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Los Alamos County to launch outside investigation into LANL Coalition

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By Tris DeRoma

Los Alamos County will hire outside counsel to investigate alleged ethics abuses of the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities, following a decision by County Council Monday.

County Councilors voted 6-0 in favor of the investigation, with Council James Chrobocinski absent from the meeting.
In February, Northern New Mexico Protects complained to the county and the coalition that the coalition did not follow its own travel policy when expending travel funds.

A county audit found that the coalition’s executive director, Andrea Romero was reimbursed for $1,850 on a dinner and $307 for alcohol and baseball tickets during a lobbying trip to Washington, D.C.

Councilors James Chrobocinski and Susan O’Leary requested councilors seek an outside investigation into the matter.

The scope of the investigation is expected to include the Washington, D.C. trip taken in 2017, and could also include interactions with Los Alamos County that reach back into 2011, when RCLC was founded.

The council requested Monday that the outside counsel return with an investigative plan and scope by April 3 for further discussion and action.

O’Leary’s and Chrobocinski’s main allegation is that county officials connected to the RCLC may have received illegal compensation in the form of gifts and reimbursements connected to trips and events they would attend on behalf of the RCLC.

“There have been allegations that have been made that officials of Los Alamos County and others were provided improper or excessive gifts paid for with RCLC funds including meals, alcoholic drinks and sporting event tickets,” O’Leary said. “The report also indicates that officers of the RCLC approved these improper expenses.”

O’Leary also expressed concern Monday that she had to hear about the allegations mainly through the media, and not from county officials.

“I was stunned when I read the newspaper last Sunday, and read this information and I attended the county council meeting last week and you (Council Chairman David Izraelevitz) didn’t mention it, Counselor (Chris) Chandler you did not mention it, the county manager (Harry Burgess) did not mention the fact that there was this level of severity with the expenses,” O’Leary said.

Los Alamos County is the regional coalition’s fiscal agent.

O’Leary noted in the complaint that the county contributed $60,000 to the coalition in 2017 as one of the members of the coalition and that they will be asked to contribute more money to the coalition in April.

Chandler, who is the regional coalition’s Los Alamos representative, said no one was trying to hide anything.

“Did it occur to you to pick up the phone and ask anyone of us, including Harry, or me, or Chair Izraelevitz what’s up? You don’t think that’s part of your responsibility?” Chandler asked.

O’Leary said to Chandler that after she read emails from Chandler, Deputy County Manager Steve Lynne and others about the issue, she “drew her own conclusions” on the lack of communication from her colleagues.

“I don’t need to justify my request for an investigation to you,” O’Leary said to Chandler.

Chandler and Izraelevitz noted that the request seemed too vague, in that it didn’t name names.

Chandler,  Monday evening read from a prepared statement Monday evening explaining her role in the RCLC situation, chronicling her time on the coalition since she was appointed in January 2017.

“To begin, I would like to make clear that in the 13 months that I have served on the Board, I have not been on any out of state trips with or for the coalition. As a consequence, I have not received any travel reimbursements from the coalition,” Chandler said. She also said that she was following the situation since 2017 and noted that Los Alamos County was working with the coalition to get its financial policies in order long before the stories in the media broke. 

“It is unfortunate that the complainants felt compelled to file a complaint within 48 hours of reading The New Mexican article without first attempting to understand the circumstances that gave rise to the story,” Chandler said. “Despite my disappointment, I recognize that the complainants are within their rights to file a complaint.  Of course they will eventually need to articulate what provisions of the Code of Conduct may have been violated and by whom.”