Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal
The University of New Mexico on Monday earned the last OK it needed to build an on-campus taproom when it cleared the state Board of Finance, getting support from a board member who is also now a UNM regent.
Michael Brasher, in his first Board of Finance meeting since assuming a seat on the UNM Board of Regents, cast a vote in support of the taproom en route to its 4-0 passage.
UNM now can move forward with construction in the southeast corner of the Student Union Building. Officials have said they expect to have the $650,000 taproom open by this fall.
Brasher’s service on both high-profile boards has raised questions about conflict of interest since the powerful Board of Finance has final say on many of the state’s higher education projects.
Gov. Susana Martinez appointed Brasher to the BOF – over which she serves as president – in 2012. Last month, she gave him another prominent role by naming him to a vacant seat on UNM’s seven-member Board of Regents.
Multiple lawmakers and government ethics advocates have told the Journal previously they think Brasher should recuse himself from any BOF vote involving UNM.
Some, including Senate Finance Committee Chairman John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, contend that Brasher should sit out votes on every higher education project, even those that don’t involve UNM.
New Mexico State University Chancellor Garrey Carruthers echoed others’ concerns Monday upon hearing that Brasher voted on a UNM matter while serving in his BOF capacity.
Carruthers noted that prior to being appointed a UNM regent, Brasher had voted against NMSU’s request to issue bonds for dormitory projects.
“I really think he probably ought to recuse himself from higher education issues because we’re competitive with one another,” he said of the institutions.
Neither Brasher nor Martinez’s office previously answered Journal questions about how Brasher would handle his dual roles.
Monday offered the first public indication.
Brasher presided over the meeting, as Martinez was absent. Lt. Gov. John Sanchez and State Treasurer Tim Eichenberg weren’t there either, meaning just four of the board’s seven members were present.
Brasher said he disclosed his role as a UNM regent at the beginning of the meeting, and no one asked him to recuse himself. He said he also asked for a legal opinion from an assistant attorney general who staffs the Board of Finance meetings.
“Based on that opinion, there wasn’t a reason to recuse myself,” Brasher said in a brief interview after the meeting.
James Hallinan, spokesman for Attorney General Hector Balderas, said the office’s representative who attended issued no opinion but advised “that technically Mr. Brasher could serve in both roles.”
“Attorney General Balderas believes that all efforts must be made to remove even the appearance of a conflict of interest by those serving in fiduciary roles involving taxpayer dollars,” Hallinan said via email. “Even in this instance, a legal technicality should still be vetted against the slightest appearance of impropriety,”
Journal Staff Writer Dan McKay contributed to this report.