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Editorial: Is anyone in City Hall vetting Keller’s selections?

Charlotte Little was going to be Albuquerque’s first Native American city clerk – until her past troubles with the taxman came to light and she went into damage-control mode.

“I have decided to withdraw my name from consideration for the position of City Clerk,” she wrote in an email earlier this month. “I am so grateful to have been considered by Mayor (Tim) Keller and do not wish to bring any unnecessary distractions to the role.”

Little’s swift withdrawal when she was questioned by the Journal about the nearly $180,000 she failed to pay in federal and state taxes and penalties and interest from 1996 to 2003 almost masked the biggest question in this unfortunate ordeal – almost.

That question being, what type of vetting has the Keller administration done on the dozens of people the mayor has already appointed to critically important executive positions at the city? The Keller administration isn’t saying whether it knew about Little’s financial troubles before making the appointment, opting, instead, to issue an emailed statement:

“We respect Charlotte’s decision to withdraw her name from consideration for the City Clerk position and wish her the best in her future endeavors,” Keller spokeswoman Alicia Manzano said. She would not speak to the broader question of whether Little had been vetted and whether the administration had been aware of the tax liens before the Journal raised the question.

For the sake of city taxpayers, we sure hope the Keller administration is vetting all of its appointees and that the process includes both criminal background checks and a search for any tax liens that prospective appointees may be dealing with. These appointees are, after all, the people charged with managing million-dollar budgets, supervising thousands of employees and keeping the city safe. Failure to have a robust screening system in place would be negligent.

To be clear, we’re not suggesting that only individuals with spotless records should be eligible to fill the city’s top positions. But at a minimum, Keller and his administration should know about any skeletons in a prospective employee’s closet so they can make an informed decision on whether to move forward with the hire.

Given how the Little situation played out, we suspect that Keller administration officials had no idea about her tax issues. Did they bother to ask? And if they did, was Little not forthcoming?

Certainly, a good case could have been made that Little had owned up to her past mistakes, was making good on the money she owed and had learned from the ordeal. Little may even have survived this bad press and gone on to have been a great city clerk, but only if the tax issues had been on the table from the get-go.

Couple this debacle with the questionable after-the-deadline selection of City Attorney Esteban Aguilar Jr., and one has to wonder what’s going on on the 11th floor of City Hall. The Keller administration is faced with the monumental task of filling all of the city’s key positions. The mayor and his staff need to figure out a way to avoid these missteps. There are three director-level jobs still open, and these misfires reflect poorly on the work he’s trying to do.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.