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Treasurer recall petition is filed

Copyright © 2013 Albuquerque Journal

A recall petition filed in state District Court accuses Bernalillo County Treasurer Manny Ortiz of mismanaging county investments and other “malfeasance” warranting removal from office.

The petition, filed last week and delivered to Ortiz on Friday, seeks court approval to circulate a petition that could force Ortiz into a recall election. It would take 45,000 signatures to trigger an election.

Ortiz, a Democrat, has already been the target of a “no confidence” vote by the Bernalillo County Commission. Auditors last month also accused him of violating state law.

“Treasurer Ortiz’s mismanagement of Bernalillo County’s investments constitutes malfeasance of the sort that has resulted in millions of dollars in (paper) losses and the selling off of county investments for losses,” the recall petition says.

Ortiz, for his part, has repeatedly defended his work as treasurer. He won election last year and took office Jan. 1. A spokeswoman said he wasn’t immediately available for comment Friday afternoon. But Ortiz said last week he saw no grounds for recall, when asked about the possibility.

“We have done nothing but run a good office, as far as I’m concerned,” Ortiz said.

A hearing to decide whether the recall petition can move forward for signature-gathering is scheduled Jan. 9 before Judge Beatrice Brickhouse. The plaintiffs must convince Brickhouse that “probable cause exists for the grounds for recall,” according to the state Constitution.

If they succeed, they must gather signatures from about 45,000 registered voters, which is one-third of the people who voted in the last treasurer election. If enough signatures are verified, a special election would be held within 90 days. A majority vote would be required to remove Ortiz from office.

Attorney James Dory filed the recall petition on behalf of George Richmond; former state Rep. Kathy McCoy, R-Cedar Crest; David Holcomb; Danny Payton; and Jane Payton. Richmond, the lead plaintiff, describes himself as an activist for good government. He is also chairman of the county’s DWI Planning Council and a founder of New Mexico Angels, a private investment group.

The petition alleges five counts that justify recall: mismanagement of investments, mismanagement of financial record keeping, illegal deposits outside the county’s geographical boundaries, violations of the state open-meetings law and failure to attend meetings called by the County Commission.

Much of the criticism is based on a report issued by state auditors in November.

Ortiz and his staff dispute the audit findings and say they’ve broken no laws. They disagree, for example, that the county’s investment committee is required to hold open meetings. They also say the deposits questioned by auditors aren’t subject to geographic restrictions.

The recall petition also mentions the structure of the county’s investment portfolio, echoing criticism from auditors and the County Commission.

The county administration says too much of the county’s money is tied up in long-term investments and is unavailable to pay daily bills.

The county lost about $758,000 in recent months when Ortiz sold bonds at a loss to cover expenses. It has millions more in paper losses – meaning they would be realized if the bonds were sold now.

The county administration says it has made budget cuts to offset lost value.

The portfolio, at one point last week, had lost about $22.5 million in value, the county administration said.

Ortiz and his staff contend they’ve invested wisely. Their decisions have generated more than $4 million in investment income for the county this year alone, Ortiz has told commissioners.

Before this year, Ortiz served as the investment officer under then-Treasurer Patrick Padilla. Padilla became investment officer under Ortiz this year, essentially switching jobs.

Padilla stepped down last week to focus on his campaign for state treasurer.

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