Michael Brasher has served capably on the state Board of Finance since 2012. A former Bernalillo County Commissioner with a good feel for budgets and a commitment to saving money for taxpayers – something too rare at the local level in this day of “ready, fire, aim” tax hikes – he also would be an excellent regent at the University of New Mexico.
The question is should he serve on the Board of Finance and the UNM governing board at the same time. The answer: No.
No one questions Brasher’s ability or integrity, but there is just too much crossover between the positions – both appointments of fellow Republican Susana Martinez. Brasher has served on the Board of Finance for more than five years and was named by the governor last month to the UNM post. The dilemma is the Board of Finance’s role in higher education.
Colleges and universities must get Board of Finance approval to issue revenue bonds, purchase real property, construct new buildings, do remodeling projects or add graduate programs. For example, the board approved New Mexico State University proceeding with a $21.5 million dorm project.
The board also recently approved several UNM projects, but it also has been a high-profile obstacle to a UNM proposal to build a new hospital costing more than $200 million – a decision that has UNM re-thinking its proposal.
“It’s not that he’s not a great guy. He’s got an impeccable record,” says Viki Harrison, executive director of Common Cause New Mexico. “You’re putting him in a position where he’s got conflicts of interest right off the bat.”
Harrison and Rep. Patti Lundstrom, D-Gallup, and chair of the House Appropriations and Finance Committee, both say Brasher should recuse himself from anything affecting UNM. Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, and chair of Senate Finance, goes further and says Brasher should abstain from any higher ed vote. “Quite frankly, I think his vote would be tainted just by the position he’s in for all of higher education.”
Sen. Steven Neville, R-Aztec, says Brasher would be walking a difficult tightrope. “I’m not saying it’s impossible, but he’s going to have to be very cautious.”
Bottom line? This is a balancing act the state doesn’t need. Neither does Brasher. No one is suggesting he would conduct himself improperly. But the appearance of conflict is just too strong. He should pick one.
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.