Serving the High Plains

Mesalands president issues apology for false bonfire story

A Tucumcari Public Schools board member said his investigation of records indicates a story last month from Mesalands Community College’s president about an ember from the high school’s Homecoming bonfire causing a fire on a campus building several years ago was false.

The college’s spokesman, contacted by the Quay County Sun about the board member’s findings, admitted a “miscommunication” about an unrelated event that caused a fire at one of the college’s buildings, and the president issued a written apology.

During a presentation at the school board’s August meeting where Mesalands President Gregg Busch requested the district deed over bonfire land to the college so it can construct student housing, he said he was reluctant to provide an alternative bonfire site due to liability concerns. Busch said a few years ago, an ember from the bonfire landed on the roof of the college’s Building A and started a fire.

McKinney and other board members said later during that meeting they did not recall such a fire.

At the school board’s Sept. 21 meeting, board member Jerry Joe Lopez said interim Tucumcari Fire Chief Casey Mackey and emergency dispatchers checked seven years of records. Lopez said they found no record of a bonfire ember causing a fire at Mesalands.

Lopez said Busch “didn’t have his facts” during that part of his August presentation. Lopez said he thought the story was dubious because the bonfire is “properly monitored” by the fire department.

Josh McVey, Mesalands’ vice president of public relations, issued an email the day after the meeting after being contacted by the Quay County Sun.

“Upon further review of Dr. Busch’s sources there was a miscommunication between two separate events,” McVey wrote. “The roof of building A did catch fire and sustained water damage; however, it was due to the dumping of embers by a garbage truck. It was not connected to the annual THS Homecoming Bonfire.

“Dr. Busch misunderstood the information given, due to the context of the conversation. Dr. Busch accepts responsibility for the misunderstanding and apologizes for this oversight.”

Busch also stated in the email: “I misunderstood the account. I apologize for any misrepresentation or confusion I may have caused. It was not my intent to give an inaccurate account. It was a misunderstanding on my part, and I sincerely apologize to the Tucumcari Board of Education. Mesalands Community College values its relationship with Tucumcari Schools and welcomes any opportunities to work together.”

Lopez, informed about the college’s email, said he accepted Busch’s apology and looked forward to working with Mesalands in the future.

Busch also apologized to the college’s board of trustees during its Sept. 21 meeting.

“I made a mistake, and I apologize if it embarrassed anyone over this,” he said, adding it was not his intent “to give an inaccurate account.”

Busch told the school board in August said he also wanted to extend the deadline to develop the land into student housing from 10 years to 15 years because finding funding for such a project often is a slow process.

The school board during the meeting seemed receptive to deeding over the land to Mesalands but decided against doing so until the college was ready to proceed with the project. Busch said during the board of trustees meeting he soon would meet with a proposed contractor for the residence-hall project, saying it was “shovel-ready.”

In other business:

• McKinney and assistant superintendent Dave Johnson said they are proceeding carefully in spending more than $5 million in federal coronavirus relief funds the district has received or is scheduled to receive.

McKinney said “we’ve got so much money coming at us,” it’s difficult to spend it all, especially when considering its guidelines. He said the district has to “be creative and do the right thing” with the funds.

Johnson acknowledged the funds come with “a lot of strings attached,” and the federal government favors evidence-based educational programs, such as tutoring.

“It’s like every other government program, except it’s on steroids,” he said.

• McKinney said the city and school district are closing on a deed agreement within six weeks regarding three plots of for the $3 million baseball and softball field redevelopment project. In the meantime, he said he would confer with city manager Mark Martinez on when the city should remove its equipment from the fields or when the district could begin work on the project.

• The board approved an addendum to the student handbooks. McKinney said most of the additions were related to the COVID-19 pandemic, along with a couple of corrections from the previous edition.

• The board approved its annual report of district assets for insurance-coverage purposes.

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