Regional Coalition of LANL Communities Under Scrutiny

By KAY MATTHEWS

The Regional Coalition of LANL Communities (RCLC) has been in the news (Santa Fe New Mexican) lately for certain transgressions it may have committed in its spending and reimbursement processes. It’s executive director, Andrea Romero, has also been in the news declaring her primary challenge of Democratic State Representative Carl Trujillo of District 46, which includes part of Santa Fe and the Pojoaque Valley, home to the Aamodt Adjudication Settlement. The RCLC is comprised of the City of Española, Los Alamos County, Ohkay Owingeh, Pueblo of Jemez, Rio Arriba County, Santa Fe County, City of Santa Fe, Taos County, and Town of Taos. It’s purpose is stated on its website:  “The Regional Coalition is a conduit for Northern New Mexico communities to make a direct impact on local, state and federal government decision-making in regional economic development and nuclear cleanup at Los Alamos National Laboratories (LANL). The Regional Coalition is comprised of elected and tribal officials representing their local communities to ensure national decisions incorporate local needs and interests.”

While the connections between the RCLC’s finances, Romero, and her political run will be explored later in this article, La Jicarita has long been keeping track of just exactly what the RCLC really does and why it exists. In May of 2012 we ran a guest editorial by Marilyn Gayle Hoff in which she described the Coalition’s role this way: “The Town of Taos recently joined the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities, portrayed as a benign organization offering neighboring towns and counties input into Los Alamos National Laboratory policies. In truth, the coalition was formed to employ a lobbying firm, paid for by coalition members, to milk the federal government for funding for LANL. Coalition members, the governing bodies of cities, towns, and counties downstream and downwind of LANL, are bilked for annual payments proportionate to how many Lab employees live within their jurisdictions.”

She went on to point out that the vast majority of LANL’s budget goes towards the development of nuclear weapons while the Lab has repeatedly failed to meet clean-up deadlines imposed by the New Mexico Environment Department.

In an article I wrote, in July of 2012, members of the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities and other folks from the business community traveled to Washington D.C. to lobby for “retaining the $2.25 billion LANL budget.” At the July 17 meeting of the Regional Coalition in Española, Reverend Holly Beaumont of Santa Fe stood up and asked what the group’s position was on the Chemistry and Metallurgy Replacement Research nuclear facility (CMRR) and if it would be lobbying to reinstate the funding that was recently put on hold. The coalition’s moderator quickly answered that the group did not have a position on the CMRR. Newly elected coalition chair, Santa Fe Mayor David Coss [newly elected 2018 mayor Alan Webber will now be a member of the Coalition], added that the group lobbied for clean-up and was moving on to “economic development.” He didn’t address what that economic development entails.

Then in a long article in March of 2013 I wrote about the connections between the RCLC and the Rocky Flats Coalition of Local Governments, whose consultants helped in the formation of RCLC and who “assisted in the effort to convert Rocky Flats to a Wildlife Refuge, an outcome which required much lower standards for clean-up than, for example, human residency.” (Jeanne Green in a letter to the Taos News.) Green’s point was that their influence on the creation of the RCLC created a credibility gap that the mission of RCLC is to lobby for clean-up of LANL.

It appears the raison d’ etre of the Coalition is to lobby for LANL funding across the board, without any assessment of what that funding may be for or the impact it may have on the economic health—which the Coalition, the New Mexico congressional delegation, the state legislature, and the DOE equate with the social and environmental health—of the people of northern New Mexico.

Now, back to the latest controversies regarding RCLC. On February 15, 2018, Northern New Mexicans for Land, Water and Rights (NNMP) wrote a letter to the board members of RCLC and to Los Alamos County, its fiscal agent. In the letter the officers of NNMP raised questions about expenditures and reimbursements made by RCLC members and executive director Andrea Romero on travel to Washington D.C. based on documents NNMP acquired via an “Inspection of Public Records Act” request. The letter pointed out that RCLC receives $197,000 that is paid for by the taxes of constituents of RCLC members. Specifically, the letter questions expenditures on alcohol (prohibited in RCLC travel policy), baseball tickets, and a first-class airfare ticket. The letter also questioned contract payments made to Romero (she works for RCLC under Andrea Romero Consulting) by Los Alamos County that seemed to indicate over payment.

Many back and forth letters and e-mails among RCLC officers, executive director Romero, and Los Alamos County, attempted to account for these expenditures until a final review by the county chief financial officer released a finding of fact letter on February 21:

  • Nineteen reimbursable payments were found questionable: lack of preauthorization of travel reimbursement request; meal receipt requests rather than per diem allowances; and reimbursements for business associates.
  • Violations of prohibited expenses: alcoholic beverages; baseball tickets; and lack of supporting detail regarding other reimbursements.
  • Andrea Romero Consulting: miscalculated claims; Los Alamos County missed payment.
  • Questionable travel expenditures by Santa Fe Mayor Javier Gozales and Española Mayor Alice Lucero but the findings were not conclusive because of unknown circumstances.

The auditor also found discrepancies in the RCLC bylaws and revised bylaws that dealt with travel policy and budget: “It appears there may have been a misunderstanding of who was responsible for thorough review and authorization of payments from the RCLC which could have contributed to the disallowed expenses being paid.”

The Los Alamos County didn’t come out looking very good, either. As the fiscal agent the county admitted it was in violation of the RCLC travel policy. In a letter to the RCLC members, Los Alamos County Deputy Manager Steven Lynne, wrote: “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. 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. I would like to personally apologize for this mistake and let you know how we intend to initiate rectifying the errors.”

The auditor listed two pages of recommendations of how to avoid future problems, with a final statement: “Finally, we recommend that the Los Alamos County staff’s function in the future would be to perform a secondary review of any payment requests, only after the Treasurer’s [of the RCLC] authorization to approve. Los Alamos County staff should communicate any issues noted back to the Treasurer prior to release of payment in order to correct any items as necessary. Los Alamos County staff, if requested, could provide training to the Executive Director, and/or the Treasurer on how to ensure invoices and reimbursement claims comply with RCLC policies. In addition, Los Alamos County staff could help to prepare travel reimbursement forms for the RCLC that meet the requirements of the Travel Policy to aid in the submission and payment of reimbursable travel expenses.”

Romero responded to the fiscal issues in a letter to the board of the RCLC that included copies of e-mails, reimbursements, and RCLC documents laying out procedures. But the most interesting part of her response is her claim that NNMP’s involvement in this investigation “may be politically motivated” because only after she declared her candidacy for state representative against incumbent Carl Trujillo did any of the organizations officers “take interest in RCLC by attending her contract review session (Romero’s contact was up for renewal). She was referring to Beverly Duran-Cash, president of NNMP and Heather Nordquist, executive vice-president.

Romero went on to say that NNMP has been a “strong, vocal, and consistent ally to Representative Carl Trujillo.” Presumably she is referring to Trujillo’s involvement with his constituents, including members of NNMP, in the Aamodt Adjudication Settlement and the road easement conflict between Santa Fe County and San Ildefonso Pueblo that was threatening the deliverance of county funds to the Settlement (a resolution of the issue was recently signed by the county and the pueblos involved in the adjudication). Trujillo sponsored many public meetings and forums to help educate his constituents on the Settlement and to hear their concerns (375 water rights users in the adjudication have filed a lawsuit in the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals over the Settlement). He also made every attempt to represent their concerns in the resolution of the road easement controversy.

Romero goes on in her letter to request that the RCLC hire an attorney to “respond to allegations from NNMP” and to “consider lodging a formal request to Los Alamos National Laboratory to investigate” whether Duran-Cash and Nordquist, who are employees of LANL, filed the proper paper work with the Lab to make clear their work with an outside agency was not a conflict of interest and assured “ethics compliance.” She goes on to say, “These issues are relevant to RCLC because our mission is to work closely with LANL and advance LANL’s mission in northern communities. If LANL employees are acting in ways that conflict with LANL’s regulations, it impacts negatively both LANL and RCLC.”

Representative Trujillo and Dave Neal, vice president of NNMP, both refuted Romero’s allegations in the Santa Fe New Mexican article. Nordquist told La Jicarita that both she and Duran-Cash are in full compliance with LANL ethical requirements. La Jicarita has shared information and worked with both Trujillo and members of NNMP on issues affecting norteños, both the Aamodt Settlement and the Top of the World (TOW) water transfer. As I stated before, 375 water rights users, included many members of NNMP, have filed suit in the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals over the Aamodt Final Decree. Several officers of NNMP protested the Top of the World transfer of water rights from Taos County to Santa Fe County as part of the Aamodt Settlement, concerned about its impact on the Rio Grande and on Pojoaque Valley wells (they were denied standing; Taos County has appealed the the denial of its TOW protest in court).

At the March 16 RCLC meeting Romero’s contract was not renewed. Santa Fe County Commissioner Henry Roybal was elected chairman of the Coalition. Roybal had previously raised questions about the expenditures before the audit was completed. An RFP will be issued for a new executive director. The new board also decided to deduct about $2,200 from money it owes Romero because of the reimbursements for alcohol and other expenses that she received.

Finally, a few days ago we heard that Santa Fe County has decided it doesn’t need the 600 afy from Top of the World slated for the non-pueblo water users in the Pojoaque Basin Regional Water System at this time and will be leasing the water rights for irrigation at Top of the World. I confirmed this with attorney John Utton who represented Santa Fe County in the Settlement. To those of us who have followed the progress of this adjudication it’s no surprise that the county anticipates there won’t be sufficient water rights users who will sign up to the water delivery system; most of them didn’t want it in the first place. I will address this latest development in an upcoming editorial on the status of the Settlement.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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