COLUMBUS, N.M. (AP) – A tiny New Mexico village along the U.S.-Mexico border that was rocked by a gun-smuggling ring several years ago is seeing widespread anger in response to recent city firings and alleged budget issues.
Esequiel Salas, who was elected mayor of Columbus this month, faced a storm of criticism from residents last week after he fired Municipal Clerk Cindy Varnhagen and Public Works Director Bobby Gomez and did not say why, the Deming Headlight reports.
He also heard angry comments about allegations of budget irregularities and open meetings violations during a Columbus Village Council meeting marked by interruptions and heckling.
“Hail Caesar!” a man yelled in Salas’ face as he arrived at Wednesday’s meeting.
Some residents alleged a council meeting agenda that included handwritten corrections violated the state’s open meetings laws.
Regarding budget problems, Salas blamed the previous administration: “The trustees always got the budget in the red from the mayor and the public works director and … always at the last minute.”
Columbus is best known for a raid by Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa nearly a century ago.
In 2011, the village’s then mayor and police chief were among 11 people arrested in a federal sting of a gun ring that illegally sent firearms to Mexico. Federal authorities said the ring purchased firearms favored by Mexican cartels, including AK-47-type pistols, which resemble AK-47 rifles but have shorter barrels.
Former Mayor Eddie Espinoza was later convicted of arms smuggling, and former Police Chief Angelo Vega pleaded guilty to conspiracy, smuggling and public corruption charges.