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Official’s husband’s firm did casino work

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Business, like politics, can make strange bedfellows.

How else to explain this?

A company headed by the husband of State Fair Commissioner Charlotte Rode was hired by the Downs at Albuquerque to do telecommunications work on its new casino at the state fairgrounds.

I believe that meets the definition of irony.

Rode opposed a new casino at the fairgrounds and was the most vocal critic of how the administration of Gov. Susana Martinez went about giving the Downs a 25-year lease to continue running the casino and racetrack at the fairgrounds.

A Downs attorney referred to Rode as “dragon lady” in an email to a top aide to the governor. A spokesman for Martinez, who appointed Rode to the State Fair Commission as a representative of the fairgrounds neighborhood, called her an “extremist.”

The State Fair Commission, with Rode in the minority, voted 4-3 in November 2011 to award the 25-year lease to the Downs. It opened its new $30 million casino in July.

Now we learn that Dynamic Communications, whose president is Michael Rode, the commissioner’s husband, was hired earlier this year by the Downs to do work on the new casino.

Scott Eldredge, chief operating officer of the Downs, said Dynamic Communications installed a fiber optic line and a phone system and was paid $64,000.

So we have a State Fair commissioner, through her spouse, potentially reaping a financial benefit from the major tenant at the fairgrounds. That’s a possible conflict of interest, but Charlotte Rode still loathes the Downs – as it does her.

In a phone interview last week, Charlotte Rode said she learned in June in an email from a KKOB radio talk show host that Dynamic Communications had put in a bid for work at the casino.

Charlotte Rode said she confirmed that with her husband shortly after getting the email but said she still didn’t know whether the company had actually done any work for the Downs.

“I don’t get involved in his company,” she said.

Charlotte Rode said that because of the potential appearance of impropriety and because she isn’t a fan of how the Downs conducts its business, she would have preferred that Dynamic Communications not seek the work.

“I don’t agree with doing business with them, but it wasn’t my decision,” she said.

Mike Rode told me he is a one-third owner of Dynamic Communications and oversees the company’s finances. He said he wasn’t aware until afterward that the company’s sales staff had bid on work at the casino.

“I haven’t been out there, and I wasn’t really a part of it,” he said.

In November 2011, State Fair Commissioner Benny Roybal proposed that the commission vote on a prohibition against its members receiving financial benefits from the Downs, but the commission never voted on the proposal.

In April of this year, Christen Hagemann, an attorney for the Downs, wrote a letter to State Fair Commission Chairman Larry Kennedy to advise him that Dynamic Communications had bid on two contracts and that the Downs had learned the company was headed by the husband of Charlotte Rode.

The letter said Dynamic Communications was the lowest bidder and that the Downs wanted to hire the company. But the letter also said fair commissioners had expressed concern that commissioners not have a financial interest in the Downs to avoid potential conflicts of interest.

The letter asked Kennedy to contact the Downs if the State Fair Commission objected to Dynamic Communications getting the work.

Kennedy said he sent a copy of the letter to a state assistant attorney general, who recommended the commission take no action in response to the Downs letter because a contract between the Downs and Dynamic Communications would be a private matter.

UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Thom Cole at tcole@abqjournal.com or 505-992-6280 in Santa Fe. Go to ABQjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.

 

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