Los Alamos County Council debate on improper spending gets heated | Local News | santafenewmexican.com

LOS ALAMOS — Los Alamos County elected officials and their top administrator spent close to four hours Thursday night discussing and debating an independent investigation into improper use of public funds by the embattled Regional Coalition of LANL Communities.There was plenty of drama and finger-pointing throughout the night, starting with Councilor Susan O’Leary asking a colleague to recuse himself from the meeting.“Councilor [Rick] Reiss was a participant in several of the dinners that were inappropriately expensed, and there are allegations in the media that he is the person who purchased the $30 glass of whiskey, and he attended the baseball game that was paid for by RCLC funds,” said O’Leary, who has been described as the odd one out on the seven-member council.O’Leary, who pushed for the independent investigation by an Albuquerque law firm, also asked for the recusal of Chairman David Izraelevitz and Councilor Christine Chandler, a former coalition board member, for perceived conflicts of interest. Since the meeting was informational only and no action items were on the agenda, Izraelevitz said he saw no reason for any of the three to recuse themselves.The coalition, a relatively unknown public agency formed in 2011 under a joint powers agreement of several government entities, has been in the spotlight since the beginning of the year amid revelations of improper spending, including on lavish meals with alcohol. The coalition, which comprises nine cities, towns, counties and pueblos around Los Alamos National Laboratory, receives about $200,000 a year in public money, half from the U.S. Department of Energy and the rest from varying amounts paid by each member entity. Los Alamos County, the largest contributor among the member entities, has provided the coalition about $800,000 in funding since its inception.The county, which acts as the coalition’s fiscal agent — a responsibility that a number of councilors said needs to be re-examined — has taken responsibility for failing to delve deeper into the coalition’s expenditures before signing off on the reimbursement requests.But County Manager Harry Burgess said the coalition’s former executive directors, including Andrea Romero, who is running for a seat on the state House of Representatives, and the coalition’s former treasurers, including Santa Fe County Commissioner Henry Roybal, also share blame.“There are two individuals for whom there is specific responsibility for expenditures of the regional coalition, and that is their treasurer, per their bylaws, and their executive director, per his or her contract where it stipulates that they must follow the various policies of the regional coalition,” he said.“Both of those individuals [Romero and Roybal] have sort of distanced themselves from this conversation in the various media that have been published, instead blaming the county officials, that they were relying upon those county officials to do their jobs,” Burgess added. “I think we have to recognize that the formal authority should certainly weigh into this consideration.”Some councilors agreed but also said Los Alamos County dropped the ball.“We, Los Alamos County government, failed to do our business in the way that our citizens and the citizens of New Mexico expect us to do as their representatives,” Councilor Pete Sheehey said. “By ‘we’ I mean our top management team,” including Burgess, Deputy County Manager Steven Lynne and and former Deputy County Manager Brian Bosshardt.“This and previous council are also included, and I include myself,” Sheehey added. “We are responsible. Inappropriate, sometimes outrageous spending, was made.”Among the most publicized expenses was a $28 glass of WhistlePig whiskey during an outing at a Washington, D.C., restaurant, which sources have told The New Mexican was consumed by Reiss.Reiss addressed the alcohol purchase in a heated exchange with O’Leary.“Let me jump right in the middle of this,” he said when O’Leary asked Burgess how “a sophisticated person like Councilor Reiss” wouldn’t see what she called an obvious travel violation.“I’m an adult. I spent a long day walking around with RCLC, and I had the opportunity to have a drink. I did not turn in expenses,” he said, adding that he has never turned in a reimbursement request for alcohol.When O’Leary interrupted him, Reiss fired back.“I’ve got the floor,” he said. “Since you’re going to tear me up, might as well listen to me just a little bit.”Councilors said they don’t want to disband the coalition.“RCLC does important work to build a regional economy and advocate for regional interests, but its reputation has been badly damaged by these mistakes,” Sheehey said. “We need to rectify any wrongdoing and take action to prevent anything like this from happening again.”

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