Inside the Capitol

Friday, August 31, 2007

9-7 When Rulemakers Don't Follow the Rules


Syndicated Columnist

      SANTA FE -- Wouldn't it be nice to have the power to make rules for everyone else, but not have to follow them yourself? It happens constantly, in both the public and private sectors, but it's more noticeable in the public sector.

      The New Mexico Legislature, for instance, made a rule that public meetings have to be open to the public but then exempted its own conference committees between House and Senate representatives.

      Then there is our president, who warned us for five years not to compare Iraq with Vietnam because "there is no comparison." But now that he has a convenient analogy, he is doing just that.

      Now we have the New Mexico Department of Transportation proclaiming that the state Procurement Code does not apply to its unusual method of financing a new headquarters building and transportation hub for the RailRunner train.

      But when questions are asked about some of its actions, the department spokesman has repeatedly cited the Procurement Code in refusing to answer.

      But then that's not one of the bigger problems faced by the Transportation Department right now. The Bernalillo County Metro Court money fraud scandal is spreading up to Santa Fe as some of people indicted in the Albuquerque charges are showing up as being involved with the Transportation Department project.

      And now we learn that the department has decided the 300,000 square-foot headquarters building it wants constructed in return for the contractor getting to develop the rest of the property near downtown Santa Fe only needs to be 170,000 square-feet.

      That's a big break for winning bidder Jerry Peters, who is a major contributor to Gov. Bill Richardson's campaigns. Further work on final negotiations on the contract has been suspended until investigation of that matter has been completed.

      That may sink my prediction that the state's RailRunner hub will be finished long before the city of Santa Fe's 10-year-old Railyard Project is off the ground. No public body can dither around longer than the Santa Fe City Council.

      A favorite joke around town these days is that the question of whether Santa Fe was founded in 1607 or 1610 has been settled. It was 1607. The confusion was created because Santa Fe officials took three years to issue a building permit for the Palace of the Governors.

   *  *     *

      When it came to trying to pry the door open on the Legislature's conference committees, the late Bob Johnson led the charge. He headed the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government, which is dedicated to opening public meetings and records.

      Bob had a long career with the Associated Press and ended it as a top executive with the organization. He retired to New Mexico, taught some college classes in journalism and became the first director of the Foundation for Open Government, assisting attorneys general with training local public officials about open government.

      We worked together on the effort to learn why private money was paying for an official criminal investigation of whether Sheriff Pat Garrett shot Billy the Kid or someone else.

   Johnson tried to convince Attorney General Patricia Madrid that anonymously funded criminal investigations could lead to all sorts of mischief and that the source of funds had to become a public record. Unfortunately he ran into the same stonewall as I did.

   *  *     *

   Another former newsman passed away recently. Bob Huber wrote for United Press International and later wrote this column for a few years in the mid-1970s. At that time he also had a legislative bill tracking and analysis service.

   He left Santa Fe and moved to Portales, where he wrote a humor column for the Portales and Clovis papers. Obituaries in the two papers were very sketchy. News accounts of his death were all written by people who obviously did not know him.

   I have been unsuccessful in fleshing out the rest of his career. If anyone can help so I can pass it on to readers, I would appreciate it.



JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505

(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



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