De Baca sheriff may face recall
Two De Baca County residents are seeking to recall Sheriff Gary Graves.
“Since Gary Graves took office, the community has been split wide open by the actions of this man,” wrote Dennis Cleaver in a press release issued by a group identifying itself as “De Baca County Concerned Citizens.”
“He has brought statewide embarrassment and failed to uphold any of the terms of his oath of office,” Cleaver wrote. “Law enforcement is at an all-time low in De Baca County.”
According to the New Mexico state constitution, elected county officials may be recalled before the end of their term by a special election.
However, those seeking to remove elected officials from office must first persuade the local district court judge that probable cause exists to show the official committed “malfeasance or misfeasance in office or violation of the oath of office.” The petitioners must then obtain signatures equal to one-third of the number of people voting in the last general election.
Cleaver said in a phone interview that means his group would have to collect about 279 signatures.
Graves was out of state conducting prisoner transfers and unavailable for comment, said Clovis attorney Randy Harris, who represents the New Mexico Sheriff’s Association and the New Mexico Sheriff’s and Chiefs of Police Association in a dispute between Graves and the De Baca County Commission.
“My research is that Sheriff Graves has done nothing other than anger the De Baca County Commission,” Harris said. “ I will be opposing any recall petition against Sheriff Graves because I believe the citizens of De Baca County deserve a sheriff who is not controlled by commissioners or anyone else (other) than the will of the people.”
Cleaver said an earlier informal petition garnered about 300 signatures calling for Graves’ resignation.
“We were trying to be nice, give him the opportunity to resign up front,” Cleaver said. “He’s not doing what we elected him for and the people are finally tired of it.”
Cleaver, a former sheriff’s deputy in Lincoln and Lea counties, said he once supported Graves but changed his mind after watching Graves’ performance in office.
Cleaver said Graves has also involved the county in numerous lawsuits, including one in which Graves demanded the right to lock his office to preserve what he termed confidential records.
“Right now there are four attorneys involved in (the lawsuits), and the taxpayers, no matter where you live in the state of New Mexico, you are paying for them,” Cleaver said.
Harris said Cleaver and fellow petition organizer Allen Sparks need to cite specific complaints about Graves that meet legal standards if they want to recall him.
“There is absolutely nothing Graves has done that would rise to the level of malfeasance, but my challenge to the commission is that every allegation the commission has made against Graves rises to the level of malfeasance,” Harris said. “Every sheriff of all 33 counties in New Mexico is at risk because of what is going on in De Baca County.”
De Baca County Commission Chairman Powhatan Carter and Commissioner Tommy Roybal could not be reached for comment. Commissioner Joe Steele said he hadn’t looked into the issue of a recall and didn’t know much about the proposed petition.
Curry County Sheriff Roger Hatcher, chairman of the New Mexico Sheriff’s Association, said sheriffs statewide are concerned about the De Baca County case. He contends the county commission wants to use its budget powers to control the activities of an elected official.
“This is just a bunch of politics,” Hatcher said. “I have never seen or heard of a commission so blatantly going after a specific elected official as this.
“We want to make sure the office of sheriff is not blackmailed by a commission which is exactly what’s happening,” Hatcher said. “If the courts give them the authority to manipulate another elected office through the budget there is no reason to have an elected sheriff, clerk, assessor or treasurer.”