Director of Elections, the City Clerk, the Mayor and the Council worked through a myriad of voter scenarios with a clear focus upon making the voter experience as positive and well-informed as possible. Before diving into the rules to govern the RCV process, the Council heard from Matt Ross, City Information Officer, who had worked with Dominion, the Clerk, the City Attorney and others to develop a very impressive community education campaign using both social media and extensive community engagement and education strategies. The RCV website: Vote Different Santa Fe, is already up and running. Click here to view it. It would be interesting for our readers to review the site and comment in this blog. [PG 10:45am: I tested this at 9am and it worked. I checked with Matt Ross and he got back to me within minutes. The site was up briefly as a test, but Matt is making some minor tweaks based on last night’s decisions. The site will likely be up later this afternoon. Spoiler alert: It is very cool.]

But the rest of the night wasn’t easy.

The largest challenge was that Dominion, the RCV software developer, despite promising the City to appear at the hearing, was a no show, throwing a significant wrench into Council deliberations. As Council struggled to determine the best ballot format, pouring over several possible models, the Director of Elections weighed in that she was unsure that any but the one offered by Dominion could be incorporated into the software. Without Dominion present, there was no way to verify whether the Council’s first choice ballot design would work with the software. Councilor Maestes offered up a solution, with a quip that went largely unnoticed: “We’ll use ranked choice voting” and he suggested they offer up their first choice and then the Dominion design as a ranked second choicel, giving Dominion 48 hours to meet with staff and hammer out what is possible.

The rest of the night was spent determining what a “majority” means and actually this was the critical decision because it would determine if the RCV would guarantee a majority winner. The Council with considerable and fair-minded guidance from the Assistant City Attorney, got it 100% right. Early into the debate, it was not at all certain that they would, as questions from some Councilors made it seem that they had not really understood. But in the end they got it right. A big win for RCV.  Assuming that the Supreme Court doesn’t overturn the District Court order, Santa Fe will have a Mayor elected by a majority of the voters.

The rest of the night was spent considering a myriad of possible voter errors voters might make in completing the vote. Clearly, the Council put the voter front and center and developed rules that cause the RCV software to identify errors in what may wind up being many deliberate choices by voters. For example, if a voter only ranks two mayoral candidates, the RCV will identify this as an error, not a choice. While the Council’s intent here was clearly to ensure that voters, experiencing RCV for the first time, have every opportunity to cast votes correctly, this may wind up identifying an awful lot of voters as submitting flawed ballots and having to revote, when really they had simply decided not to rank all candidates. But the intent was admirable and the Council and Clerk even considered ways to prevent a jam up in lines if voters are being identified with error messages.

Last night the Council was considering the most minute details of how a voter might vote, under time pressure, with a full house of RCV supporters. It was not the best environment to make decisions. But the Mayor, the Council and its staff worked very methodically and cohesively and, to my view, did their jobs well.  Fingers crossed the Supreme Court doesn’t reverse the District Court, as I am not sure anyone has considered what would occur if the court ruled that RCV was unconstitutional sometime in the middle of February.  The City Different.

Overall, a very fun report to write up. Lots of local and even a national win on the day that Trump finally got his way with Tax (De)Form, celebrated by the GOP now, but perhaps the albatross that costs them the Senate and House in 2018.

Happy holidays,

Paul & Roxanne

3 thoughts on “Huge $150M+ Win Against PNM; Somos Wins Wage Suit; City Council sets RCV Rules

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