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Committee seeks to avert confrontation over investment

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ORTIZ: Under fire for his investment decisions

ORTIZ: Under fire for his investment decisions

Copyright © 2013 Albuquerque Journal

A committee largely appointed by Bernalillo County Treasurer Manny Ortiz will try today to map out a new investment policy that could avert a confrontation with the County Commission.

At issue is how much freedom the treasurer should have in deciding how to invest hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars.

County commissioners and their top executives say too much of the county’s cash has been tied up in long-term investments and is unavailable to pay daily bills. The county, for example, lost about $758,000 in recent months when Ortiz sold bonds at a loss to cover expenses.

Ortiz, on the other hand, says his investment strategy has generated millions of dollars of income for the county.

The County Commission is suggesting a new policy that would reshape the investment committee that advises Ortiz. It would also require shorter-term investments and limit how much of the county’s portfolio can be invested in certain securities.

The current policy, which was adopted in February 2012, is much more flexible. There are no specific limits on the lengths of investments, for example, and the average maturity of the county portfolio is now about 11 years, according to a report prepared for the commission.

The commission-suggested policy would require maturities of less than five years.

The city of Albuquerque has a similar rule, requiring much of its investment pool to be limited to three- or five-year maturities.

“They have a pretty tight policy,” Commissioner Wayne Johnson said, contrasting the county’s investments with the city’s.

Ortiz didn’t respond to Journal messages seeking comment Tuesday.

Ortiz would not have to comply with an investment policy passed by the County Commission without his approval.

A state Court of Appeals’ decision in 1990 gave the treasurer and commission shared authority over investments. The ruling suggested that an investment policy approved by both should guide investment decisions and that neither has “sole policy-making authority over county investments.”

The commission has broached the idea of rescinding its approval of the current investment policy and at least one commissioner, Debbie O’Malley, has said she is considering whether to seek a symbolic vote of “no confidence” in Ortiz.

Ortiz has refused to attend commission meetings aimed at negotiating a new policy. Instead, he has said he will work first with the investment committee, which has spent months coming up with revisions, he said.

That’s where today’s meeting comes in. The committee could finalize its own version or decide to incorporate some of the commission’s ideas in hopes of coming up with a policy before county commissioners meet again next month.

The membership of the investment committee itself is a point of contention. The committee now has six active members. A seventh person, representing the state treasurer’s office, hasn’t attended meetings, a county spokeswoman said.

Of the six active members, one is Ortiz and three others are appointed or employed by him: Dale Ruth, a flooring salesman appointed to represent the citizens of the county; Steven Montoya of Bank of Albuquerque, who represents the banking industry; and Patrick Padilla, Ortiz’s investment officer and the ex-county treasurer.

The other two voting members are Deputy County Manager Teresa Byrd, who represents the County Commission, and Wayne Sowell, director of the Local Government Division of the state Department of Finance and Administration. Sowell was appointed this month, replacing an earlier DFA representative.

The proposed investment policy before the County Commission would give the commission far more control over appointments to the committee and would reduce the number of voting members from seven to five.

The treasurer and deputy county manager for finance would have permanent seats on the committee. There would be three other members: an appointee from DFA, a banking person appointed by the treasurer and approved by the commission, and someone appointed by the county manager and approved by the commission.

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