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Auditor looking into $1.7M settlements

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The state auditor Tuesday morning announced plans for a special audit examining $1.7 million in settlements reportedly finalized at the end of Gov. Susana Martinez’s term.

State Auditor Brian Colón

Auditor Brian Colón called the timeline for the settlements “quite concerning” and said the audit will look into whether they were made in compliance with process and protocol.

“We can’t award settlements to protect reputations; we can’t award settlements for political expediency,” Colón said. “Instead, we should be doing settlements that are in the best interest of New Mexicans.”

Colón’s office sent a letter Friday notifying General Services Department Secretary Ken Ortiz that the department had been designated for a special audit to “assess the GSD’s compliance with applicable laws, regulations, policies and procedures.” GSD must cover the cost, as required by state statute.

Colón said he expects the audit to be his office’s primary focus over the next 60 to 90 days. If it discovers wrongdoing, he said, the findings could be referred for prosecution.

“Secret processes are susceptible to abuse,” Colón said. “Any time we have issues or opportunities for government to operate in the cloak of secrecy is a time of great concern for the Office of the State Auditor.”

Meanwhile, Ortiz told the Journal his agency has been reviewing since February how to improve its evaluation of legal claims against the state and hopes to institute a “standard set of procedures to ensure we handle claims objectively and consistently …”

After the new administration took office, Ortiz said, “We didn’t see any kind of a standard process (in place).”

Ortiz said he welcomed Colón’s audit, saying it may identify further improvements needed.

Reporter Colleen Heild contributed to this story.

 

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