Sunday, July 13, 2008

Trouble in Lobo Land. It’s “NOT” Irrelevant

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

Lobos cast in bronze adorn the University of New Mexico’s main campus. Officially, it’s Canis lupus baileyi or Mexican Gray Wolf, also known as el Lobo. It’s on the endangered species list and is being reintroduced to the wild in parts of southeastern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The Lobo is UNM’s mascot. Some, mostly ranchers, do not welcome the reintroduction of Lobos out of fear of the wolf and they perpetuate the old “Big Bad Wolf” myths. The wolf does endanger livestock and several have been found shot to death by those who simply take matters into their own hands, skirting any efforts by the Fish and Wildlife Service to mitigate their damage.

This week, my associate, political blogger Joe Monahan, left, was contacted by one of his alligator sources with a tip that Republican Congressional District One candidate Bernalillo County Sheriff Darren White, right, was participating in a fund raiser billed as "An Evening With Coach Alford;" that’s UNM Lobo Head Basketball Coach Steve Alford.

The event, scheduled for July 16, is to be hosted by UNM Lobbyist Joe Thompson. Two of the sponsors are UNM Regents Don Chalmers and Jack Fortner. The main draw was participants could have their photo taken with the coach for a $1,000 contribution.

After Monahan’s initial Tuesday post, the Alford situation got a lot of air-time on talk radio KKOB-AM, a report by KOB TV Eyewitness News’ Stuart Dyson and other bloggers commenting on the issue.

“’We felt like the coach would be a good draw, and he had already agreed to do other events, and he could turn around and say no,’ said Darren White,” KOB reported.

Monahan wrote that Alford’s boss, UNM Athletics Vice President Paul Krebs, said he and Alford were unaware of the coach’s anticipated role in fundraising.

White’s campaign defended the Alford affair, pointing out that he had attended other political events for Democrats: Gov. Bill Richardson’s Presidential bid and Second Congressional District nominee Harry Teague’s campaign. However, Alford’s attendance was not in the starring role, he simply showed up unadvertised.

The Albuquerque Journal teased their story on the Wednesday night 10 PM KOAT TV‘s Action 7 News segment “tomorrow’s headline tonight,” about what Alford planned to do.

Monahan’s Thursday blog noted that Alford, as a private citizen, may support anyone he wants.

“Krebs said he didn’t know the coach would be the main attraction,” was stated in an article entitled, “Flagrant Foul?” written by Journal Political Writer Jeff Jones and Sports Writer Mark Smith.

“I wouldn’t know Darren White if he walked in front of me,” Alford said. “It got falsely advertised. I was just stopping by,” according to the story.

Krebs told the Journal, “he had asked Alford to attend the fundraiser but said he didn’t know his coach would be the main draw.”

“A fundraiser is a fundraiser. Whether you’re doing photos or shaking hands, it’s irrelevant,” White told the Journal. He was equating Alford’s appearance at a Richardson event last year and a Teague event in May, with his headliner event.

In a special Friday posting, Monahan wrote that Alford told sportsmeister Scott Stiegler of 770 KKOB-AM, "as a man of his word," that he would attend the White fundraiser, but not allow his photo to be sold.

The Journal’s Jones reported, “UNM regents President Jamie Koch, a major Democratic player and fundraiser, said having a UNM employee headlining a fundraiser sponsored by regents left a bad impression — and said he planned to introduce a resolution to stop such practices.”

Analysis

There are several issues raised by this series of events:

What’s the role of the head basketball coach in using his title by attending and drawing people to a partisan political event?

Why does the Coach go where his boss, a university vice president, tells him to go for political purposes?

Why is the Sheriff inviting a high profile public servant to act as a draw for political financing?

Is there a need for the President of the Regents to write a new policy on handling employee conduct in political events?

For all the noise that has been made, it seems no one started where they should, at the beginning.

What does the university policy say? Of course there are policies; they’re contained in the University of New Mexico Board of Regents’ Policy Manual and the University Business Policies and Procedures Manual. They apply to all employees and even the regents.

The University of New Mexico Board of Regents’ Policy Manual.
The relevant language reads in part:
Employees of the University shall maintain the highest standards of business ethics in transactions with the University, with state, federal, and local governments, and with the public. Employees are expected to perform their duties faithfully and efficiently and never give rise to suspicion of improper conflict with interests of the University. Employees shall not accept favors or gratuities from any firm, person, or corporation that is engaged in, or attempting to engage in, business transactions with the University. Subject to specific University administrative policies, employees must avoid any conflict of interest that may affect their independent judgment in the impartial performance of their duties and may not use their positions to enhance their direct or indirect financial interest or use confidential information learned as employees for anyone's private gain. All employees shall comply with state conflict of interest laws as well as University policies.
The University Business Policies and Procedures Manual’s Employee Code of Conduct and Conflicts of Interest reads:
Employees of the University shall maintain the highest standards of business ethics in transactions with the University, with state, federal, and local governments, and with the public. Employees are expected to perform their duties faithfully and efficiently and never to give rise to suspicion of improper conflict with interests of the University. Subject to specific University administrative policies, employees must avoid any conflict of interest that may affect their independent judgment in the impartial performance of their duties and may not use their positions to enhance their direct or indirect financial interest or use confidential information learned as employees for anyone's private gain.
The magic little language is, “All employees shall comply with state conflict of interest laws…”

Let’s look at the State law. There are two sections of importance under Chapter 10, Article 16, known as the "Governmental Conduct Act."

This particular law specifically covers the UNM regents, vice president of athletics, head basketball coach and the county sheriff.

10-16-3. Ethical principles of public service; certain official acts prohibited; penalty.

A. A legislator, public officer or employee shall treat the legislator's, public officer's or employee's government position as a public trust. The legislator, public officer or employee shall use the powers and resources of public office only to advance the public interest and not to obtain personal benefits or pursue private interests incompatible with the public interest.

B. Legislators, public officers and employees shall conduct themselves in a manner that justifies the confidence placed in them by the people, at all times maintaining the integrity and discharging ethically the high responsibilities of public service.

C. Full disclosure of real or potential conflicts of interest shall be a guiding principle for determining appropriate conduct. At all times, reasonable efforts shall be made to avoid undue influence and abuse of office in public service.

D. No legislator, public officer or employee may request or receive, and no person may offer a legislator, public officer or employee, any money, thing of value or promise thereof that is conditioned upon or given in exchange for promised performance of an official act. Any person who knowingly and willfully violates the provisions of this subsection is guilty of a fourth degree felony and shall be sentenced pursuant to the provisions of Section 31-18-15 NMSA 1978.
10-16-3.1. Prohibited political activities.

Public officers and employees are prohibited from:

A. directly or indirectly coercing or attempting to coerce a state officer or employee to pay, lend or contribute anything of value to a party, committee, organization, agency or person for a political purpose;

B. threatening to deny a promotion or pay increase to an employee who does or does not vote for certain candidates, requiring an employee to contribute a percentage of the employee's pay to a political fund, influencing a subordinate employee to purchase a ticket to a political fundraising dinner or similar event, advising an employee to take part in political activity or similar activities; or

C. violating the officer's or employee's duty to not use state property, or allow its use, for other than authorized purposes.
So what’s wrong with this picture?

Any citizen has a First Amendment right to speech, free association and to petition government for a redress of grievances. I don’t suggest that any of the players here are not permitted to exercise their Constitutional rights. I would be the first to yell foul should someone try to restrain them. However, that’s not what going on here. The regents, vice president, coach and the sheriff each hold a public title and by law may not trade on those titles. If each drops the mantle of their state authority, by title, then who cares what they do in voicing their support in the political field? To retain their title is to drag the university and the state illegally into the politics.

Regents Chalmers and Fortner, trading on their titles, are hosting the event at the home of University Lobbyist Thompson.

The event is advertised as an evening with Coach Alford to benefit Darren White. The word coach has value, $1,000 per photo, as used in the law.

Alford says his boss told him to go to political events; this one and others.

Krebs admits to telling Alford to attend the political event, in what appears to be a direct conflict with the prohibition against, “advising an employee to take part in political activity or similar activities.”

White’s campaign admitted it had received donations of $1,000 from a number of supporters to have their pictures taken with Alford.

My Take

I have an associate who argues that none of this matters. That no one will do anything. That it’s a dead story. That it’s irrelevant.

“Here's the latest -- and dare we say, hopefully last -- chapter in the saga of UNM basketball coach Steve Alford's attendance of a fundraiser for 1st Congressional District GOP Candidate Darren White,” wrote Tripp Jennings of the New Mexico Independent.

I see it a little differently. It’s not irrelevant. Nor should it be the last chapter. If no one does anything, then this becomes a toehold for corrupted acts.

We can’t un-ring the bell. Alford says he’s a man of his word. However, I believe he has a duty to “his word” that belongs first to the people of the state, as written in our laws. He’s taking almost a million dollars a year in salary from us. He knows there are rules. By taking the job, he and all the rest of the players agreed to play fair, to follow the law. None of these guys have.

There often is no bright line in ethics situations. In this case it flashes.

When reading the above laws, each paragraph is a violation in and of itself.

Some might want to misread some things in the statute, like “…thing of value or promise thereof that is conditioned upon or given in exchange for promised performance of an official act.” This is commonly known as the quid pro quo, “What for what; something for something,” according to Black’s law dictionary. What is the return from White you might ask? He is running to be a United States Congressman.

Federal government appropriations in the fiscal year 2008-09 total operating and capital budget plans for UNM are $29,080,735. The figure represents only 1.4 percent of the total budget.

Krebs told Alford to attend as a matter of networking. One doesn’t need a codebook to know what that means; play nice, "...benefit Darren White" so we have a friend in the possible next congressman who will grant us access and talk with us.

It might be appropriate to reevaluate Alford’s visits, as coach, to the earlier Democratic fund-raisers.

The old cop in me says there is sufficient information to call out the proper authority to investigate these events, the Sheriff.

Oh wait; he’s the guy who started this whole mess.

It’s not irrelevant. The Sheriff is required to know the law.

2 comments:

ched macquigg said...

The governmental ethics law is at least as old as 1978.
When I asked a clerk of the Second Judicial District Court how many complaints had been filed under the law, she said;

"None".
"Apparently it has never been necessary."

I beg to differ.

ZenLantern said...

Nice probable cause sir, I am in awe of your acumen.