Current SOS insisted on exit audit resulting in indictments against predecessor

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By Carol A. Clark

Following her election to secretary of state in November, former Bernalillo County Clerk Mary Herrera requested audits of the office she was leaving as well as the office she would assume Jan. 1

“I insisted,” Herrera said during a presentation to Los Alamos Democrats gathered at Mesa Public Library Thursday evening. “I want to make it clear that I was a big supporter of Rebecca Vigil-Giron … I used to campaign for her … I wanted her to leave office as a hero.”

Instead, federal auditors discovered some $6 million in misused public education funds and a grand jury just handed down a 50-count indictment against Vigil-Giron and three others that includes charges of fraud, embezzlement, money-laundering and receiving kickbacks.

Vigil-Giron has not spoken to her former fan since the audit.

“I don’t think she wants to call me,” Herrera said. “I worked with the auditor and I had to prepare the first budget because we were in deficit for the first six months  –  I couldn’t even order my business cards. I was really sad (when the indictments came down), I was bummed out all day long.”

“It’s just good professional business practice to have an audit performed when entering and leaving an office,” Herrera said. “I went to the legislature and fought to change the language so New Mexico taxpayers would not have to pay for the missing $6.3 million. I was successful and taxpayers won’t have to pay.”   

When Herrera took office she discovered staffers unable to do their jobs.

“I got in there and there was an accountant that didn’t (know how to) do accounting,” she said. “So hiring qualified people and providing effective training is so important.”

Herrera provided presiding precinct judges in-depth training prior to the 2008 general election following a chance meeting with then presidential candidate Barack Obama.

“In June after the primary both Barack Obama and John McCain attended the meeting of the National Association of Latino Elected Officials in Washington, D.C,” she said. “I was vice president of NALEO and seated next to Obama. He said, “So you’re a big cheese – Well big cheese, tell me, how are the elections going to go in New Mexico?” I told him they were going to go fine and I said, ‘Now you need to get on the phone to my governor and tell him I need money so I can provide training.’”

Herrera told Democrats Thursday that Obama did call Gov. Bill Richardson. Richardson called her, provided enough funding for her office to train the presiding judges in all 33 New Mexico counties and the election November election ran smoothly.

Herrera is in the middle of the third year of her first four-year term. The office has a two-term limit.

“I’m running again and I’m already raising money,” she said. “I love the job, I love elections and I love meeting people all over the state. It’s been really awesome.”

Herrera has served in public offices for more than 35 years.

As New Mexico Secretary of State, she is the second highest-ranking Hispanic elected official in the country, second only to Richardson.

She also is one of only two state-wide elected Hispanic women and is the highest ranking state elected Hispanic woman in the United States.

Herrera is second in line after the lieutenant governor to succeed the office of governor.

Secretary Herrera worked her way up the ranks of Bernalillo County Government from a Clerk Typist in 1974 to Assistant Comptroller in 1989. From 1996 to December 2000, she served the county as Director of Human Resources. She retired and was elected in November 2000 as Bernalillo County Clerk and was re-elected in November 2004. Herrera administered and was responsible for elections in New Mexico’s largest county; Bernalillo County has more than 370,000 registered voters.

After graduating from West Mesa High School in 1974,

Herrera holds bachelors and masters degrees in business administration from the College of Santa Fe. She also received a Certificate of Program Administration for Senior Executives from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

Contact Carol A. Clark at lanews@lamonitor.com or 505-662-4185 ext. 25. Read her newsblog at www.newsextras.wordpress.com.