State District Judge Maria Sanchez-Gagne on Thursday ordered the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office to remove embattled Edgewood Mayor John Bassett from his office next week.
Earlier this month, Sanchez-Gagne ruled that Bassett violated state and local ordinances prohibiting nepotism and fraud by appointing his first cousin to a town planning board and advocating to extend a wastewater project to property owned by his mother.
Edgewood residents this summer voted to change the town’s form of government from one in which a mayor and council govern the community to one in which a commission of elected officials supervises a town manager.
Jerry Powers, one of three Edgewood residents who filed a Fraud Against Taxpayers complaint accusing Bassett of wrongdoing, has said Bassett refuses to leave his office despite the judgments.
Bassett said Friday the accusations against him are false and he hasn’t been afforded the due process he is allowed under law before he can be removed from office.
Bassett said he did advocate for the extension of the sewer line, which he said was part of the reason he ran for mayor in the first place. But he said it was for the benefit of the entire town, not just his family and that he had not voted on it.
The mayor said he had refused to recuse himself from the vote based on language in the Governmental Conduct Act he said authorizes officials to vote on projects that may benefit them personally if they believe the project would do more to benefit the greater good than themselves personally.
He said he didn’t vote on the project because it didn’t result in a tie either time the council voted on the issue.
Bassett denied that he had failed to disclose that the property would extend improvements to land he stands to inherit.
He said he did put forth his cousin’s name to serve on the planning commission in 2016 and again in 2018, but she had already been appointed by his predecessor before he took office. He said he wasn’t aware of the “draconian” nepotism ordinance, and the Town Council voted her onto the planning board.
He said she served well and the issue didn’t become a problem until other disagreements arose on the council and in the community over whether the town should purchase a water company.
Sanchez-Gagne entered her orders against Bassett after he failed to respond to a complaint against him, according to court records.
Bassett said after being served the original complaint, it was amended in a way that required a new type of service, one that he never received.
The town’s attorney, Marcus Rael, attempted to have the judgments set aside on that basis at a hearing in the case. But Sanchez-Gagne declined to hear the argument after ruling Rael didn’t have standing to represent Bassett because he also represents the town, and the Town Council had not voted on how to proceed in the case.
Bassett said the Secretary of State’s Office and state attorney general have said the vote to change the town’s form of government doesn’t require him to leave office until after new government officials are elected in November 2021.
Asked whether he intends to leave his office before Wednesday — the day the judge has directed the sheriff’s office to remove him — Bassett said he recently hired an attorney to represent him and is still weighing his options.
“It’s my understanding if you want someone out of office, that’s not how it’s done,” he said Friday. “But that’s what they’ve set out to do and I guess the judge has [agreed] to it. So I’ve got to deal with it then.”