ESPAÑOLA – The Regional Coalition of LANL Communities has been rendered largely inactive for now, without a staff and with the legal agreements under which it has operated for seven years awaiting revision.
Española Mayor Alice Lucero called the group “crippled” amid legal questions she maintains are absurd. Santa Fe Mayor Javier Gonzales, the coalition’s board chair, said he hoped the coalition can at least move forward with a request-for-proposals process to fill the coalition director’s job via contract.
“I’d be very concerned if it’s an all-out stop,” he said at a coalition board meeting here Monday.
The group’s $140,000 annual contract with the firm of now-former director Andrea Romero — who is a candidate for a state House seat — expired last week. Action on renewing the contract, which includes an assistant, was delayed as Romero came under fire for receiving travel expense reimbursements for spending that included alcohol at meals and Washington Nationals baseball tickets.
Romero has said she didn’t know spending on booze and entertainment for coalition events — the ball game was described as an opportunity to visit with federal officials — wasn’t allowed. She said she never hid expenditures and expected Los Alamos County, serving as the coalition’s fiscal agent, to not reimburse for spending that wasn’t permitted. An audit by Los Alamos County found that she owed more than $2,200 for reimbursements not allowed by coalition policy.
“I’ve committed to ensuring anything that is out of compliance gets into compliance between the board and my company,” Romero said at Monday’s meeting. “… We will take full responsibility for any and all out of compliance expenditures.” She said afterward that the content of the new RFP will determine whether her company bids again.
The coalition, which advocates for environmental clean-up funding for LANL and local economic development efforts by the lab, operates on about $200,000 a year with funding from the U.S. Department of Energy and the coalition’s member cities, counties and tribes.
Amid the reimbursement controversy, Santa Fe County raised concerns about whether the coalition can even enter into contracts or fund a budget under terms of “joint powers agreements” with the local governments.
Monday, coalition board members had varying ideas abut how long developing new JPAs will leave the group essentially inactive. Lucero said it could take the group six months to a year to get everything sorted out. Santa Fe County Commissioner Henry Roybal said he hopes the parties can approve new JPAs by the end of April.
“It’s a little bit mind boggling,” Gonzales said, that “we appear as an organization to have two left feet.” He said he hoped that fixing the legal issues won’t “disrupt” the group’s ongoing work. In the meantime, Los Alamos County will represent the communities as DOE closes in on awarding a new management contract for LANL.
Romero contends the reimbursement issue was raised as a political attack by a citizens group that she says favors incumbent Carl Trujillo over her in the Democratic race for northern Santa Fe County’s House District 46 seat.
A lab watchdog organization has also questioned the award of $51,000 last year to Romero’s ostrich farm from an economic development program largely funded by Los Alamos National Security LLC (LANS), the private consortium that currently has the $2.2 billion lab management contract.
Romero and Gonzales said an independent non-profit decides which start-ups would get money from the LANS fund, to which Santa Fe and Santa Fe County also contribute.