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What’s going on with the state Department of Regulation and Licensing? Investigative reporters for the Albuquerque Journal have been all over the department and its secretary, J. Dee Dennis Jr.
It’s not surprising. From the beginning, he was one of the governor’s most dubious appointees — a businessman and campaign contributor who ponied up $16,000. The governor promised that business people would have “a friend and an ally” in Dennis, a self-made man who founded and grew DKD Electric Co. in Albuquerque and was later CEO of a solar start-up company.
State regulation could be less heavy handed, certainly, but the department with Dennis at the wheel has overcorrected, and it’s not good for anybody. Even more troubling is that he has reportedly abused his authority.
Red flags have been there from the beginning.
One of the first things Dennis did was to fire Bill Verant, the state’s respected chief banking regulator for 16 years.
Dennis also led the charge to toss out the previous administration’s energy-efficiency requirements in building codes, which the industry considered overly stringent. But in its haste the department lost adaptations made for New Mexico, which produced new objections from the building industry. Last month, the state Appeals Court tossed out the new code and told the department to rethink the changes.
In 2011, the department reassigned a state electrical inspector who reported code violations at a hotel remodeling project in Silver City. A deputy director at the Construction Industries Division objected to the inspector’s removal. Other inspectors had also been pulled off projects.
In April, the Journal reported that 474 requests for electrical inspections were sitting in a bogus computer file, where they were discovered by a Raton-based electrical inspector. One top CID official created the file to hold requests for inspections of electrical systems of oil and gas well projects, water wells and manufactured home hookups.
Apparently the CID didn’t have enough inspectors to do the work, so instead the division tried to reduce the number of inspections required and simply parked requests it considered less in the file.
Which brings us to the heart of the problem. Southeastern New Mexico is booming, and the CID didn’t want to get in the way. That’s understandable, but the solution is not to sweep them under an electronic rug. Do we really need any reminders of the Texas fertilizer plant explosion? Do we need to learn again that the public relies on the state for protection?
Running through this issue, like a faulty wire, is the myth of small government. Right now state agencies have a lot of vacant positions, which means that certain tasks aren’t getting done or they’re getting done slowly. Unfortunately, the allegations don’t stop there.
Former regulators have come forward to say they were sacked for trying to do their jobs or resigned in frustration. The former chief electrical inspector said Dennis wanted field inspectors to make an appearance but not do anything to ruffle political feathers. The former prosecutor for the Securities Division said the department had selectively prosecuted business competitors of Dennis and his friends. The former human resources director said in a lawsuit that she was fired for questioning how Dennis wanted to discipline, demote, or fire employees. And the former prosecutor for the Alcohol and Gaming Division said Dennis and other top officials pick and choose which cases move forward and which don’t.
The governor can cut her losses by removing Dennis now, or she can wait until disasters in the making cost lives and tax dollars. He’s clearly not up to the job.