A new report out of New Mexico raises further questions about the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities (RCLC) has handled reimbursement of expenses for travel, meals, alcoholic beverages, and entertainment.
The report, critical of the RCLC Board of Directors and former Executive Director Andrea Romero, was issued Aug. 8 by the Adams+Crow Law Firm of Albuquerque. It was prepared at the request of Los Alamos County, one of the members to the organization that advocates for communities near the Department of Energy’s Los Alamos National Laboratory.
In an Aug. 11 article, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported the 37-page document indicated Los Alamos County officials possibly tried to hide spending irregularities at the organization. The report also said the county reviewer might have been trying to correct incomplete or inaccurate reimbursement submissions. An initial audit by Los Alamos County found about $2,200 of $30,000 of reimbursement to Romero’s firm was improperly issued. In particular, expensive out of town meals and tickets to a Washington Nationals baseball game were singled out in the report as improperly reimbursed.
The law firm said the RCLC board reimbursed Romero, a contractor, for items such as alcoholic drinks and entertainment expenses that a state employee would not have been allowed to claim. The report also said RCLC reimbursement processes need to be overhauled, and Los Alamos County’s role as “fiscal agent” for the group should be clarified.
The document comes on the heels of an Aug. 7 report from the New Mexico State Auditor’s Office, which concluded the coalition and its former director had not complied with state standards for reimbursement. The entity was created by the state in late 2011.
In late February, the RCLC board decided not to extend the Romero firm’s contract for executive director services after the reimbursement controversy became public. Romero subsequently won a June Democratic primary election for a seat in the New Mexico House of Representatives. She also repaid money to RCLC. Romero has previously said the reimbursement had been approved in advance by the board.
Last month, the RCLC board hired Eric Vasquez, of the firm CPLC New Mexico, as the new RCLC chief.