SANTA FE, N.M. — Los Alamos County Councilor Susan O’Leary called for an independent investigation into improper use of public funds by the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities to continue and the scope to go back to the inception of the coalition during a special meeting to discuss the findings of the investigation on Thursday.
During a sometimes contentious meeting, O’Leary accused her colleagues of not taking the investigation seriously enough, suggested there was a “very serious ethical lapse” among county staff and members of the RCLC, and called for the county to cut back funding to the RCLC and remove itself as the coalition’s fiscal agent.
“I’m disappointed by the lack of concern by my fellow councilors about the seriousness of this,” she said, adding that she had heard what she characterized as “excuses” from county personnel and efforts by some council members to put a halt to the investigation. “I think we need to do a lot better.”
O’Leary estimated that Los Alamos County had spent roughly $800,000 to fund the RCLC since it was formed in 2012 and said that taxpayers deserved accountability from elected officials.
The special meeting was called in the wake of a county-commissioned investigative report by the law firm Adams+Crow to investigate allegations of improper spending — mostly in the form of reimbursements made to the RCLC’s former executive director — and a special audit by the state Auditor’s Office, both of which were released last month.
The executive director for much of the time period covered by the investigation and audit was Andrea Romero, who is the Democrat nominee for the District 46 seat in the state House of Representatives.
The Adams+Crow investigation, which the council approved spending up to $50,000 for the law firm to produce, identified more than $34,000 of possible improper expenses, while the special audit placed the figure at more than $50,000.
In a response to the Adams+Crow report County Manager Harry Burgess acknowledged that mistakes were made, but he emphasized that both the investigation and audit found no evidence of intentional wrongdoing by county employees or elected officials. He also criticized the report, saying some aspects were grossly misrepresented or exaggerated.
Los Alamos County serves as fiscal agent for the RCLC, which represents nine government entities and advocates for federal funding for nuclear waste clean up at Los Alamos National Laboratory and jobs.
Councilor Christine Chandler agreed with O’Leary that the county should get out of its role as fiscal agent and recommended that travel expenses for county officials be posted online.