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UNM regent to recuse himself from Board of Finance votes

SANTA FE – Michael Brasher – serving dual roles as a member of the state Board of Finance and as a regent overseeing the University of New Mexico – reversed course Tuesday and said he will abstain from Board of Finance votes involving UNM.

Michael Brasher

Michael Brasher

Brasher said he’s been assured that there’s no legal requirement to recuse himself, but he will abstain anyway to avoid even the appearance of a potential conflict.

He made the announcement Tuesday during a state Board of Finance meeting, during which the board approved plans for UNM to move forward with a $35 million renovation and expansion of Johnson Center, a recreational complex that includes gyms and pools.

Brasher didn’t participate in the vote. He said his dual role had been “considered at significant lengths” by members of the Attorney General’s Office, the Board of Finance and the Governor’s Office.

“While I’ve been advised that the law is clear – there is no conflict – and notwithstanding that, there is ample precedent of similar situations of serving on multiple public boards.” he said. “Enough concern has been raised in the press that, in the spirit of avoiding appearances of conflicts of interest, I’ve made this decision.”

His recusal came after he voted on a UNM project last month as a member of the Board of Finance – the first UNM vote to come up at the board since Gov. Susana Martinez added him to the Board of Regents.

Brasher said last month that no one had asked him to recuse himself and that an attorney staffing the board said there was no reason for him to abstain.

Indeed, Assistant Attorney General Sally Malave told board members Tuesday that she doesn’t believe Brasher’s role as a regent would create the kind of personal financial interest in a UNM project that would violate the state Governmental Conduct Act.

Nonetheless, Brasher said Tuesday that he won’t participate in board votes that involve UNM. He didn’t say whether he would also abstain from votes involving other higher education projects, as some have requested.

The Board of Finance has authority over a variety of higher education matters. Universities must get approval from the board to issue revenue bonds, initiate significant construction projects or add graduate programs.

Sen. John Arthur Smith, a Deming Democrat and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, told the Journal that he still believes Brasher should recuse himself from all higher education matters due to the perception of a possible pro-UNM “bias.”

But he commended Brasher for deciding to at least recuse himself from UNM votes.

“Evidently, he’s rethinking his position. I appreciate it from that standpoint,” Smith said, adding that “a small step is better than no step.”

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