Thursday, December 31, 2009

New state contract database to shed some light on spending

The new state contracts database unveiled Wednesday by Lt. Gov. Diane Denish will give the public some information on where taxpayer money is heading.

But it won't tell the whole story. It leaves out a major chunk of state spending -- i.e. the $5.5 billion state general fund budget. Several other states put their entire checkbook online, and many here hope that happens someday. Already, a measure to do that passed the Senate but died in the House.

But in a year that some would say has seen less and less transparency in state government, the new database is a step in the right direction. And, if nothing else, it saves anyone who is interested the hassle of requesting documents about the contracts, and waiting for days for the hard-copy information. In this day and age, that kind of information should be available online.

Happy New Year.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Appointment at Workforce Solutions riles some

The story I wrote this morning about a Gov. Bill Richardson chief of staff being appointed to the Department of Workforce Solutions has my voicemail and inbox filling up fast with irate readers.

The story involves Teresa Casados, who now works in the Governor's Office, moving to the DWFS and replacing Teresa Gomez, who is moving to another position in the same department.

Casados will earn $46.32 in her new post, I learned yesterday. I found out today Gomez makes $40.95.

I have an e-mail into the Governor's Office asking why the switch was made and whether this is an exemption to the state's ongoing hiring freeze.

Here's what the Governor's Office had to say.

"Teresa Casados is a strong manager whose leadership skills will be an asset to the Department of Workforce Solutions. Her salary will be similar to the salary she made as Deputy Chief of Staff at the Governor's Office. The position is exempt and fills a critical need, as do all deputy secretary positions."

Thursday, December 17, 2009

John Sanchez to make campaign announcement today

Sanchez, the 2002 GOP gubernatorial candidate, plans to make an announcement about a "statewide office" today at 2 p.m.

It's no secret he's been thinking about running again recently. The only question really is whether it's for governor or lieutenant governor. Many insiders say it is the state's number two spot. But we'll wait until 2 o clock to be sure.

UPDATE: Sanchez is running for lieutenant governor. He said in a statement that many had encouraged him to run for governor, but that he wanted to avoid a divisive GOP primary race.

“I believe that my business and political experience will strengthen the Republican ticket in 2010, and that I will bring energy and enthusiasm to the election process, and that once elected, that I will be effective in a vital role, of new leadership for New  Mexico,” he said.

Sanchez joins Albuquerque Sen. Kent Cravens, Santa Fe radiologist J.R. Damron, former state Rep. Brian Moore and Albuquerque nurse Bea Sheridan in the June primary.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Gov's office won't release list of fired exempt employees

I just got back the records request I made on the exempt employees who were let go and will be out of work Jan. 8.

To be clear, my request asked for "any or all correspondence, including but not limited to e-mails and traditional mail, written memos or other communication, to or from anyone in your office related to the 59 people who were notified this week they are being laid off."

All I got back were a bunch of e-mails I and other reporters sent on the topic. Oh, and the press releases sent to us media on the lay offs. Nothing else that gives any clue as to who was laid off. No letters to people who were fired. No letters to the department heads of people who were to be fired. Nothing outlining who would be chosen to get the boot or how.

Does anyone else find it hard to believe that e-mails from reporters on this subject are the only documents out there on this topic?

I have an e-mail into the Governor's Office asking for an explanation and will let you know when I get one.

Update, 5:47 pm. 

Richardson spokesman Gilbert Gallegos said the office turned over all documents and records in this case.

He said it's "not necessary, nor is it appropriate or dignified to identify individuals who are losing their jobs" but gave no legal reason for withholding the information.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Gov: ban cell phone talking and driving without a headset

Gov. Bill Richardson said today he wants to ban talking on hand-held phones while driving in the state.

He plans to support legislation in 2010 that would prohibit driving without a headset, like several cities in the state have already done.


“Driver distraction is a major cause of accidents, and the use of cell phones while driving is increasingly a problem,” Richardson said in statement.  

“We’ve all seen drivers swerving around the road while talking on the phone and texting, putting the safety and lives of New Mexicans in danger.”


Thom Turbett, president of SafeTeen New Mexico, said in a statement that people who use cell phones and drive are four times more likely to get into accidents. “Technology has created a situation that is causing much greater risk to everyone who drives,” he said. 


The proposed legislation would make it a misdemeanor with a fine of up to $200. 

Going into his last session, the move seems like a pretty sure win for Richardson. While not everyone likes it, bans are generally popular across the country.

Just who all was laid off in state government, anyway?

I keep getting that question from readers. Wish I could answer. The Governor's Office has refused to name any of the 59 exempt employees who will be looking for work come Jan. 8.

There's no doubt the information is public, being that the salaries are paid with public money. Channel 4 reports here that they also are working to get the list of employees.

The Governor's Office is in the process of responding to my request as well. I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Vigil-Giron to be out of a job is reporting here that former Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil-Giron is among the 59 exempt employees who will be out of work come Jan. 8 under a plan by Gov. Bill Richardson to trim state spending.

Her name is the second to be known publicly of those who got pink slips, even though the rest are paid with public funds. The governor's office has refused to release the names of others.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Denish opposed to raising food tax

As more and more people talk about the possibility of raising the state's tax on food, Lt. Gov. Diane Denish said today she's against the thought.

“Like many other states, New Mexico is facing tough times and we have to make some tough decisions in order to close our state’s budget shortfall," she said in a statement. 

"A lot of ideas have been put on the table, but one thing I will not support is an across-the-board tax on all food. When families are pinching and scraping to get by, taxing the basics like milk and bread is just not right," she said.

"We need a solution to the state's budget problem, but it should not come at the cost of making tough times even tougher for regular New Mexico families.  We must start the upcoming legislative session by identifying ways to make government smaller and more efficient, such as overhauling the capital outlay process and ending the practice of double-dipping.”

Others have said raising the tax on junk food is a wiser plan; it's unclear if Denish supports that idea.

Gov. Bill Richardson, meanwhile -- who first proposed cutting the state's food tax -- remains mum on what he'll support in the upcoming session.

"The governor has not and will not comment on any of the potential tax  increases, other than what he said previously about his deep reservations about any changes to the personal-income and capital gains tax cuts as well as tax credits that have created thousands of jobs for 

New Mexicans in areas such as film and renewable energy," a spokesman said.

Monday, December 7, 2009

New employee furlough plan changes one day

In the wake of  input and criticism from state employee union members, the Gov. Bill Richardson administration has decided to change one of the dates for planned furloughs.

Under the new plan offered by Gov. Bill Richardson, employees wouldn’t be off Dec. 31, but rather March 5, spreading out the pain of unpaid time off.

The plan still would include other furlough dates before or after holidays late this year and early next year.

The original plan called for employees to stay home Dec. 24, Dec. 31, Jan. 15, April 2 and May 28, all around holidays.

Under the new plan, employees would stay home and government offices would be closed on Dec. 24, Jan. 15, March 5, April 2 and May 28.

More details here.

Manny's odd, odd castle

I'm no architect critic here, so I won't even try to sum up all the oddities about Manny Aragon's South Valley castle shown below in the video by the folks at the New Mexico Watchdog. (I don't have that much time, anyway.)

In short, though, I had always wondered whether the urban legend about the replica of the state seal in one of the rooms was true. At 8 minutes into the video, I saw it was. (The video is pretty long, but worth that wait, on that point alone.) To me, the giant seal -- like the one that used to hang above Manny in the state Senate -- is the oddest part of the whole castle thing...although there are some other strange things about the building, including the nicho in the shower and the way so many different architectural styles are used on the same house. It's also unclear if anyone actually lives or lived in the building, as it looks like it is still under construction in places. . . 

(Manny of course doesn't live there anymore.)

To be honest, I'm not totally sure what the point of the video is, with the random quotes from Manny's career sprinkled about, but I bet it's the first time anyone has published video of the often-rumored casa, so that's a coup, Albuquerque style, I suppose.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Richardson creates special committee to reduce spending

In the wake of news that the state's budget crunch is only getting worse, Gov. Bill Richardson today appointed eight people to look at how government can further cut spending. Meaning, more cuts are coming.

The group, called the Committee on Government Efficiency "will thoroughly review all areas of state government and analyze potential savings through streamlining, consolidating and eliminating certain areas," according to the Governor's Office.


 “Over the past year, I’ve taken necessary action to responsibly cut state spending and balance the budget,” Richardson said in a statement. “I’ve established this committee to help identity additional areas for savings and increased efficiency by conducting a top to bottom review of state government.”


The group will make recommendations to lawmakers for the 2010 session and former Gov. Garry Carruthers will serve as chairman.

I haven't put in a request yet for how much it will cost the committee to operate, but maybe I will. . .

First gubernatorial forum coming up

It's never too early, I suppose, for debates and forums. So the Rio Grande Foundation is hosting one next Wednesday night at the Albuquerque Museum. All candidates for the 2010 governor's race have been invited, but its unclear who all will attend.

The group says the event, an informal question and answer period, is a chance to "kick the tires" and get to know the candidates.

Admission is $5. RSVP to

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

59 exempt employees let go

Gov. Bill Richardson's office says nearly 60 people have been notified they will be out of a job come Jan. 8.

The move saves $8.3 million and is part of the state's effort to trim the budget. It comes as most other employees will be furloughed for five days.

“While the governor has worked hard to cut spending with minimum impact to state employees, the reality is that we have to trim the number of exempt employees,” Richardson spokesman Gilbert Gallegos said in a statement. “We value and appreciate the public service these employees provided to the state of New Mexico.”

No word yet on who was laid off or what positions are affected, besides the Securities Division director I mentioned in today's story.

Exempts exiting?

Gov. Bill Richardson said last month he would eliminate at least 84 exempt positions in state government, (many of which are said to be vacant) but said has nothing since then on who would be let go, how or when.

It looks like that process has started. A Richardson spokesman wouldn't say anything about it Tuesday, but expect more news on that front soon.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Politico: Denish is the "anti-Bill Richardson"

The online political news site Politico says today that Lt. Gov. Diane Denish is working to set her own agenda ahead of the 2010 gubernatorial race, one that will show off a different style fro Gov. Bill Richardson. The article dubs her the "anti-Bill Richardson."
That doesn't mean she's anti-Richardson, exactly, but the story talks about her move to separate herself from the governor, while at the same time trying to appeal to Democrats she needs to get elected next year.

There is one similarity, of course: Denish is in Washington D.C. talking to the media there, something somebody else used to do a lot of.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Allen Weh's campaign bus destroyed in fire

Arson hasn't been ruled out in the over-the-weekend burning of the bus used by GOP gubernatorial candidate Allen Weh, his campaign said.

The bus was destroyed after a fire broke Friday night out at its storage facility in Belen. Other vehicles also were destroyed.

According to the campaign: 

"The bus, known as Freedom1, will be missed by the campaign and many others because of its special connection to the firefighters who died in 9/11. The bus was built to lead “Ride to Remember-2002,” a motorcycle rally that involved more than 450 firefighters and rode to Ground Zero, the Pentagon and the crash site in Pennsylvania."

The red, white and blue bus had a photo of Weh and said "Veterans for Weh" on the side.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Free public records seminar next week

It's one of the best tools around for finding out a little more about what's happening in state government: the state's Inspection of Public Records Act.

But do you how it works and what all you are entitled to under the law? Are you familiar with the exemptions?

If not, check out a free seminar on the IPRA Dec. 1, thanks to the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government and the New Mexico Independent. You can attend in person at the KNME-TV studios if you're quick, or watch online. The event is from 5:30 to 7:30.

Register by emailing

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Tough times for everyone, including casinos

Buffalo Thunder Resort and Casino won't be able to make a big bond payment in December, Pojoaque Gov. George Rivera said.

Rivera points out that the state's casinos still pump money into the local economy through the state's revenue sharing agreements. Come to think of it, that might be the only (fairly) steady source of cash for the state at the moment, what with fluctuating oil and gas prices and rocky tax revenues, although it has decreased some overall from last year.

Friday, November 20, 2009

King funeral to be broadcast on TV and the 'Net

If you can't make it to Moriarty High School Saturday at 10 a.m. for the funeral of former Gov. Bruce King, you can still catch the event. Channel 7 will stream the event on its website and Channel 4 will broadcast it live on its 4.2 channel.

The crowd will be large, no doubt, but the speeches might be short. Just former president Bill Clinton and Lutheran Pastor Rev. Russell C. Lee are scheduled to speak.

Lyons vs. Richardson

I'm pretty sure Pat Lyons and Bill Richardson aren't running against each other for anything next year, but maybe I missed something.

Based on their comments this week, it seems perhaps I did.

The spat between the Republican land commissioner and the Democratic governor started earlier this week when Lyons blasted Richardson for implementing five days of furloughs for state employees, calling it "cruel."

In short, Lyons said he'd been fiscally conservative so his shop wouldn't have to force employees into unpaid vacations. Richardson apparently didn't like that, and suggested Lyons was out to score political points. Richardson said Lyons had "yet to take an active role in helping the state shore up its budget shortfalls."

Lyons responded late Thursday, saying his office "generates an average of $500 million a year for public schools, universities, hospitals, correctional facilities, and the other state supported programs that rely on the Land Office to meet their budgets."

He went on to say “I’m not the one who hired 400 friends and paid them excessive salaries, or spent exorbitant amounts of money on my pet projects, or paid corporations and movie producers to do business with the state, or spent every penny of last year’s $400 million revenue windfall, which by the way is pretty close to what we need to bridge the budget gap. I’m not the problem, I’m the solution.”

The state budget shortfall is an important issue, but it just seems an odd one for these two to be crosswise over. Is Lyons running for something else? How 'bout Richardson?

Update, 3:18 p.m.
Yep, Lyons is running for something: PRC. (Knew I was missing or forgetting something.) That could explain some of this...But is Richardson running for the regulatory panel as well?

In any case, the matchup continues. The governor's office this afternoon released a statement critical of a proposed land swap in the Whites Peak area.

"I’m extremely concerned about proposed land swaps between the State Land Office and private land owners in the Whites Peak area," Richardson said. "I am told the swaps would result in a net loss of almost 4,000 acres to the state, much of it pristine mountain, alpine meadow, lake and riparian territory.  These are some of the finest public hunting and sporting grounds in the state." 

"I’m particularly concerned about the process by which this swap apparently has been arranged – namely, a behind-the-scenes deal with virtually no public input or notification, sealed bids, and inadequate opportunity for examination. This should not be acceptable for any major transaction involving public trust lands, much less lands that for centuries have been used for traditional purposes such as hunting, trapping and recreation."

  Expect a rebuttal from Lyons next. . . 

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Department of Workforce Solutions secretary returns to work

Betty Sparrow Doris resigned effective at the end of August as the head of the Department of Workforce Solutions. 

But she's working again for the department on contract.

If you thought there was a hiring freeze in state government, you are correct. But it doesn't apply to contract workers.

PRC releases some info from survey

...but not a whole lot. Some of the employees' comments were blacked out completely, like this one.

Read this story for some of the information that was released. Many comments focused on the agency's hiring practices. Several of those who responded said the PRC has a tradition of hiring unqualified people — "political flunkies," according to one employee — because of political influence or family ties.

While releasing some  of the survey information is better than none, it's not what we asked for, and many are saying, it's not legal for the PRC to withhold. The stories aren't over on this one. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Kent Cravens to pursue "statewide office"

Usually, the press releases from a would-be candidate state exactly the office the person is seeking.

Not so with a release from Sen. Kent Cravens, R-Albuquerque. He's set to announce his "statewide elected office" on Wednesday.

Word on the street is he's running for lieutenant governor, but stay tuned.

PRC ethics survey yields interesting results

Even Public Regulation Commission officials admitted that the information they likely would get from a survey of agency employees about ethics might not be the most flattering.

Whether they expected the results to show that 85 percent of those polled had seen unethical behavior at the agency in the past year, or that about half had been asked to do something unethical by a supervisor is unknown. What is known is that training is coming to the beleaguered agency.

The survey is just the tip of the iceberg, though, in terms of information that some say could fix up the PRC. The agency today plans to release some of the comments that employees wrote on their surveys. Still, the agency plans to black out some information, making many wonder what there is to hide.

Here's a look at the survey's raw data, as provided by the PRC.

1.  What does the word "ethics" mean to you?
see surveys
2.  Do you think you could spot potential problems with ethics in the Agency?
yes 106 no 6
3.  Have you observed any ethical issues/violations at the Agency within the last year?
yes 100 no 17
4.  Does management provide adequate information/training on ethical issues?
yes 14 no 106
5.  Do you feel that as an employee of the PRC your are aware and understand what "ethical" rules
    the staff and the Commissioners need to follow?
yes 78 no 35
6.  Have you ever received any training from management at the PRC regarding what is ethical and
     what is not in your position?
yes 24 no 92
7.  Have your ever been asked to do anything you felt was unethical by someone who has
      supervisory or managerial power over your position at the PRC?
yes 51 no 50
8.  Do you think that there is a different ethical standard for Commissioners,
      exempt employees and classified employees?
yes 97 no 24
1.  How do you think the PRC is perceived by the public?  Rate on a scale of 1-5
1 2 3 4 5
3 3 13 33 70
Ethical Unethical
2.  How do you think the PRC is perceived by the regulated entity?  Rate on a scale of 1-5
1 2 3 4 5
1 10 37 31 39
Ethical Unethical
3.  How do you think the PRC is perceived by the employees?  Rate on a scale of 1-5
1 2 3 4 5
3 4 22 30 62
Ethical Unethical
4.  Please rank the following issues in order of which of the issues raises the greatest concern to you as related topics at the PRC.
#1 would be of the most concern to you and needs the most improvement,  #2 second most etc.
      1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0
Political Partisanship   45 18 18 5 6 5 5 5 2 5
Personal use of state time 22 10 12 22 16 8 6 2   8
Influence by regulated industries 21 9 8 13 10 12 13 10 1 8
Hiring and promotional practices 73 23 13 6 1 1 1     3
Use of computers and state equip 11 7 4 3 15 13 18 17 2 9
Unequal treatment of employees 49 24 14 10 3   1     5
Expense reporting   18 5 3 5 16 13 16 16 2 10
Time reporting   17 7 8 8 10 19 7 16   7
Other   ***                    
*** 22 see comments
1.  Would you feel comfortable reporting unethical behavior by an employee if you were told
      it would be kept confidential?
yes 38 no 81
2.  Do you feel that you could confidentially discuss concerns with someone in this Agency?
yes 31 no 84
SITUATION QUESTIONS - These are hypothetical
1.  Your supervisor asks you to look the other way when he/she allows another employee to
      take off early every day and not report it on their timesheets.
ethical 1 unethical 125 I don't know 4
2.  Your boss takes you out to lunch.
ethical 61 unethical 19 I don't know 25
3.  A regulated entity tells you that they will buy you dinner if you fast track their paperwork.
ethical 0 unethical 117 I don't know 2
4.  An employee of a regulated entity asks you out on a date.
ethical 19 unethical 54 I don't know 30
5.  Your friend asks you to get their paperwork due to the PRC processed more quickly that the regular guy.
ethical 11 unethical 95 I don't know 7
6.  A regulated entity takes you out to dinner and you pay for yours.
ethical 77 unethical 22 I don't know 15
7.  Working against the PRC agenda at the Legislature on work time.
ethical 5 unethical 91 I don't know 10
8.  Helping a regulated entity to get copies of the documents they need that have been filed in a case file.
ethical 43 unethical 45 I don't know 18
9.  A member of a regulated entity asks you to pass on confidential case information.
ethical 2 unethical 105 I don't know 9
10.  An employee does not report time they have taken off on their time sheet.
ethical 1 unethical 113 I don't know 16
11. An employee is consistently taking more than one hour for lunch and not reporting it.
ethical 2 unethical 98 I don't know 16
12.  A Commissioner asks you to do a special favor for a regulated entity.
ethical 5 unethical 85 I don't know 23
13.  A fellow employee is working for a regulated entity as a second job.
ethical 6 unethical 73 I don't know 22
14.  An employee of a regulated entity gives you a kitten.
ethical 32 unethical 31 I don't know 52
15.  An employee of the PRC gives an employee of a regulated entity a car.
ethical 15 unethical 78 I don't know 23
16.  An employee is passing on false information about a fellow employee in order to keep
       them from getting a promotion.
ethical 1 unethical 100 I don't know 2
17.  Volunteering to work on a Commissioner’s campaign.
ethical 38 unethical 35 I don't know 36
18.  Employees are taking walks together and visiting during their lunch hours.
ethical 99 unethical 2 I don't know 7