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Editorial: NM Land Office’s defense of conflict claims offensive

It’s been said that the best defense is a good offense. But the State Land Office response to conflict-of-interest questions directed at its deputy commissioner – that they are political, even sexist – are, quite frankly, offensive.

But when you can’t argue facts, maybe name calling is your best bet.

Journal investigative reporter Thomas J. Cole found that while the State Land Office’s code of conduct explicitly prohibits employees from acting as an agent for the lease of state trust lands, Deputy State Land Commissioner Laura Riley:

1. Wrote a check from her firm, Riley & Knight Appraisal and Consulting Services, to cover the administrative fees for two entities that applied to the State Land Office to have their nearly 9,000 acres in grazing leases transferred to a billionaire’s ranch in western New Mexico, and

2. Signed and approved the lease transfers on behalf of State Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn.

So how is it “politically motivated … and possibly even sexist” to raise questions about Riley not only paying the fee for the lease transfers but approving them? Especially considering the code of conduct also says “under no circumstances shall employees give rise to a conflict of interest or the appearance of a conflict of interest with the SLO”?

Last year, in responding to questions about a $7,500 fine by the state Board of Real Estate Appraisers in 2012 involving land in Lincoln County, Riley said she would no longer accept private work involving the State Land Office.

But in April, Riley wrote a $100 check from her Corrales-based company to cover the administrative fees for two grazing-lease transfers, then signed for her boss to add the 9,000 acres in grazing leases to the 292,779-acre, nearly $59 million D.R. Horton Great Western Ranch, owned by the largest home builder in the country.

If Riley has a good explanation, she isn’t sharing it publicly.

Riley referred requests for comment to Patrick Killen, assistant land commissioner for policy and special projects, who pompously proclaimed the issue “serves as a chilling reminder that these kinds of baseless attacks are still a fact of life for many women serving in positions of authority in New Mexico.”

Well, baseless until you read the office’s code of conduct, and a fact of life for those women in positions of authority who don’t think the rules apply to them.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.