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Wednesday, December 09, 2009
State Tells Officials Adios - With Cash
By Thomas J. Cole
Journal Staff Writer
Thanks to your tax dollars, the administration of Gov. Bill Richardson has provided soft landings in private business for two ex-members of the governor's Cabinet.
New Mexicans are indeed a generous people.
RLR Resources, the consulting company of former Information Technology Secretary Roy Soto, received a six-month, $49,500 contract from Soto's old department.
It was a no-bid contract, of course.
And former Workforce Solutions Secretary Betty Sparrow Doris received a $100-an-hour, $49,200 contract with her old agency shortly after she left the Cabinet, saying she wanted to spend more time with her family.
At the time of Doris' departure, the Governor's Office refused to comment on whether she got the boot because of repeated troubles at her department in helping the unemployed obtain jobless benefits.
Under the state Procurement Act, departments can award contracts of up to $50,000 for professional services without seeking competitive proposals.
Also, state officials can lawfully enter into contracts with their former agencies as long as they didn't take any actions while in office that led to the contracts.
The awarding of the contracts to Soto's company and Doris comes at a time when the state faces a budget crunch that has led to pay reductions and furloughs for government workers, job eliminations and other cutbacks.
Soto, who has held several management jobs in government and has long been active in the Democratic Party, resigned in September 2008 as secretary of the Department of Information Technology, saying he was returning to the private sector.
Soto had been secretary of the department since its creation in 2007 to oversee government's computer needs. Before that, he was the state's chief information officer.
Soto is the listed vice president of RLR Resources, which is based in Corrales, and his wife, Rita Longino, is president of the firm.
The contract between RLR and the Department of Information Technology was signed in July by Longino and Marlin Mackey, who replaced Soto as secretary of the agency. The contract became effective in August and expires at the end of January.
According to the Web site of the Governor's Office, Soto is a member of the Information Technology Commission, whose duties include overseeing the work of his former agency.
Under the contract, RLR is to help further develop the use of Internet conferencing by government agencies and to aid in the creation of a Web site on government accountability that would include information on state spending and contracting.
Soto said the Department of Information Technology approached RLR.
"We have the expertise and the familiarity with the operation," he said, adding that he, his wife and two others are doing the contract work.
Soto said the department probably could have done the work in-house if fully staffed but said the agency has a high job vacancy rate because of government's budget troubles.
The Department of Information Technology didn't respond to repeated requests for comment on the reason for the contract.
The contract calls for RLR to receive $49,500 plus $3,465 in gross receipts taxes. It has collected at least $36,915 so far.
This isn't the first time that RLR has done government consulting work.
Regents at Highlands University in Las Vegas, N.M., hired the company in 2004 to coordinate a search for a new president at a cost of $48,000, plus expenses.
The search led to the hiring of Manny Aragon, the former state Senate leader now serving time in a federal prison on corruption charges related to construction of the Metropolitan Courthouse in Albuquerque.
And in 1999, Jim Baca, then mayor of Albuquerque, awarded RLR a six-month, $54,000 contract to review operations at the Convention Center and two city departments.
Baca and Soto, longtime friends, were criticized by city councilors for the no-bid contract.
Richardson announced in August that Doris was leaving as secretary of the Department of Workforce Solutions to spend more time with her husband and other relatives in Denver.
But Doris signed a contract in October to work up to 40 hours weekly for her old agency. The $100 hourly rate is nearly double what she earned in the Cabinet position, which paid about $121,000 a year.
Under the contract, Doris is to aid the state in securing federal grants for workforce education.
The maximum payout of $49,200 under the contract doesn't include gross receipts taxes. Doris is expected to travel as part of the work and is to be reimbursed those expenses. The contract ends in September.
Doris couldn't be reached for comment, and a spokeswoman for the Department of Workforce Solutions didn't respond to repeated requests for comment on the reason for the contract.
Doris was hired in late 2006 to direct the Office of Workforce Training and Development, which later merged with the Labor Department to form Workforce Solutions.
Her tenure as secretary was a rocky one.
The department, which oversees the state's unemployment benefits system, suffered delays in making benefits payments and troubles in keeping up with telephone calls from people filing for benefits.
According to a memo from the state Attorney General's Office, Doris said in an affidavit that she didn't take any action while secretary that resulted in her getting the contract after leaving the agency.
Guess taxpayers can rest easier.
UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Thom Cole can be reached in Santa Fe at 505-992-6280 or at email@example.com.