Small-Town Politics: a Big Court Headache

     ALBUQUERQUE (CN) – A small-town New Mexico mayor had two women in their seventies maliciously prosecuted when they questioned how she was using money for the senior center, the surviving woman claims in court.
     Floy Watson and the Estate of Doris Lark sued the Village of Tijeras, Mayor Gloria Chavez, the senior center manager and a deputy village clerk, on Jan. 27 in Bernalillo County Court. Tijeras, pop. 550, is east of Albuquerque.
     Watson and Lark were both members of the Tijeras Senior Center, where Lark taught scrapbooking and crafts.
     When Mayor Chavez announced that the Senior Center hours were to be reduced to part-time, Lark and Watson were among those who asked to be shown the budget that justified the reduction in hours. They also asked that Senior Center members “be granted some control over their own bank account,” which they used to get-well flowers to ill or hospitalized seniors. The seniors raised the money themselves, through yard sales and a coffee fund, Watson says in the complaint.
     She claims that Chavez “was very angry” at this request, refused them access to the money they had raised, and said that she was “the CEO.”
     Lark and Watson were quoted twice in the local newspaper expressing their concern about what was happening.
     When Lark took home some scrapbooks and supplies she had been storing at the Senior Center, she received a letter from the Village attorney demanding the return of the scrapbooks and claiming that they were property of the Senior Center, according to the lawsuit.
     Though Lark had provided all the supplies, and the center managers knew it, Mayor Chavez had larceny charges filed against Lark and Watson, who had helped carry the supplies to Lark’s car, according to the complaint. Chavez also banned them from the center – a ban they ignored.
     By this point, the scrapbook fracas was making “national headlines,” KRQE-TV, an Albuquerque CBS station reported.
     The court case was proceeding when Doris Lark died at 71.
     “Doris Lark’s family said the ordeal was just too much for her to handle,” KRQE reported.
     The larceny case was dismissed for lack of evidence, and the court allowed Watson to return to the Senior Center.
     But it wasn’t over yet. Watson claims that Chavez asked that a criminal trespass order against her remain in effect, and told a reporter that the issue would be resolved at a City Council meeting.
     But Watson says the lifting of the order was excluded from the City Council agenda until a month later, when the council voted to allow her to return to the Senior Center.
     Watson and Jim Lark, Doris Lark’s widower, seek damages for civil rights violations, retaliation and malicious prosecution.
     They are represented by Terri Keller with the Mark A. Keller Law Office, of Albuquerque.
     Tijeras means scissors in Spanish.

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