The landscape is about to change for a local office beleaguered by scandal for the past several years. The next Bernalillo County Treasurer’s priority will be restoring the taxpayers’ trust.
The treasurer’s office is responsible for county investments and collecting property taxes for Bernalillo county.
Past treasurer, Patrick Padilla, and current treasurer, Manny Ortiz, have both been accused of losing millions of dollars in bad investments.
“There was a lot of controversy about investment decisions made in the treasurer’s office,” said Timothy Krebs, a UNM political science professor.
Padilla is currently involved in a lawsuit alleging he engaged in a kickback scheme and conspired with investment brokers defrauding the public. According to the Albuquerque Journal, a legal petition to recall Ortiz from office, alleging misfeasance and malfeasance, was filed in state District Court in 2013.
The current treasurer, Manny Ortiz, worked for the former treasurer, Patrick Padilla before switching jobs when Ortiz won the treasurer’s election, Krebs said.
“Public perception is that the office is filled with political insiders,”Krebs said.
Both Padilla and Ortiz ran against Nancy Bearce and Chris Sanchez for the Democratic nomination in June. According to the NM political report, Bearce won the nomination with 39 percent of the vote. Kim Hillard won the Republican nomination.
Either of the first-time candidates will refresh the public’s view of the office as both are running reformed platforms, Krebs said.
Hillard, who did not respond to repeated requests for an interview, says the treasurer’s office needs more transparency.
“I would welcome open and transparent government, letting the treasurer’s office be audited frequently, ” said Hillard in an Albuquerque Journal article.
Hillard said restoring confidence to the office is his top priority. According to the Albuquerque Journal, Hillard has been an active force in the New Mexican Republican Party, serving as the first vice chairman on its executive committee.
Hillard said he plans on hiring professional investment officers ensuring a well-balanced investment portfolio.
Bearce, a self-described New Mexican from Alamogordo, said she feels transparency is a strong way to deal with all future actions of the treasurer.
Transparency is important to Bearce, she says she plans to adhere to all Open Meetings Act guidelines. All public records can be accessed with an Inspection of the Public Records request. Bearce says she encourages the public get involved and give input.
“When a problem is discovered, that is not the time to go silent,” Bearce said. “Instead it’s the time to yell for help, rally your resources and seek out new partners to help address and remedy the issue and continue to communicate the need for stakeholder input.”
Bearce said that most of her friends are community leaders and people that she has worked with over the span of her career. She points out that she is not owned by large donors or PACS from special interest investors.
“The majority of my supporters are those wanting a positive and effective change in the Treasurer’s Office,” Bearce said. “To provide new leadership, a strong administrator and a dedicated problem solver.”
Bearce says becoming a full time, dedicated treasurer is no small task. She outlined her plans for office if elected. She even plans to quit her current job and dedicate her time to the position.
Bearce said she plans on conducting forensic audits of the office, identify inconsistencies, and work with the Board of County Commissioners on investments
Bearce says her experience with bureaucracy as well as managing insurance pools for Albuquerque Public School (APS) and the State of New Mexico qualifies her for the position.
Bearce said she sees a lack in leadership within the office and she believes she knows how to prevent future problems with the treasurer’s office.
At a time when the state faces harsh budget cuts, it is not clear if the county manager has identified the loss of state funding, Bearce said.
“I would expect the next County Board of Finance meeting in November to have [budget cuts] as an agenda item and the public and I will know more concerning the state budget cuts as well as the outcome of the election,” Bearce said.
Bernalillo County Republican Party Chairman Frank Ruvolo said the Republican party and Hillard will carefully consider each investment opportunity as allowed by the law and they will have complete transparency.
The party plans to follow all lawful procedures, and implement reforms to bring the office into compliance, he said.
Trust must be regained from the public and Hillard plans to do that by addressing sins of the past administration, and taking action as necessary, Ruvolo said.
Ruvolo said valuable staff from the past administration will go through review and be evaluated, receiving more than they have been subject to in the past.
“No matter who wins, business, investment, administrative acumen, and public service oriented experience are needed to be a successful treasurer,” Krebs said.