Coaching kerfuffle threatens sports in Las Vegas schools

Coaching positions at several Las Vegas, N.M., schools are in jeopardy – including the one for West Las Vegas High’s girls soccer team that starts play next week – after the city manager said a group of ranking Las Vegas police officers didn’t follow proper procedures for outside employment when they took coaching jobs.

The issue arose Monday at a Las Vegas City Council meeting when City Manager Richard Trujillo nixed the idea of Deputy Chief Ken Jenkins, Commander Eric Padilla, Commander Chris Lopez and Lt. Pam Sandoval coaching.

“There’s a process,” said Trujillo. “You have to apply for outside employment. That’s part of the process. It has to go through the chief and then my office. I review the submission of that application. There can be no conflicts with their primary job or any other employment. That process was not followed, so we’re having to address that internally.”

But Police Chief Juan Montaño said he has been operating under a city law granting department heads the authority to approve off-duty jobs.

The jobs and their small stipends are secondary to the more important task of providing a strong authority figure for the students, he said.

“It’s not a factor about the money,” Montaño said. “It’s about mentoring and nurturing the kids. They need a strong representative, somebody who’s going to be there for them in their hardships.”

While city officials say the dispute boils down to policy, Montaño said it’s become more of a personal issue dating back to last year when Mayor Tonita Gurule-Giron’s daughter was arrested on suspicion of DWI.

“Ever since then, our relationship has been dwindling away,” he said.

The mayor said the coaching issue is not related to her daughter.

The DWI “had nothing to do with Juan Montaño, none of it ever did,” she said. “It’s absolutely untrue and unfounded, and a disgrace for Juan Montaño to make a statement like that. This is based on policy.

“The chief has to go through the city manager for approval. What has happened historically during his reign is he had made all decisions for personnel without seeking any help from human resources or anything, but there is a policy that supersedes SOP (standard operating procedure), an ordinance. The law states that he must also to go to the city manager for approval.”

The kerfuffle has come as a complete – and unwelcome – shock to Las Vegas residents, said City Councilor Barbara Perea-Casey, who found out about the situation shortly before Monday’s council meeting.

“My phone won’t stop ringing,” she said of the reaction on Tuesday. “I’ve been on the phone all day. Everybody is up in arms. I have a friend on the school board and she’s very distressed. They’re great role models for the kids. They mentor the kids, they know them, encourage them to stay out of trouble and really work with them. They buy equipment out of their own pockets, buy meals.”

City Manager Trujillo said, “Every other department did submit employees’ names to my office.”

West Las Vegas schools Superintendent Chris Gutierrez called the coaching cops “good role models for the kids.”

Gutierrez and Chief Montaño say Padilla – the West girls soccer coach – and the other officers who are coaches will continue in their dual community roles.

“We’d be put into a predicament of maybe opening up a position when we didn’t have to,” Gutierrez said. “I’ll go down the road when I get there. Right now, my coaches are coaching. It’s not my position to let them go. It’s their primary employer who they’re having to deal with, not me.”

Trujillo said he will review the applications for the officers’ outside employment that he recently received and then make a decision on them next week.

“It depends on what department they’re working in, what priorities they are responsible for and how well the department is being run at that point, and making sure their primary job is taken care of and to make sure that there is coverage while away from job,” he said.

The officers were all encouraged by Chief Montaño to take the positions, the chief said, particularly since they are primarily administrative personnel and not active patrol officers.

As for the other officers involved in the controversy, Jenkins coaches girls basketball at Memorial Middle School in the East Las Vegas Schools District, Sandoval coaches Dons softball and Lopez runs junior wrestling for West Las Vegas schools covering elementary age to 14-year-olds.

In addition, Montaño is the Dons wrestling coach and his status was not in jeopardy, Trujillo said, because he had an arrangement with a prior administration.

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