A New Mexico commission that promotes the philosophies of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. vacated two staff positions on Tuesday and attempted to address recent controversies regarding an open investigation with the state’s Attorney General’s office.
The New Mexico Martin Luther King, Jr. State Commission, in a public meeting voted to vacate the paid staff positions of Executive Director and Program Director, held by Kimberly Greene and Rosalind Jones, respectively.
Greene, who was not present at the meeting, is currently under investigation by the Attorney General’s Office. The commission itself and a contractor is also under investigation. Search warrants provided by the AG’s office cite computers, records and email accounts as just some of the things they are looking into. At issue is a budget deficiency within the commission and possible forged documents by Greene.
During a meeting for the state Board of Finance last December, Greene implied that she was coerced by House Minority Whip Sheryl Williams Stapleton, D-Albuquerque, to enter into a no-bid contract with eRead, an outside contractor for ACT/SAT program.
In an interview with NM Political Report last month, Williams Stapleton denied ever having a conversation with Greene regarding a contract. In fact, Williams Stapleton said, when Greene approached her for funding, she was already accompanied by representatives of eRead.
“I was never involved, never spoke to anybody about a no-bid contract,” Williams Stapleton said.
Still, the Albuquerque legislator said she was concerned about the investigation into the commission and said “it has a track record of being a good program.”
Jones, who declined to speak with NM Political Report following the meeting, told the commissioners during the public comment portion of the meeting that she took pride in mentoring children through a variety of programs facilitated by the commission.
“The children are my heart,” Jones said, fighting back tears.
She went on to say she was never concerned with money and would do the job for free. Karen Montoya, who serves on the commission and also as chairwoman on the Public Regulation Commission, would not say why Greene and Jones were removed from their positions. Many commissioners alluded to the fact that there was no money for Jones’ position.
The commission made the employment decision behind closed doors in an executive session and only heard public comment after the decision was finalized. Many members of the public were confused and upset at the loss of two positions.
Members of the panel, meanwhile, looked forward and said that the next step is to hire an interim director and work towards permanently filling the two positions.
Commissioner Landjur Abukusumo, who publicly stated that he voted against terminating Greene and Jones, expressed his disagreement by saying, “We have shot ourselves in both feet.”
According to State Auditor Tim Keller on Monday, his office was in the process of auditing the commission when the AG’s office confiscated computers and files. Keller sent a letter to the commission on Tuesday recommending that the Department of Finance and Administration take over financial activities “until the smoke clears.”
In a statement, Keller’s office said the commission was considered “at risk” both this and last year for failure to submit required audits. The MLK Commission voted for DFA to take over the commission’s fiscal duties.
Khadijah Bottom, a self proclaimed close friend of Greene, said Greene submitted her resignation ahead of the executive session. Montoya confirmed that Greene submitted a resignation, but said the board still vacated her position. Bottom, like many others in attendance criticized the commission of mismanagement.
Bottom asked the commission “Why is it that when the Martin Luther King Commission has a problem, the solution is to gut it?”
Montoya, along with a few other commissioners asked members of the public for patience while the panel learns from possible mistakes.
“We need to move forward,” Montoya said.
The commission elected a new chair and vice chair, but voted to hold off on electing a secretary and treasurer for the first time.
Program Manager Cheryl Yazzie, who kept her position, summed up much of the audience sentiment by saying, “It breaks my heart that we’ve come to this.”