Misspent public funds, reimbursements for $38-a-shot whiskey, tickets to a major league baseball game, a woeful lack of proper financial controls.
These are only some of the scandal-ridden headlines of a story that broke a year ago ahead of the Democratic Primary Election for the District 46 state house seat in northern Santa Fe County.
This election resulted in the defeat of an incumbent and a special audit of the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities (RCLC), an advocacy organization that represents local communities on issues related to Los Alamos National Laboratory and how it impacts the region.
The special audit, conducted by the Office of the State Auditor, resulted in 18 audit findings. These findings include reimbursement of prohibited expenses and lack of proper oversight of public monies.
The RCLC’s governing board responded by hiring a new leadership team to help clean up the mess.
A year later, the RCLC, under the new management of Chicanos por la Causa New Mexico (CPLC-NM), a branch of one of the largest Hispanic philanthropic organizations in the country, is hard at work, making good on the promise of the new administrator to “make the public whole again.”
The RCLC was formed in 2011 as a community advocacy organization, similar to the Hanford Communities group in Washington state. Both organizations give voice to the local communities impacted by the Department of Energy (DOE) sites they host. The group is made up of local elected officials from the nine local governments who joined the organization. They joined as an effort to be educated on DOE issues that impact their communities, as well as to work with the federal delegation on such issues as funding for legacy waste clean-up efforts and economic development.
Since taking over management of the RCLC in August 2018, the new management team has been assessing the situation and putting measures into place to ensure accountability, frugal spending and prioritization of the need of local communities.
The RCLC’s new executive director, Eric Vasquez, says the RCLC’s executive committee has met personally with New Mexico’s State Auditor, Brian Colon, and he is encouraged by the progress the organization has made thus far, quickly becoming both accountable and compliant.
Vasquez indicates that the auditor’s office will continue to closely track the organization’s work to restore the public’s trust.
In a comprehensive review of the 2018 special audit presented to the board last week (Thursday), Vasquez stated that the RCLC concurs with all of the Office of State Auditor (OSA) recommendations on its findings. The review also states that the organization is currently in full compliance with 15 of the findings and in partial compliance with 3 others. Vasquez expects to be in full compliance on all 18 findings by the end of this summer.
Vasquez says that in addition to adopting the recommendations of the OSA, the RCLC also has added further layers of control, creating a second layer of financial review as well as a contract role for an independent third-party accounting service. This service will review all disbursements to verify that any allocated funds are from appropriate accounts and authorized sources.
Finally, the RCLC is in the process of contracting for legal counsel to provide legal guidance to the board in its decision-making process.
In order to increase oversight on all expenditures and reimbursements, the RCLC has adopted a policy that requires the treasurer and fiscal agent to sign off on reimbursements, an area of weakness in the state auditor’s findings. The new policy also mandates that all expenditures be reviewed for compliance with RCLC policy, local government procurement policy and state regulations and statutes.
Vasquez commends the RCLC board for facing the challenges head-on and voting to approve changes to the operating procedures above and beyond what the state auditor recommended. With the board’s actions, and under the guidance of the new leadership team, the RCLC has been busy over the past year, he said. They have created and adopted policies with the goal of ensuring that public monies are properly spent and accounted for, so that the organization can return its full attention to important advocacy work on behalf of the local communities it serves.