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LANL Coalition in disaray after audit

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Executive director term expires today; group seeks legal advice on how to move forward

BY TRIS DEROMA AND JILL MCLAUGHLIN
Los Alamos Monitor

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As of today, the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities may be operating without an executive director.

The contract with Executive Director Andrea Romero officially expired today, leaving the regional group without someone at the helm.

Meanwhile, the coalition remains entangled in an organizational mess and seeking legal advice following an internal audit completed earlier this month that uncovered questionable expenditures made by Romero.

The internal audit was published by Los Alamos County Feb. 21 was prompted by a complaint by a state group seeking information on travel expenditures.

During a review of the audit Monday, the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities was told it never had the authority to hire Executive Director Andrea Romero, and her supporting staff through Romero’s consulting company, Andrea Romero Consulting. 

The audit of the travel expenditures was prompted by a complaint from Northern New Mexico Protects, which requested the organization’s internal emails and receipts for examination. The audit found Romero spent $1,850 on a dinner in Washington, D.C., $307 for a dozen Major League Baseball ticke

ts and other gatherings where alcohol was purchased.

The Regional Coalition of LANL Communities represents nine northern New Mexico cities, counties and pueblos affected by Los Alamos National Laboratory.

At a coalition meeting Monday morning, the travel expenditure issue was sidelined by Santa Fe County Manager Katherine Miller, who said the coalition may have not had any authority at all to make a travel policy, since the audit also discovered that coalition may not even had the authority to hire Romero.

“There is nothing in the joint powers agreement that expressly gives authority to the coalition to enter into contracts, make policies, like financial policies, travel policies, budgets, etcetera,” Miller said. “Our concern is this board does not have the authority to actually enter contracts, hire staff or create policies like the travel policy.”

Romero’s contract expires today.

Romero said Tuesday she did not know what she planned to do next.

“As I understand it, (the coalition) will have to go out to bid for a renewal as the contract is currently written, so they will have to go out and seek a new executive director and service provider for the coalition,” Romero said.

She said it was great to have had a chance to be a voice for the community and to be a conduit for the lab and the community.“The work cannot cease. The coalition itself has accomplished so much and it is such a valuable asset to the communities, and the most important thing to me is that the coalition continues,” Romero said.

The coalition has been involved with seeking funds for waste clean-up efforts, investment in the community, education commitments, liaison work with potential LANL maintenance and operations contract bidders and, most recently, for supporting efforts to pass the Gross Receipts Tax legislation that passed the state Legislature this year.

“We’ve been focused on things that add value to the community,” Romero said. “We want to protect our communities. I hope that is what people truly understand.”

When the board meets March 5, when it will consider a proposed contract renewal with Romero, who was hired in 2015 at a $140,000-a-year salary, according to the Associated Press.

Romero is also running for state representative of District 46. When asked about expenditures and the travel policy at the meeting, Romero replied that she followed the Regional Coalition’s policies as instructed since she was appointed in 2015.

She also characterized the questions from Northern New Mexico Protects as politically motivated.

“The overarching dialogue that’s being had is political, and not about the coalition’s actual expenditures in every effort,” Romero said. “Arc, and me as an executive director tried to save coalition money, as much as possible. You can go through each of the different allegations and questions posed by Northern New Mexico Protects if it’s the board want or need and we can go through each itemized receipt.”

Powers the coalition does have include promoting economic development, reviewing plans, making recommendations on external policies that are developed at the labs and the area.

Miller also suggested that may have been where public confusion and suspicion arose over the travel expenditures.

Earlier in the meeting when the travel expenditure issue was being discussed, it was also discovered that the coalition’s fiscal agent, Los Alamos County, was following one set of rules for travel expenditures and the coalition was following it’s own policy.

“I think that’s fundamentally where this confusion arises over what policy should be followed, whether the coalition itself can develop its own policy for travel, for fundraising, all of that. It’s just not specified in (the joint powers agreement),” Miller said.

Acknowledgement of the conflicting policies problem came to light in a Feb. 1 email from Los Alamos County Assistant Manager Steve Lynne to the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities members.

“In the course of following up on questions related to RCLC travel reimbursements, I have learned that Los Alamos County as fiscal agent has used the wrong standard for payment,” Lynne said. “We had assumed that the county’s policies were to be followed but the RCLC travel policy is the standard that should have been applied. This appears to be the county’s fault and not that of any RCLC member.”

On March 5, the coalition will consider the legal opinion from Santa Fe County’s legal department on how the coalition can move forward.

Regional Coalition Chairman Javier Gonzales requested that the Santa Fe County legal office deliver a decision by Friday so the coalition can discuss the matter Monday.

“We got to address our legal authority, so we can determine how we’re going to go forward, how we’re going to address the expenditures from the past so we can continue to serve our communities in the region,” Gonzales said.

The coalition’s 2018 budget is $212,000. Of that, $30,000 is allotted for travel.

Romero said it will be up to the coalition’s board to determine how to proceed.