The hot political scandal in New Mexico these days is about an obscure organization called the Regional Coalition of Los Alamos National Laboratories Communities. The region is comprised of 3 counties, Los Alamos, Rio Arriba and Santa Fe, and half a dozen cities, towns and pueblos – all of them close to the Labs.
The Coalition is made up of local elected officials, and its big annual project seems to have been to bring a group of larger-scale local politicians to Washington for a couple of days of praising the Labs to federal-scale politicians.
Other than that, the Coalition holds public meetings around its region that observers have said are light on actually monitoring safety or waste disposal issues, but heavy on boosting local sub-contractors of the Lab.
For the politician members of the coalition it provided public occasions for happy talk about the region’s biggest and highest-dollar employer. Events few people cared about or could remember, but for which no one could be blamed.
Where the Santa Fe blame game is presently focused is on the efforts of the Coalition’s chief executive to make sure her group of lobbying locals enjoyed the Nation’s capital — at public expense.
One could speculate on exactly what part of the DC wining and dining that popped some whistleblower’s cork. Chances are it was the $1,850 meal for 16 at an Italian restaurant, that included $380 for alcohol. Or maybe it was the $28 shot of particularly fancy whiskey, or the more than $300 bucks for a night at a baseball game at Nationals Park for which half the guests didn’t show.
Whatever, evidence of allegedly improvident and maybe downright illegal spending by the Coalition’s chief Andrea Romero, started leaking out just as she was nearing Primary Day in her hotly-contested race for the Democratic nomination for a State House Seat. She won anyway, and, since there is no Republican candidate in her district, only a write-in opponent stands between her and election.
But since her primary victory, Romero’s campaign has been staggered by 2 separate audit reports, one by the Republican State Auditor and one by an Albuquerque law firm hired by Los Alamos County.
Both of them say chief executive Romero misspent more than $50,000 on travel and entertainment, and more than half of it was misspent on herself, or at least on reimbursements to her public relations company. Romero says she’s settled accounts with the Coalition, for less than $2000, but County officials are saying they want the whole 50 grand.
They have to, because, among the assertions of the auditors is the possibility that the Coalition’s spending habits may have broken their contract with the Federal Government, which could mean that half of their remaining budget for the next 3 years could disappear overnight.
Critics are now saying disappearance may be just what the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities needs.
Steve Terrell is the Capital Reporter and Columnist for The New Mexican, the daily newspaper of Santa Fe, NM. He also presents Terrell’s Sound World on KASF FM 101.1 in Santa Fe.