Ethics board advances complaint against county commissioner - Albuquerque Journal

Ethics board advances complaint against county commissioner

Bernalillo County Commissioner Charlene Pyskoty

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

A Bernalillo County ethics board has advanced a complaint alleging an elected official improperly accepted a $5,000 campaign contribution from a lobbyist.

The county’s Code of Conduct Review Board on Friday decided the complaint against County Commissioner Charlene Pyskoty warranted an evidentiary hearing, with the board’s chair saying he would like to get more information from all sides.

“I think there’s enough dispute of what the facts could be or are and if we do this hearing I think everything will be put in front of us,” chair Robert Doucette said.

County resident Carl Peterson filed the complaint last month, alleging issues with lobbyist Vanessa Alarid’s $5,000 in-kind contribution to Pyskoty’s reelection campaign in June. Alarid, he noted, represents the developers behind Santolina, a massive planned community that has been, and will continue to go, before county commissioners to get necessary approvals. Peterson argued that makes Alarid a “restricted” donor because she seeks official action by elected officials. The county’s code of conduct bars elected officials from accepting campaign contributions over $1,000 from such donors. In addition, Peterson alleged Pyskoty did not report the contribution as fast as state law required, effectively making it a “gift” and running afoul of other code provisions.

As the review board met Friday to determine whether to dismiss or somehow advance the complaint, Pyskoty disputed that she did anything wrong – at least intentionally. She said she had expected her campaign to get a bill for mailers sent on her behalf but learned a month later that Alarid had paid $5,000 for them. Pyskoty said she completed the associated campaign finance reporting as soon as she knew about Alarid’s contribution. However, in hindsight, she said it probably qualified as an “independent expenditure” that should have been reported separate from her campaign since the money never came through her account.

“Contrary to the flattering remark of Carl Peterson that I’m a savvy or seasoned politician, that is not true,” said Pyskoty, who joined the commission in 2019 but will leave at year’s end after losing her reelection bid during the June primary.

Peterson filed his complaint days before the commission decided whom to appoint to an empty seat in the New Mexico Senate. Alarid’s husband, Antonio “Moe” Maestas, was among seven applicants pursuing the seat, and Peterson argued that Pyskoty should not participate in the appointment because Alarid’s contribution had created a conflict of interest.

Pyskoty did not sit out that Nov. 15 meeting, ultimately casting a pivotal vote for Maestas, who received the appointment on a 3-2 commission vote.

On Friday, Pyskoty drew a distinction between Maestas – who she said “never gave me one thin dime” – and his lobbyist wife, noting that she had in fact skipped an August meeting during which the commission acted on a request from Alarid-represented Santolina.

The ethics board on Friday could have dismissed the complaint or referred it for independent investigation, but instead decided it would hold its own evidentiary hearing and thus commit to resolving the complaint within 90 days.

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