Albuquerque Mayor-Elect Tim Keller announced new leadership positions for his administration this week, including an interim police chief. Keller announced on Monday that Sarita Nair will be the city’s Chief Administrative Officer. Nair is one of multiple members of his staff in the State Auditor’s office that will hold key positions in his administration. Nair will be the first woman to serve in the position in Albuquerque’s history. She worked in the State Auditor’s office as Chief Government Accountability Officer and General Counsel under Keller.
State Auditor Tim Keller recently designated the City of Jal for a special audit on the city’s water billing issues. The move comes two months after Keller’s office opened a case into an arrangement where the city in the southeastern New Mexico oil patch gave a local ranch a discount on utility water worth $1.2 million over a 25-month period between 2012 and 2014. NM Political Report, in partnership with the Jal Record, first reported on the city’s water deal with the Beckham Ranch in September. Related: State Auditor to investigate Jal water deal
In a Dec. 2 letter to Jal Mayor Cheryl Chance*, Keller writes the special audit will look at Jal’s “compliance with applicable laws, regulations, policies and and procedures with respect to water utility billing practices.”
Jal City Manager Bob Gallagher told NM Political Report that he is “extremely pleased” with the state auditor’s decision for the special audit and said he has been cooperating with Keller’s office on the matter for the past two months.
The State Auditor’s office is looking at an arrangement where the city of Jal provided a local ranch with a large discount on water, after a report earlier this week. The news comes after NM Political Report and The Jal Record reported on the credits that Beckham Ranch, Inc. received from the city of Jal. “The State Auditor’s Office has opened a case to conduct fact-finding into concerns that have been raised,” Deputy Chief of Staff Justine Freeman said in a statement. The city has been unable to produce a written record of the deal and city councilors don’t remember voting on the deal. Some don’t remember discussing the deal, while others, including the mayor, say the deal was discussed but no official decision was made.
The governor’s office contends a taxpayer-funded account used to host dignitaries and throw parties isn’t subject to open records laws to the same extent other public funds are. Sometimes the subject of controversy, the account catapulted into public view last winter when one of the parties its money was used for ended with police responding to noise complaints from a possibly intoxicated Martinez. Each year, the state Legislature grants $70,000 in taxpayer money to the governor for a contingency fund, which per state law she can use for “purposes connected with obligations of the office.”
The fund is unusual in that, unlike most state government accounts filled with public money, the state Legislature exempts it from required annual audits. But after NM Political Report filed an Inspection of Public Records Act request with the governor’s office this spring for six years worth of expense documents associated with the contingency fund, the office only provided broad summaries of the expenses. Missing were documentation like the checks, purchase orders, reimbursements and purchase requests associated with the fund that we asked for.
When the State Taxation and Revenue Department was in the process of auditing Bernalillo-based Harold’s Grading & Trucking, Secretary Demesia Padilla wanted to write an affidavit supporting tax deductions the company made in the past. This is according to an email recently released to New Mexico Political Report by the department as part of a public records request. Padilla is under investigation by the New Mexico Attorney General’s office for allegedly using her position to attempt to provide special treatment to a taxpayer for whom she previously did accounting work. State Auditor Tim Keller, whose office conducted a preliminary investigation into the matter, wouldn’t publicly identity the name of the taxpayer in question. However, a botched redaction from the tax department this summer revealed that it was Harold’s Trucking.
Once again, New Mexico’s financials are too poor to merit a comment from an independent auditor. For the second year in a row, the state received a “disclaimer of opinion” on its most recent Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR), which is supposed to give the most accurate picture of New Mexico’s financial condition. That’s because the state can’t account for at least $100 million of its own money, though the State Auditor’s Office says that the estimate of unaccounted-for money may be “substantially higher.”
New Mexico is overestimating money held in its savings account, or reserves. Reserves are different than the money used for the state’s annual budgets and act as a backup fund during bad economic times. For nearly a decade, New Mexico hasn’t been able to properly perform this act of balancing its own checkbook.
A leaked email from the state Taxation and Revenue Department last week was perhaps more transparent than the department intended. Update: The Taxation and Revenue Department responded. Here is the response. This story continues as originally written below. State Taxation and Revenue Secretary Demesia Padilla is currently under investigation by the state Attorney General’s Office for allegedly providing or attempting special tax treatment to a former client for whom she served as a certified public accountant.
Top officials in the state Taxation and Revenue Department may have improperly given preferential treatment to a New Mexico taxpayer, according to State Auditor Tim Keller’s Office. Update: A letter from Keller to Gov. Susana Martinez names Tax and Revenue Department Secretary Demesia Padilla as part of the investigation. Our report is here. The post continues as originally written below. The allegations came from a fraud hotline call to Keller’s office in February, along with an audio recording of senior Taxation Department officials.
The Republican Party of New Mexico says that the office of the State Auditor is not complying with the state’s Inspection of Public Records Act. In a press release sent to media on Wednesday afternoon, the party says it received no response from an IPRA request sent to State Auditor Tim Keller’s office on May 4. Because of this, the party sent a complaint to Attorney General Hector Balderas. Update: The office of the State Auditor has responded to the request in a document dated May 20. The response calls the request “excessively burdensome” and that the office “will need additional time to respond to your requests but we will do so as soon as is reasonably practicable.”