March 6, 2015

Pay-to-play allegations welcome Aubrey Dunn to Land Office

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State Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn

Santa Fe – New State Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn barely had time to change the curtains in his new office before he was hit with an ethics complaint accusing him of giving a public contract to a local official who tried to put Dunn’s son on the county payroll.

State Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn

State Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn

From the Santa Fe New Mexican:

“I believe there was a conflict of interest. This is about ethics.” – William Wheatley, Otero County

The complaint stems from two contracts, a short-term contract with the State Land Office benefiting Rardin and a proposed Otero County contract that would benefit Blair Dunn. It may also stem from bad blood between Otero County officials.

Rardin was one of five people who signed short-term professional services contracts Jan. 2 to serve on Aubrey Dunn’s transition team. Wheatley’s complaint says that on Jan. 8, Rardin, who has been a county commissioner 15 years, made a motion at a county meeting to replace county attorney Dan Bryant with Blair Dunn. The younger Dunn was already working as a contract attorney with the county. No one seconded Rardin’s motion, and it died.

Under the 90-day State Land Office contract, Rardin was to be paid $7,500 a month to audit all equipment and facilities around the state owned by the office. Wheatley said the contract was issued without a competitive bid, as required under the Governmental Conduct Act.

The Government Conduct Act appears to only require competitive bids for contracts over $50,000, so that part of the complaint may soon be set aside.

But the apparent pay-to-play may be more problematic if either the attorney general, state auditor or state disciplinary board find evidence that Aubrey Dunn spoke with Rardin about his son’s appointment before the county meeting.

Aubrey Dunn is one of New Mexico’s most colorful state officials.  The Tea Party-style land commissioner wasted no time changing the decor in his new office.  He mothballed a solar panel display which was formerly in the lobby and asked oil companies to donate an oil drilling pump jack to his office.  He wants to replace a public art statue with the oil drilling equipment:

Dunn is a rancher in Lincoln and Chaves counties who had strong support from the oil and gas industry when he won election in November.

“We’ve asked the oil companies to see if they would furnish us one,” he said of the planned pump jack.

Update: After we posted this story, Mr. Wheatly reached out to us and shared the text of the full complaint which had not previously been posted publicly.  Here is it:

February 23, 2015

 

The Honorable Hector Balderas, Attorney General

Criminal Investigations Division

111 Lomas Blvd., Suite 300

Albuquerque, NM 87102

 

The Honorable Timothy Keller, New Mexico State Auditor

New Mexico Office of the State Auditor

2540 Camino Edward Ortiz, Suite A

Santa Fe, NM 87507

 

Re: Ethics Complaint Concerning Aubrey Dunn, New Mexico Land Commissioner, Ronny Rardin, Chair of the Otero County Commission, and A. Blair Dunn,  Attorney for Otero County.

 

Dear Sirs:

 

As Otero County residents, we request that you exercise your statutory duty to investigate apparent ethics violations by Aubrey Dunn, who is currently the New Mexico Land Commissioner, and Ronny Rardin, Chair of the Otero County Commission.

 

It appears that Ronny Rardin entered into a professional services contract with the State Land Office on January 2, 2015, at $7,500 per month, without benefit of a competitive bid process which is required of all public officials under GCA 10-16-7.   Then on January 8, in an official  public meeting, he made a motion  to replace the current county attorney with Aubrey Dunn’s son, A. Blair Dunn, which would have resulted in approximately $15,000 to $20,000 monthly legal fees to A. Blair Dunn.

 

Legal Authority

 

Your office has statutory authority to “initiate investigations to determine whether any provision of the Governmental Conduct Act, Section 10-16-4 A, has been violated.”

 

As a public official it is unlawful to take an official act for the primary purpose of directly enhancing the public officer’s or employee’s financial interest or financial position. And, 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 .  It is also unlawful for a state contract to be entered into with a public official without a competitive bid process.

 

At no time did Aubrey Dunn or Ronny Rardin make a full public disclosure of any real or potential conflicts of interest. They made no effort to make full disclosure a guiding principle for determining appropriate conduct. They apparently made no reasonable efforts to avoid undue influence and abuse of office in public service.

 

Mr. Dunn and Mr. Rardin are required by statute to treat their position as a public trust.  “The 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.” NMSA 1978 § 10-16-3(A) (2011). Additionally, public officials “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.” § 10-16-3(B).

 

It appears that the purpose of Aubrey Dunn giving Ronny Rardin a personal services contract, without competitive bid process, and Ronny Rardin’s acceptance of said contract was clearly to enhance Rardin’s as well as A. Blair Dunn’s financial position, which violates the Governmental Conduct Act.

 

The example detailed above is not believed to be the only violation of the public trust; upon further investigation, the Secretary of State’s Office, or a prosecutor, may discover more instances in which Aubrey Dunn and Ronny Rardin abused the trust the public has placed in them.

 

We request that you promptly begin your investigation and take swift action, including but not limited to, imposing fines, penalties, and referring the matter to the appropriate prosecutorial authorities as permitted in NMSA 1978 § 1-19-34.4(G).

 

Please acknowledge receipt of this complaint within two (2) business days. We look forward to your investigation.

 

Sincerely,

William J. Wheatley

Tularosa, NM 88352

Susan Wheatley

High Rolls, NM 88325

 

Enclosures

wjw/file

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