By Steve Hansen
QCS managing editor
A couple that owns land next to the proposed Saddleback subdivision in Quay County east of Tucumcari has alleged violations of the state’s Inspection of Public Records Act in a complaint filed in 10th District Court.
Christina Fleming and Drake Swenson, who own a farm next to the proposed subdivision site, say in their suit, filed on July 12, that the county has failed to disclose any of the numerous public documents requested in a letter sent through their attorney Pete Domenici of Albuquerque on March 8. In addition, the suit alleges that county government officials failed either to notify Domenici, Fleming or Swenson that they had received the request within three days, as the law requires, or to provide any other communications about the request.
The county “provided neither a denial letter nor advised plaintiffs that their request was excessively burdensome within fifteen days of receipt of the plaintiff’s public records request,” the suit alleges, which is a violation of law.
The suit asks that the court require the county to pay the plaintiffs $100 per day in damages, starting from March 25, 15 days after the letter was sent, as required in the public records act, for failing to comply with the law. As of Friday, that amount would about $12,000.
Warren Frost, the county’s attorney, called the suit “frivolous.” The county, he said followed established procedure and did not violate the public records act.
He said that on the same day the request was received, the county sent a bill for $17 to cover the cost of copying the documents. The bill was never paid, he said.
Fleming said Wednesday she, Swenson nor their attorneys ever received a bill.
The plaintiffs’ public records request of March 8 seeks documents of numerous kinds “in connection with any and all Quay County Board of Commissioners and Quay County Manager’s initial reviews, denials and final approval of the Saddleback subivision…”
At the time of the letter, the county commission had already unanimously approved the subdivision once. Reed Easterwood, an attorney in the Domenici law firm, said he drafted the letter and faxed it to the county clerk’s office to the attention of the custodian of public records.
Fleming and Swenson challenged the commission’s initial approval of the subdivision, which occurred in January, and eventually filed suit against the commission, alleging violation of county ordinances, potential conflict of interest and failure to hold public hearings in approving the Saddleback plan. At a meeting on May 13, the commission withdrew its approval. On the following day, the subdivision’s developers reapplied for the same subdivision.
On June 10, approval was again granted. Commissioner Brad Bryant abstained from voting, since he rents space in the Tucumcari General Insurance building, which is owned by Tucumcari area businessman C.J. Wiegel, one of the Saddleback developers. While abstaining was not necessary, he said, he wanted to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest in the matter.
The Saddleback subdivision plans to host four homesites on 23 acres owned by Paul Quintana, a local rancher. Wiegel, Quintana and Shirley Morper, Tucumcari, own WMQ Farms, the subdivision’s developer. Each lot will sell for $30,000, according to application documents.