December 27, 2019

2019 Top Stories #3: Audit of state settlements

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Joe Gratz

Flickr/cc

One of the big stories this year was the revelation of some high dollar settlements between former state employees and former Gov. Susana Martinez. The settlements made headlines partly because of how much taxpayers were on the hook for, but also because the terms of those settlements were supposed to be kept secret a lot longer than what the law requires. 

Just months after Martinez left office, KRQE-TV revealed that an employment discrimination lawsuit against Martinez and former State Police Chief Pete Kassetas was quietly settled in the final weeks of the governor’s adminsitration, with a three-year confidentiality period. 

Veteran readers of NM Political Report may recall the numerous stories we wrote last year about secret settlements. But the three year period the Martinez administration agreed to was well beyond the 180 days allowed by law. The settlement amounts and the longer than usual confidentiality period spurred Martinez’s own party to call her administration out as well

The settlements also spurred New Mexico State Auditor Brian Colón to look into the specifics, which he ultimately deemed an abuse of power. The state’s General Services Secretary Ken Ortiz also got involved as that department oversees settlements with state agencies. As soon as the 180-day period was up in each settlement, Ortiz’s office released specifics to the public. Ortiz also announced that he planned to work with legislators to revamp the confidentiality period.

See all of this year’s top stories here.