Insights: Financial advisor debate obscures real issues

Cheryl Everett is a Rio Rancho resident and former city councilor.

RIO RANCHO, N.M. — In my experience, when a controversy arises over the performance of a single public employee or contractor, the real issues seldom lie with the employee or the firm. More often, the disagreement arises in a vacuum where data-driven policy and performance standards should be.

Case in point: The attention currently focused on Sandoval County Financial Advisor Rob Burpo, whose role has been debated by several county commissioners as well as county Treasurer Laura Montoya. The dispute was extensively reported in a recent issue of the Rio Rancho Observer.

Briefly, Democratic Commissioner Katherine Bruch and Montoya have questioned Burpo’s compensation – roughly $112,000 annually from fixed monthly fees plus 25 basis points (¼ %) – which totaled $34,000 this year so far – on county debt transactions. Republican county commissioners have vigorously defended Burpo’s performance. And Burpo himself presented a Powerpoint chronicle of his achievements at a recent county commission meeting,

State law delegates county investment management to the county treasurer, whose annual salary (currently $75,327) is fixed by state law. Any state-approved increase must also be ratified by the county commission, which declined to do so for the latest state-sanctioned increase.

In addition, the Sandoval County Commission acts as the county’s board of finance, while the county manager contracts with financial advisor Burpo (DBA First American Financial Advisors) to assist the county with a wide range of financial and administrative matters. The county budget, meanwhile, is handled separately by Finance Director Cassandra Herrera, who earns $ 98,633 annually.

Lots of cross purposes colliding. Lots of crevasses to fall into. Lots of mandates to meet.

Data-driven performance measures for Burpo’s position were not readily available and indeed may not exist. To a certain degree, he has served as a “fixer” for mishandled situations. Politics has inevitably played a part in this evolving role over the years.

Though there are others more expert in county government, I offer the following modest proposal in response to what I believe are legitimate questions about county financial operations:

• Declare an immediate cease-fire in the war of words concerning Burpo.

Besides restoring civility, this action would help refocus debate from a single individual to a major function in county government.

• Proactively engage county and possibly citizen experts in a task force to:

• Study and establish agreed-on financial functions of county government as defined by the state constitution and state statutes as well as county policy.

• Evaluate third-party contracts and employee job descriptions to determine an optimal, cost-effective division of responsibilities among county financial officials, including the treasurer, finance director, financial advisor, bond counsel and other personnel who serve in a financial capacity.

• Establish specific, data-driven performance measures for all county financial functions and positions. Revise existing job descriptions and contract terms to reflect best practices within statutory limits at the earliest possible date.

Good government is not about one individual. It’s about team players who cooperate and coordinate to produce a seamlessly functioning system. A lofty goal, but one we should keep striving to reach.

(Cheryl Everett is a Rio Rancho resident and former city councilor. Her column appears on the first Sunday of the month.)

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