Before Cynthia Herald left the Bernalillo County courthouse last November she told reporters that she was relieved to finally gain closure on an ordeal with the University of New Mexico that lasted more than half a decade. Herald sued the university’s medical school, claiming she was wrongfully dismissed from a residency program and settled before closing arguments. The terms of the settlement were, by state law, temporarily shielded from public scrutiny. That meant the public couldn’t see the total amount UNM agreed to pay, including how much money was to come from the medical school’s anesthesiology department and how much from the state’s Risk Management Division. Seven months later, the University still won’t release that information and cites the same law.
Next month marks the beginning of Gov. Susana Martinez’s last year in office. This year, though, was peppered with lawsuits against either Martinez’s office or state departments under her appointees. At least two of the three major suits will spill over to 2018, bookending Martinez’s tenure as governor. See all of our year-end stories
A lawsuit against the New Mexico Public Education Department for allegedly underfunding the state’s schools received significant media attention in 2017. The case goes back several years and consolidated three similar cases.
The Office of the State Auditor released a report Wednesday showing a significant gap in pay between men and women in New Mexico. According to the report, women who are employed in managerial or policy making roles in New Mexico are paid on average 26 percent less than men in the same positions in the state. The smallest gap, according to the report, is in the service industry where women are still paid about 10 percent less than men. Besides pay gaps, the report also shows the “category for manual workers of relatively high skill level” is made up of only three percent women. In addition to showing the disparity between pay for men and women in the workforce, the auditor’s report also noted that the state’s General Services Department (GSD) has a “low compliance rate” with keeping and tracking reports submitted by state vendors.
A lawsuit filed Thursday afternoon in Santa Fe District Court aims to uncover how much New Mexico taxpayers shelled out for a private attorney to represent Gov. Susana Martinez’s office in a number of court cases. Journalist Jeff Proctor* filed the lawsuit against the state’s General Services Department (GSD) for not releasing attorney Paul Kennedy’s invoices for his public work, claiming the department failed to comply with the state’s Inspection of Public Records Act (IPRA). The suit calls for the state to release specific invoices and bills that show how much the state has paid Kennedy to represent Martinez as contract counsel in several cases. In addition to retaining Kennedy, Martinez also has access to four state employed legal staff, whose combined salaries total $341,850. The lawsuit states by not releasing Kennedy’s billing records GSD not only violated the open records law, “but also offend the spirit and intent of the law governing matters of public concern.”
That spirit of the law, said Proctor’s lawyer Frank Davis, “is to make sure we have an informed electorate.”
“We need to know where dollars are being spent,” Davis said.
One of the biggest winners in the just concluded 60-day session of the New Mexico Legislature was a man who never set foot in the Roundhouse and, in fact, never came close to crossing the state border. His name is Donald J. Trump, the president of the United States. Republican Trump lost New Mexico in November by 8 percentage points, and Democrats control both the state Senate and House of Representatives. Even so, several pieces of legislation aimed at Trump failed to get traction in the Legislature. Senate Bill 118, sponsored by Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, would have required presidential candidates to disclose five years of personal income taxes to get on the general election ballot in New Mexico.
In an extraordinary maneuver, state senators killed a bill Saturday that they had approved four days earlier after one of them said he had misled his colleagues about connections between Republican Gov. Susana Martinez and real estate developers who stood to benefit from the legislation. Democrats charged that the bill, which would have extended a building lease for state offices in Albuquerque, had turned into an example of pay-to-play politics, while members of Martinez’s administration maintained they had made an honest mistake based on incomplete information. For her part, Martinez said through a spokesman that neither she nor her staff ever discussed with campaign donors the leases addressed in the measure. At issue was an unusual and late-breaking piece of legislation, Senate Bill 430, that met with skepticism at just about every step of its journey through the Capitol until its sudden death Saturday. Sponsored by Sen. Steve Neville, R-Aztec, the bill would have carved out an exception to state rules on renting property.
State Auditor Tim Keller released a financial health report card of sorts for New Mexico state and local government. The attempt is to provide a financial health report card of sorts for New Mexico state and local government. Keller said in a statement that the new, annual Findings Report is meant to make the complex subject of financial audits of public agencies “more transparent to the public, legislators and oversight bodies.”
Public entities are required to conduct and release annual audits. And while the bulk of public agencies are handling their money well, Keller said a few “are not up to par and need to address weaknesses in their financial controls immediately.”
These include five state agencies that made material misstatements—or financial reports that don’t follow adequate auditing protocol—or “undetected” misstatements. Among those five agencies is the New Mexico Secretary of State, where embattled Dianna Duran is facing criminal charges for allegedly abusing her campaign money for personal purposes.