(Editor's note: this is a corrected version of the print edition.)
Whenever a group of politicians gets together to create some entity with a joint powers agreement, expect the waste of everything from time to money. That’s taxpayer money they waste.
So it is with the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities. That’s a fancy name for a group composed of politicians from city of Española, Los Alamos County, Rio Arriba County, Santa Fe County, city of Santa Fe, Taos County, town of Taos and the pueblos of Ohkay Owingeh and Jemez.
All these public entities threw a bunch of our money into a hat and hired Andrea Romero Consulting LLC to be the group’s executive director. Following many public questions about the group’s expenditures, and a Los Alamos County audit, Romero found herself without a contract following Monday’s meeting.
Her two-year contract, which began March 1, 2016, is for $140,000 annually. Not a bad gig in these parts, and times. The actual 2017 budget shows she’s received $151,628 for “services.” The adopted 2018 budget has her at $152,000.
Looking at the deliverable portion of her contract, Romero is doing the job fine. That’s because the group doesn’t really demand too much for our $151,000.
There are 20 items listed under services in Romero’s contract. They range from bureaucrateze, such as effective advocacy to develop message. There are bullet points for secretarial work surrounding the group’s all important monthly meetings. Aside from prepare for and conduct monthly meetings, her big job is making lots of slides, using Los Alamos National Laboratory information, census data and jobs data, all which members could easily Google.
The big revenue stream for the group is Department of Energy money. Los Alamos National Laboratory falls under the Department's purview. Lab officials love coming down the hill throwing money at useless organizations in the name of growth and diversity. The Department funds $100,000 of the group’s $197,000 budget. The city of Española only chips in $3,500. Los Alamos County contributes $60,000, the other large donors ($10,000) are Rio Arriba County, Santa Fe County and city of Santa Fe.
This group knows how to party, on our dime. They travel and eat and drink and watch baseball. Mayor Javier Gonzales got stuck flying first class because of poor planning. The group of lobbyists for the Coalition stayed at the Hilton Mark in Alexandria. To hear people from the Coalition describe it, that was a very effective trip.
One member said we didn’t have a voice in Washington before, now we do. He’s got a point there. We have a representative who cares more about what the National Democratic Party wants than Rio Arribans, but we keep re-electing him.
But paying someone for this charade of meeting, eating, drinking, flying and really not doing anything of substance is simply wrong. It’s a great idea for the people of the inner circle. It’s a terrible use of taxpayer funds.
This $197,000 could have been used for the betterment of all communities involved by putting it toward many common problems we all share. Start with drug abuse and move to poor education.
The Lab will be under new management in October. We hope the key donor to this good ole boys club (with ladies included) will take a hard look at what they’re getting for our $100,000.
Española Mayor Alice Lucero will be done wasting our money next week. Lucero went so far as to defend Romero, stating this scrutiny was because Romero is running for Santa Fe County commission. She did not address the huge misuse of funds.
Our new mayor should take a look at that line item in this year’s budget. Just what sort of federal attention are we getting while people on the Coalition Board are drinking $70 wine and attending baseball games, against its own policies?
And while Rio Arriba County Director of Economic Development Chris Madrid has yet to create a job here, he shouldn’t be wasting even more money on this group either.
We must stop tolerating our elected officials creating these money pits with our tax dollars. Let your favorite elected county or city official know you’d like your money spent more responsibly.