SANTA FE, N.M. — State Auditor Hector Balderas on Thursday called for Public Regulation Commission Chairman Pat Lyons to resign because of new audit findings that he misused a government truck and failed to show leadership addressing other questionable practices in the agency.
Lyons, a Republican, cracked back that Balderas is an “incompetent trial attorney trying to do an auditor’s job” and is going after the person “that’s here getting things done,” a reference to recent management changes approved to improve the agency. He called on Balderas to resign.
Balderas, who is a Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, released new findings in a special audit by which he said show vehicle abuse and violations at the PRC were not isolated to Jerome Block Jr., who resigned from the PRC in October after pleading guilty to six felonies, including fraudulent use of a state credit card.
Among the findings:
♦ Lyons improperly used a Ford F-250 purchased with federal funds for about 65 days, resulting in “questioned costs of public money totaling $1,175.”
♦ Two commissioners and top PRC staff took state vehicles out of state in violation of state regulations, and 15 times, commissioners did not get advance approval.
♦ Since 2009, PRC employees improperly bought $28,000 in premium gas.
Balderas said a “risk” review of certain PRC emails indicated they were used for “improper and illegal purposes,” and potentially about “illicit drugs.”
Balderas said Lyons’ alleged “abuse of taxpayer resources and his failure to show any leadership on the issue of emails is an obstacle to broad reforms to the PRC.”
A Jan. 11 management response letter signed by Lyons acknowledges Lyons drove the truck.
He told the Journal he is entitled to use a vehicle, but said, “As soon as someone said it may be a pipeline truck, we quit driving it.”
He said the PRC paid for the truck, but hasn’t been reimbursed.
The letter notes the PRC has adopted a comprehensive vehicle use policy.
It says neither the special audit or a 2010 financial audit found evidence of non-business use of PRC vehicles.
It contends the finding about the purchase of premium gas highly overstates the amount and Lyons said anyone is free to look at his emails. “None of that was in the audit, so I don’t know what he’s talking about.”
He accused Balderas of covering up information about Block’s credit card abuses that was given to him in January 2011. Lyons said he is the one who went to the Attorney General in June.
Balderas denied there was a cover-up.