The New Mexico Educational Retirement Board is conducting an investigation into whether retired public school employees have been drawing both a salary and a pension at the same time, or “double-dipping.” According to the rules of the ERB's return-to-work program, a retiree is required to wait a year before returning to half- or full-time employment at a school to avoid double-dipping situations. Some public school employees, however, might have returned to their old jobs immediately after retirement as employees of Cooperative Educational Services—a group created by the school districts in 1979 to streamline supply purchases from vendors—which provides specialist staff members for schools. The ERB's investigation will be looking at whether employees actually retired, or continued working in the same positions as CES employees to circumvent the ERB's return-to-work requirements. The cooperative says it has followed all of the guidelines laid out by the ERB, and that they even asked ahead of time if employees could be reassigned to their original schools. Officials in the ERB say they never gave permission for employees to return to the exact positions they held before retiring. Depending on how the investigation goes, hundreds of CES employees could potentially have to repay some of the benefits they’ve received, although Jan Goodwin, executive director of the ERB, says she estimates the number to be around 15 or 20 employees.
Decades-Old Water Rights Case Closes
One of the longest running federal cases in US history—filed by the state engineer in 1966—was finally closed in Santa Fe last week. The lawsuit, known as the “Aamodt Case”—named after the first defendant listed in the complaint, R. Lee Aamodt—was filed 51 years ago to settle claims for the water rights between four pueblos, non-Native farmers and well-owners in the Nambé-Pojoaque-Tesuque stream basin. Last Friday, US District Judge William P. Johnson adjudicated water rights among four Native pueblos and non-Native residents in northern Santa Fe County. A settlement was reached and approved by Congress in 2010 which calls for the creation of a regional water system in the area, which will use water diverted from the Rio Grande, and sets out regulations for well owners who wish to tie into the system or continue using their wells. Part of the settlement provides $82 million in immediate funding from the federal government, which was signed into law by President Barack Obama. Congress also authorized $92.5 million in future funding. The state is responsible for nearly $72 million in funding, and Santa Fe County is expected to pay $11.7 million. The Bureau of Reclamation will be in charge of designing the water system. The federal government has set a 2024 deadline for completion of the water system. If the system has not been completed by then, the judge's decree and the 2010 settlement will be voided. The parties involved in the case can still appeal to the US 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver.