In­cum­bent claims suc­cess; foe wants au­dit

Of­fice that over­sees bil­lions in tax­payer money has seen past con­tro­versy

The Taos News - - ELECTION 2018 - By Daniel J. Chacón dcha­con@sfnewmex­i­ Fol­low Daniel J. Chacón on Twit­ter @danieljcha­con.

As the man re­spon­si­ble for over­see­ing the safe­keep­ing of bil­lions of dol­lars in tax­pay­ers’ money, State Trea­surer Tim Eichen­berg has spent many sleep­less nights since he took of­fice in Jan­uary 2015.

“It is truly the most chal­leng­ing job I’ve ever had,” said Eichen­berg, 66. “It keeps you up nights.”

While the $85,000-a-year job is tough, Eichen­berg said he be­lieves he’s do­ing it well and that the work is re­ward­ing, which is why the for­mer state sen­a­tor from Al­bu­querque hopes vot­ers will elect him to a sec­ond fouryear term in No­vem­ber.

But his Repub­li­can op­po­nent, who also hap­pens to be his neigh­bor, said the State Trea­surer’s Of­fice needs a new leader, some­one who hasn’t been the sub­ject of bad press.

Arthur Castillo, 69, who served as chief fi­nance of­fi­cer of the State Trea­surer’s Of­fice from

2006-09, said he’s run­ning for the seat be­cause he’s read or heard that the of­fice is in dis­ar­ray.

“My con­cern is not just with the cur­rent ad­min­is­tra­tion but goes back to the Vigil and Montoya era,” he said, re­fer­ring to for­mer state trea­sur­ers Robert Vigil and his pre­de­ces­sor, Michael Montoya. “A lot of things hap­pened dur­ing that time.”

In 2005, Vigil and Montoya were charged with rack­e­teer­ing and ex­tor­tion in a kick­back scheme.

Fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors ac­cused the pair, both Democrats, of pock­et­ing tens of thou­sands of dol­lars from in­vest­ment ad­vis­ers in ex­change for steer­ing state busi­ness their way. Montoya served as state trea­surer from

1995 to 2002, and Vigil, who was Montoya’s deputy, served from

2003-05. Both served time in prison.

Though Castillo said the need ex­ists to “make some changes” in the State Trea­surer’s Of­fice, he said he doesn’t know ex­actly what they would be un­til he’s in the job.

“I’m go­ing to re­quest a new au­dit and, if I can, I’m go­ing to ask for a foren­sic au­dit be­cause as far as I know, the State Trea­surer’s Of­fice has never had a foren­sic au­dit, and I think it’s about time to go in there and re­ally see all the nuts and bolts, see what’s re­ally hap­pened,” he said.

“Who knows what things could be hid­den. Could be funds. Could be any­thing that’s hid­den be­cause they were not scru­ti­nized as tightly as I felt they should’ve been.”

Eichen­berg said his of­fice is op­er­at­ing smoothly though it was some­what of a rough start.

When he took of­fice, Eichen­berg said eight high-rank­ing em­ploy­ees re­tired. They in­cluded the deputy trea­surer, cash man­ager and chief in­vest­ment of­fi­cer. Though it was a chal­lenge to fill the po­si­tions, he brought on new em­ploy­ees who have de­vel­oped “bet­ter ways of rec­on­cil­i­a­tion pro­cesses” and “a bet­ter way to do pro­jec­tions of our liq­uid­ity.”

“We earned over $49 mil­lion for this last fis­cal year,” he said.

Eichen­berg, a li­censed real es­tate bro­ker and gen­eral con­trac­tor, has a bank­ruptcy in his record. But he said his ex­pe­ri­ence makes him the bet­ter, more qual­i­fied can­di­date for the job.

He served two terms as Ber­nalillo County trea­surer, start­ing in 1974 at the age of 22. In 2004, for­mer Gov. Bill Richardson, a Demo­crat, ap­pointed Eichen­berg di­rec­tor of the state’s Prop­erty Tax Divi­sion.

“I don’t quit and that’s the most im­por­tant thing. That truly sep­a­rates me from my op­po­nent,” he said. “I’ve never quit and walked out of an of­fice be­fore be­cause that’s what he did to (for­mer State Trea­surer James B. Lewis) ... One day he was there, and the next day they’re look­ing for him. He had packed up his box and walked out. Didn’t even tell (Lewis) he was leav­ing.”

Eichen­berg said Lewis re­counted the story. Re­peated ef­forts to reach Lewis, who now works as a se­nior ad­viser for pub­lic safety un­der Al­bu­querque Mayor Tim Keller, were un­suc­cess­ful. Castillo de­nied Eichen­berg’s ver­sion of events.

“The claim by Mr. Eichen­berg that I ‘quit’ or ‘walked out’ of the trea­surer’s of­fice is ab­so­lutely false and quite shame­ful,” he said in a state­ment. “I am not sur­prised by his state­ment since his rep­u­ta­tion has se­ri­ously come into ques­tion while serv­ing as state trea­surer. New Mex­i­cans won’t be fooled by Mr. Eichen­berg.”

In an ear­lier in­ter­view, Castillo said he’s been trou­bled with neg­a­tive news re­ports about Eichen­berg, who was ac­cused of mak­ing racial and sex­ist re­marks in 2015 by the ad­min­is­tra­tion of Repub­li­can Gov. Su­sana Martinez.

That year, the State Per­son­nel Of­fice ended a deal to pro­vide hu­man re­sources ser­vices to Eichen­berg’s of­fice.

Nei­ther State Per­son­nel Of­fice Di­rec­tor Justin Na­jaka nor a spokesman for Martinez re­turned mes­sages seek­ing com­ment.

As he did in 2015, Eichen­berg called the ac­cu­sa­tions false and po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated.

“Stop and think about it,” he said. “The State Per­son­nel Of­fice and Justin Na­jaka would not be fool­ish enough if it wasn’t po­lit­i­cal to say any­thing about a state em­ployee be­cause state em­ploy­ees have rights, too. You don’t dis­cuss any­thing in pub­lic on a state em­ployee ... and I’m a state em­ployee.”

It’s not the first time Eichen­berg has faced sim­i­lar ac­cu­sa­tions. He faced claims of big­otry against gays, women and His­pan­ics from his Demo­cratic op­po­nent, John Wertheim, in the 2014 pri­mary elec­tion.

Wertheim, a for­mer chair­man of the state Demo­cratic Party, mailed out at­tack ads ac­cus­ing Eichen­berg of, among other charges, “a record of dis­crim­i­nat­ing against His­pan­ics.” The ac­cu­sa­tion stemmed from a rul­ing by the New Mex­ico Hu­man Rights Com­mis­sion, which found that Eichen­berg wrongly fired a His­panic fe­male em­ployee while serv­ing as the Ber­nalillo County trea­surer. Eichen­berg has said that the woman’s work per­for­mance, not her race, led to her fir­ing.

Eichen­berg also faced crit­i­cism in 2016 for hand­ing out hefty raises to some em­ploy­ees, who Eichen­berg said had taken on ex­tra du­ties.

For Castillo, the neg­a­tive pub­lic­ity is rea­son enough for vot­ers to give Eichen­berg the boot.

“From all that I’ve read, all that I’ve seen, all that I’ve heard, I’d be re­luc­tant to say he has done a good job,” he said.

Castillo, a for­mer Demo­crat who switched to the Repub­li­can Party in De­cem­ber, al­most didn’t make the bal­lot.

In Fe­bru­ary, a lawyer who has worked for the state Demo­cratic Party filed a law­suit charg­ing that Castillo did not ob­tain enough valid sig­na­tures for a spot on the bal­lot. A judge, how­ever, ruled that Castillo had enough.

“They’ll do al­most any­thing to get rid of you,” Castillo said.

The State Trea­surer’s Of­fice has myr­iad re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, from man­ag­ing and in­vest­ing the state’s op­er­at­ing cash to pro­vid­ing bank­ing as­sis­tance and ser­vices to state agen­cies.

The state trea­surer also serves on 13 boards and com­mis­sions, in­clud­ing the State In­vest­ment Coun­cil and the Board of Fi­nance, mak­ing it an in­flu­en­tial post when it comes to pol­icy.

Eichen­berg called his ser­vice on the 13 boards and com­mis­sions “the most time-con­sum­ing part of my job.”

Both can­di­dates are largely self-fund­ing their cam­paigns.

“That’s be­cause I be­lieve in what I’m do­ing,” Castillo said. “I wouldn’t spend that much money on a los­ing cause.”

Eichen­berg said he “got into the habit” of fund­ing his own cam­paigns from the time he ran for Ber­nalillo County trea­surer. When he ran for the state Se­nate in 2008, a race he won, he said he loaned his cam­paign $150,000, which he said he even­tu­ally wrote off.

Eichen­berg has about $30,000 in the bank while Castillo has about $1,500 cash on hand, ac­cord­ing to the lat­est cam­paign fi­nance re­ports.

In ad­di­tion to hav­ing more money, Eichen­berg also has con­sid­er­ably more cam­paign debt: about $240,000.

Eichen­berg said the pri­mary race against Wertheim four years ago proved costly.

“I think he spent in ex­cess of $300,000,” Eichen­berg said. “I had to lend the cam­paign what we felt was the min­i­mum amount to sur­vive the pri­mary.”

Cour­tesy photo

Tim Eichen­berg

Cour­tesy photo

Arthur Castillo

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