Donations scrutinized in BernCo - Albuquerque Journal

Donations scrutinized in BernCo

A lobbyist’s $5,000 campaign contribution to a Bernalillo County commissioner has caused a recent stir, prompting a citizen to file a sworn ethics complaint that is headed for a hearing.

Commissioner Charlene Pyskoty denied the contribution from Vanessa Alarid created a conflict of interest for her when deciding whether to appoint Alarid’s husband – Antonio “Moe” Maestas – to a vacant seat in the New Mexico Senate.

Pyskoty did not recuse herself from that commission decision, casting a pivotal vote in Maestas’ favor on Tuesday as the divided commission chose him for the position over six other applicants.

But Pyskoty said she will in fact sideline herself in an upcoming vote due to a different campaign donation.

Prominent local hotelier Jim Long is seeking economic incentives from the county to support a trio of new developments in the Sawmill District. That includes $146.4 million in industrial revenue bonds, or IRBs, and millions in Local Economic Development Act (LEDA) grants. Developers must repay the IRBs, but they bring with them tax breaks. County staff are still negotiating the value of those tax breaks.

As for the LEDA, the county would fund the grant by giving up a share of the taxes it would normally collect from Long’s businesses.

Long gave Pyskoty’s campaign $1,500 during the 2022 primary season as she ran unsuccessfully to retain her commission seat.

The county’s code of conduct bars elected officials and candidates from accepting a campaign contribution over $1,000 from any “restricted donor” per primary or general election. That’s a class of donors that includes any person or entity “seeking official action … by an elected official.”

The commission is supposed to take a final vote on Long’s incentive package at its Dec. 13 meeting.

Asked last week by the Journal about Long’s contribution, Pyskoty said she intended to recuse herself from the forthcoming vote on the incentives.

“Because of the donation, I want to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest,” she wrote in an email. “I have no other relationship with Jim Long.”

Long also gave to two incoming county commissioners, according to campaign finance records.

Eric Olivas – who defeated Pyskoty in June’s Democratic primary and will take the seat Jan. 1 – received $1,500 from Long in the primary and $1,000 for the general election, according to campaign finance records. Barbara Baca, who will succeed outgoing commissioner Debbie O’Malley, received $1,500 from Long ahead of the primary election.

In a complaint filed against Pyskoty recently, a citizen alleged Alarid met the qualification of “restricted” donor because she has represented the development team behind the massive Santolina planned community – a project that has sought, and will continue to need, various approvals from the commission – and that her $5,000 in-kind contribution to Pyskoty was a conduct violation.

The county’s Code of Conduct Review Board is scheduled to address that complaint during a preliminary hearing on Dec. 2.

WINTER WARMTH: The Bernalillo County Commission has unanimously approved using just over $1 million from its behavioral health tax to run a winter hotel for homeless families, replicating a program it also did a year ago.

Deputy County Manager Greg Perez said 80% of the approximately 60 families who stayed in the county’s winter hotel last year moved on to more stable housing, which he called a “huge success.”

“I can only hope and pray we have that same success rate this time around with the 50 families we bring in off of the street into the program,” he said.

The City of Albuquerque also continues to operate a hotel to serve homeless families, something it has done nonstop since December 2020.

A city spokeswoman said that 266 households – representing 855 total people – have transitioned from the hotel to permanent housing during that time.


Jessica Dyer: jdyer@abqjournal.com

 

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