Socorro Mayor Ravi Bhasker was doing his rounds around the city on Monday morning when he noticed something unusual.
Outside of Days Inn on California Street, there was a white tent, orange cones and a security guard.
Bhasker asked the security guard what was going on, and the security guard told him he could not disclose that information.
Roughly five minutes later, Bhasker received an email from Richard Mancini of Pacific Architects and Engineers (PAE) asking if Bhasker was able to meet.
“He told me that the Navajo Nation had budgeted money to house people at Days Inn from the Nation that are COVID-19 positive,” Bhasker said in the City Council meeting on Monday. “I said, ‘that is a pretty important situation. You should have talked to us earlier about how you want to roll this plan out.’”
PAE is a company that works with the U.S. government and its allies. According to an article by GlobalNewswire, PAE was hired by the Navajo Nation to help with its COVID-19 response, and the contract is valued at $50 million.
El Defensor Chieftain did not hear back from PAE prior to deadline.
“They have a huge contract for this, PAE,” Bhasker said during the meeting. “They aren’t doing it out of the goodness of their hearts; there’s a contract. They are from out of town. To me, they could care less about our city. They could care less about Alamo.”
Days Inn is being used to house COVID-19 positive patients and others who are in quarantine from Alamo.
There are about 50 rooms at Days Inn with food and nursing, according to Bhasker, and security is staying at the Red Roof Inn. Both motels are owned by the same person, who lives in Albuquerque.
Bhasker said Mancini was “very apologetic” when they met. The mayor said PAE will normally do something and then ask for forgiveness afterwards. According to Bhasker, the Mancini had been contacting people last week about setting up at Days Inn.
Bhasker heard about it through the “rumor mill” but was unable to get anyone to confirm the information until Monday.
“I said, ‘I can’t allow you to do this,’” Bhasker said. “‘I have to hear more about your program. The Nation always says they are a sovereign nation; we are a sovereign city and for you to come into our city, no matter how good of a purpose this might be, you should go over this with us and our community members and chief of police, the fire chief, the city councilors should know. Showing up in the dead of night and me seeing it the next day is a peculiar situation.’”
On Monday, Bhasker spoke to the Tribal Liaison in Santa Fe, who told him they did not know anything about the situation. He also received a call from the governor’s office wondering what was happening.
“People are construing this as some sort of negative thing with Alamo,” the mayor said. “It’s not a negative thing with Alamo; it’s a positive thing with Socorro to try and get an explanation on what they are doing and how they are going to try and do it.”
During the council meeting, Bhakser said his concern is keeping the citizens of Socorro safe.
“I can’t personally and physician-wise, can’t allow that to go on without a really knowledgeable idea of what their plan is and what their plan is in the future, the next six months,” he said.
Earlier in the day, the mayor had the street department and the police department barricade off the entrance to Days Inn.
Anyone who enters will be cited for going across a barricade, he said.
Bhasker said he can barricade the entrance, but cannot do anything on the property itself because it’s private property, belonging to Days Inn. He also told the police department that Days Inn is their priority for the time being.
Bhasker is concerned that family members are coming from Alamo to check on the quarantined patients because they are worried, which could lead to more exposure in the city.
“People involved in that at Alamo are probably taking it as, ‘hey, what is the mayor doing,’” Bhasker said. “Alamo is a member of our community and I understand that. They are friends, family; they are my patients.”
Bhasker said eight people have passed away over the weekend due to COVID-19 in Alamo, and half of them were his patients.
“I told them, ‘if I had taken an initiative to put something on the reservation at Alamo or somewhere else that benefited the city of Socorro, I don’t think they would find that very good.’ They consider that sovereign territory also,” Bhasker said. “If the reverse was happening, I’m sure they would be up in arms, especially if I didn’t tell them in advance and just showed up. That is my stand right now.”
Bhasker, who also posted about the situation on his Facebook page, said he has received some negative comments from the people of Alamo.
“I hate to be a control freak, but I can’t understand how I can sit still and have people who are positive coming into our community without any kind of back and forth as to how that’s going to be treated,” Bhasker said. “I can’t handle that. It made me very upset.”