Los Alamos County Councilor Susan O’Leary
In late February, we read about alleged financial improprieties involving the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities (RCLC) in the Santa Fe New Mexican. As sitting County Councilors, we were aware that Los Alamos County has provided close to $1 million to support this organization since its inception about 10 years ago.
Former County Councilor James Chrobocinski
Los Alamos County has served as the RCLC fiscal agent and our County Council has had a councilor sitting on the RCLC board for many years, with one appointee serving a term as Treasurer. In spite of these connections, no one had notified the full County Council or the public about possible RCLC improprieties or about what was being done to address them. We found out about the situation from the newspaper.
We agreed that we needed to get to the bottom of this issue in order to fulfill our fiduciary responsibilities. Even though we weren’t involved with the RCLC, we had a duty to make sure that Los Alamos County tax dollars were spent appropriately and legally. Our focus was specific to Los Alamos County actions and personnel rather than the RCLC focus that the State Auditor took in his audit. In early March, we filed an ethics complaint that asked for an investigation to evaluate possible financial improprieties by Los Alamos County elected and appointed officials; and to determine whether there had been actions in violation of the County’s Code of Ethics and/or County Council Rules. In response to our ethics complaint, the County Council voted to fund a Council-sponsored investigation and hired the Adams + Crow law firm to conduct an independent investigation.
Last week, the investigation report was provided to the County and it substantiates many of the concerns we had when we called for the review. It provides evidence of serious mismanagement of RCLC funds by the RCLC Board. The investigation alleges attempts by the RCLC Board to circumvent State Law by contracting for professional services rather than employing an executive director who would have been required to follow State Laws. It claims the RCLC Board adopted the more generous Los Alamos County travel policy when, as a public body governed by State Law, it should have followed the State Per Diem Act; and that the RCLC should have conducted annual audits in compliance with State Law. The report also indicates that the County inappropriately acted beyond its proper scope as fiduciary agent; Los Alamos County elected and appointed officials received items of value; and the investigation suggests that there were two cover-up attempts by some of the people who were involved shortly before evidence of misconduct became public last February.
The allegations about financial misconduct are very serious but, as the Adams + Crow law firm pointed out, they are not yet conclusive because this was not an investigation that allowed for the subpoenaing of witnesses to resolve outstanding questions. We would add that some of the people implicated in the report are people we hold in high regard. In all fairness to them, we must continue with further investigation that provides conclusive information to the County Council and the public, so we can take informed, appropriate next steps on the many issues raised.
And while the investigation provided evidence and made allegations of misconduct, particularly in regard to cover-up attempts; the investigation report did not address the specific question of who in the County government was aware of or directed the actions reported.
Although there have been some statements made, it is noteworthy that no elected official of Los Alamos County has yet acknowledged or admitted any culpability in this series of failures, and no one – elected or appointed – has acknowledged personally benefiting from the tens of thousands of dollars in improper public expenses that were paid, although clearly those benefits occurred.
It is our opinion that all of these questions must be thoroughly answered if the County Council is to respond appropriately and for public information. The people of Los Alamos County have a right to know the facts of this situation.
We ask the Attorney General to take on this case to complete the Los Alamos County investigation and provide the County with conclusive information on the allegations raised in the Adams + Crow investigation report.
In our view, the evidence presented to substantiate the findings of the County’s investigation and the State Auditor’s investigation show a blatant disregard by elected and appointed officials for their fiduciary responsibilities. This kind of mismanagement of taxpayer dollars and poor judgement by responsible officials reflects poorly on our County government. The solution to that problem is not to hide the facts, but to acknowledge errors, learn, and improve.