At re­quest of House can­di­date Romero, over­sight of busi­ness pro­gram shifts from city to cham­ber

Santa Fe New Mexican - - FRONT PAGE - By Daniel J. Chacón dcha­con@sfnewmex­i­can.com

A be­hind-the-scenes de­ci­sion to trans­fer a govern­ment con­tract that was awarded three years ago to An­drea Romero, now the Demo­cratic nom­i­nee in state House District 46, from City Hall to the Santa Fe Cham­ber of Com­merce is rais­ing sus­pi­cions among her de­trac­tors.

But the peo­ple in­volved in re­as­sign­ing the con­tract to a dif­fer­ent en­tity say there is noth­ing un­to­ward about the move.

Last month, about a week af­ter Romero scored a stun­ning up­set over three-term in­cum­bent Rep. Carl Tru­jillo in a rough-and­tum­ble pri­mary elec­tion, Romero wrote a let­ter to the city re­quest­ing the con­tract to over­see MIX Santa Fe be re­as­signed to the cham­ber of com­merce for this fis­cal year, which started July 1.

MIX Santa Fe is loosely de­fined as a busi­ness net­work­ing ini­tia­tive for young pro­fes­sion­als that in­cludes an ac­cel­er­a­tor pro­gram for star­tups. Crit­ics, though, ques­tion whether pub­lic funds should be used to throw such events.

“The Santa Fe Cham­ber of Com­merce has agreed to act as the as­signed de­signee of this con­tract, and [An­drea Romero Con­sult­ing] will be work­ing with it to carry out on­go­ing

du­ties and re­spon­si­bil­i­ties with the Cham­ber,” Romero wrote in the June 13 let­ter to Matt Brown, the city’s eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment di­rec­tor.

The con­tract, which started at $20,000 a year, has been amended sev­eral times, bring­ing the to­tal to $104,037 since it was first awarded in April 2015.

Brown said the new amend­ment for the 2018-19 con­tract is still be­ing drafted. “The amount will be $20,000,” he said in a text mes­sage. “And it is now with the cham­ber, not An­drea … just to make sure we are all be­ing ac­cu­rate.”

The cur­rent con­tract calls for Romero to “pro­vide ser­vices to sup­port the co­or­di­na­tion and or­ga­ni­za­tion of all MIX ac­tiv­i­ties,” such as events, spe­cial projects and strate­gic plan­ning.

In an email, Romero said the move would im­prove ef­fi­ciency.

“The Santa Fe Cham­ber has served as MIX’s fis­cal agent since our in­cep­tion, so mov­ing the con­tract to the Cham­ber stream­lines the ad­min­is­tra­tive side of this work,” she wrote.

Asked why the con­tract was moved in the fourth and fi­nal year in­stead of in pre­vi­ous years, Romero re­sponded with an­other emailed state­ment that echoed the first one: “MIX and the Santa Fe Cham­ber agreed that this move would stream­line the ad­min­is­tra­tive process,” she said.

Devin Bent, a Nambé res­i­dent who was a staunch sup­porter of Tru­jillo’s, un­cov­ered the con­tract re­as­sign­ment through doc­u­ments ob­tained un­der an open-records re­quest. Bent said he doesn’t trust Romero, who landed in the crosshairs of pub­lic crit­i­cism amid rev­e­la­tions of travel pol­icy vi­o­la­tions, in­clud­ing the pur­chase of ex­pen­sive wines and liquor and Ma­jor League Base­ball tick­ets, dur­ing her tenure as ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Re­gional Coali­tion of LANL Com­mu­ni­ties.

“I just think she’s a very flawed can­di­date, and I don’t want her rep­re­sent­ing me,” Bent said.

Bent said he wor­ries that mov­ing the con­tract to the cham­ber, which isn’t sub­ject to the state’s Open Meet­ings Act or the In­spec­tion of Pub­lic Records Act, could leave tax­pay­ers in the dark.

“I think the con­tract be­comes less trans­par­ent in the way it’s ad­min­is­tered,” he said.

Si­mon Brack­ley, the cham­ber’s pres­i­dent and CEO, ac­knowl­edged as much.

“I can hire who­ever I want at the cham­ber, and it’s not up to the city to go through the RFP [re­quest for pro­pos­als] process and have to deal with it at all,” he said. “It’s up to me to hire a pro­gram di­rec­tor to run the MIX pro­gram.”

Asked whether he an­tic­i­pated Romero to con­tinue to over­see MIX Santa Fe, Brack­ley said he had “no idea.” He said he has not talked to Romero about her “ca­reer in­ten­tions” and that he didn’t know how much time she would have to de­vote to the state House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives if she wins elec­tion in Novem­ber.

“She has her own busi­ness as well, so she has a lot on her plate,” he said, re­fer­ring to Romero’s fledg­ling os­trich farm.

Most of the fund­ing for MIX Santa Fe comes from spon­sors, which are mostly lo­cal busi­nesses, though “the city has been fund­ing some of it,” too, Brack­ley said.

Brack­ley said the de­ci­sion to move the con­tract to the cham­ber, which he said al­ready has been ap­proved by his board of di­rec­tors and City Man­ager Erik Litzen­berg, was multi-pronged. One of the rea­sons, he said, was to avoid the ap­pear­ance of a con­flict if Romero is elected.

“It’s to avoid any ap­pear­ance of con­flict or to put her in a po­si­tion where she is — how do I say this? — to clar­ify what her role is as an elected of­fi­cial so she can make good decisions for the en­tire com­mu­nity,” he said.

Brack­ley did not re­spond to a fol­low-up ques­tion about how the move would elim­i­nate the ap­pear­ance of a con­flict if Romero was still over­see­ing the con­tract but just un­der a dif­fer­ent en­tity.

Though the cham­ber is not sub­ject to the In­spec­tion of Pub­lic Records Act, Brack­ley said the cham­ber’s books are open.

“You’re wel­come to look at our books,” he said. “You can look at our fi­nan­cials.”

In re­sponse, re­quested Brack­ley’s salary and those of each of his em­ploy­ees, as well as con­tracts over $25,000 since Jan­uary — which would be pub­lic in­for­ma­tion at a govern­ment agency.

“My book­keeper is away this week,” Brack­ley said Wednes­day via email. “I’ll get with her next week and send you rel­e­vant info.”

Brown, who be­came the city’s eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment di­rec­tor about a year ago, said he de­cided to take a closer look at Romero’s con­tract with the city af­ter she an­nounced her can­di­dacy. He said he ex­pected the con­tract to re­ceive ad­di­tional scru­tiny af­ter Romero be­came a can­di­date for pub­lic of­fice.

“Every­thing came out clean,” he said. “She had de­liv­ered every­thing un­der the con­tract and had the in­voices and all the re­ceipts and every­thing.”

But doc­u­ments ob­tained by Bent show there were some ini­tial doubts.

The con­tract re­quires Romero to sub­mit “in­for­mal re­ports” at least once a month. The re­ports that Romero has been sub­mit­ting list the num­ber of hours she has been spend­ing on var­i­ous tasks, from “com­mu­ni­ca­tions with spon­sors and stake­hold­ers” to “gath­er­ing of in­for­ma­tion, tes­ti­mo­ni­als, pho­tos, lo­gos and other ma­te­rial for pro­mo­tion.”

“Ac­cord­ing to your con­tract, you are to pro­vide in­for­mal re­ports at least once a month. Is there some­thing more you used to pro­vide be­sides the in­voices? Ver­bal or writ­ten?” Jes­sica San­doval, who works in the city’s Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment Of­fice, wrote to Romero in Jan­uary.

“No,” Romero re­sponded. “I thought we de­cided the ma­trix of hours ded­i­cated to each area of the con­trac­tual obli­ga­tion was the cor­rect way of sub­mit­ting. I would have to go back each month and re­call each of the nar­ra­tive pieces of the work com­pleted and write it down. Should I do that, or just do it go­ing for­ward?”

“No, let’s con­tinue with the ma­trix of hours,” San­doval replied. “I fig­ured that would work but wanted to dou­ble check.”

At the same time he was con­duct­ing his re­view, Brown said Brack­ley and Kate Noble, a school board mem­ber who used to work for the city and helped start MIX Santa Fe, were talk­ing about “how to tran­si­tion MIX from a pro­ject to an or­ga­ni­za­tion so it can ma­ture and grow.” He said the idea of as­sign­ing the man­age­ment of the con­tract to the cham­ber made sense to him.

“I re­ally like the idea of an or­ga­ni­za­tion like the cham­ber, which is rep­re­sent­ing our busi­ness com­mu­nity and has a strate­gic ob­jec­tive of im­prov­ing en­trepreneur­ship in our city, so they want to do that, and MIX is try­ing to do that as well. So it seemed to be a good align­ment,” Brown said.

Brack­ley said he was “sur­prised this is com­ing up now” since Romero al­ready won the Demo­cratic pri­mary, though she faces two op­po­nents, in­de­pen­dent Amadeo J. Or­tiz and write-in can­di­date Heather Nordquist, in the Novem­ber gen­eral elec­tion. He ques­tioned whether Bent rou­tinely files open-records re­quests.

“It sounds like he’s fish­ing for some­thing,” he said, “but I’m not sure that it’s wor­thy of your time to pay at­ten­tion to him.”

Brack­ley de­clined to say whether he per­son­ally sup­ported Romero in her bid for House District 46.

“I’m not go­ing to an­swer that,” he said.

I want I can at hire the cham­ber, who­ever and it’s not up to the city to go through the RFP [re­quest for pro­pos­als] process and have to deal with it at all. It’s up to me to hire a pro­gram di­rec­tor to run the MIX pro­gram.” Si­mon Brack­ley, cham­ber of com­merce pres­i­dent and CEO

An­drea Romero last month re­quested the con­tract to over­see MIX Santa Fe be re­as­signed to the cham­ber of com­merce for this fis­cal year.

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