Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Maggie Hart Stebbins Guest Blog: Bernalillo County Easily Passes Significant Ethics Reform

MHartStebbons130 This is a guest blog by Maggie Hart Stebbins, who was appointed to the County Commission in May, 2010 and represents District 3 -- the University, Nob Hill and International District. She’s running for election in the Democratic Primary in June and launches her campaign this Saturday, January 23.

It’s hard to find much in Bernalillo County that hasn’t changed in the past four decades. The County’s population has doubled, and the area has become a hub for high technology and green businesses. We even have a commuter rail that takes people between Belen and Santa Fe.

However, one aspect of our lives had remained steadfastly unchanged since 1975: the Bernalillo County Code of Ethics. The ethics code was outdated, vague, and did little to protect whistleblowers from retribution.

When I joined the County Commission last year, I made reforming our ethics ordinance one of my top priorities. I am delighted to say that, after months of work and input and collaboration with individuals and community organizations, the Bernalillo County Commission last week voted unanimously to overhaul this outdated code. Our new ordinance replaces the old rules with clear standards of conduct for elected officials, while making it easier for individuals to report cases of fraud or abuse by elected officials.

Adherence to a code of ethics is critical for effective local, state and federal governance. Ethics represent a set of rules that, among other things, prevents government employees from obtaining personal benefits at the expense of the public interest. Establishing and enforcing our ethics laws ensures that taxpayer dollars are spent appropriately. Any dollars that are wasted on padded contracts or employees who don’t show up for work are dollars that aren’t being spent on essential services or giving tax relief in this challenging economy.

The Federal government has created and enforced rules of ethics since 1989 through an independent agency—the Office of Government Ethics. In 2007, the New Mexico Legislature passed, and the Governor signed, the Governmental Conduct Act, which strengthens conflicts of interest laws and sets clear limits on gifts to state officials, candidates, and their families. But Bernalillo County’s current ethics laws had been so ineffective the ethics board hadn’t heard a complaint since 1995.

The new legislation will bring the Bernalillo County ethics process into the 21st century by tackling one of the most important aspects of reform: establishing a process through which people can report fraud and abuse to the appropriate authorities. A 2009 study from the nonprofit Ethics Resource Center in Arlington, Va., found that nearly 60 percent of government employees at the federal, state and local level had witnessed violations of ethical standards, policy or laws in their workplaces within the last year. The fact that no one in Bernalillo County has come forward with an ethics complaint since 1995 strongly suggests that we need a clearer process for reporting concerns - - a process that gives people confidence that their concerns will be addressed and they will be protected from retribution.

The new ordinance creates a process through which whistleblowers can remain anonymous. The County will utilize its external audit staff to investigate and substantiate complaints, which helps ensure that complaints are independent and free from political considerations. Complaints that are found to have merit will be forwarded to the County Ethics Board for action.

Our new ethics ordinance also establishes clear, comprehensive, and enforceable standards of conduct for County elected officials, employees and board appointees. The ordinance outlines in detail what is acceptable behavior for those entrusted with County resources. It expressly prohibits the use of County resources, such as property and employee time, for personal or political purposes. It also limits contributions to elected officials and candidates for those offices, and prohibits gifts from those who seek to do business with the County.

Furthermore, the new language will bring Bernalillo County into compliance with state law and ensure that our tax dollars are used appropriately.

This new ordinance wouldn’t be possible without the input and inspiration of numerous organizations and individuals. Special thanks are due to Common Cause, Think New Mexico, the Bernalillo County Ethics Board, the New Mexico Attorney General’s office, Senator Dede Feldman, and many other individuals who either spoke at our public hearings on the issue or sent their comments into my office. Their input has been invaluable in crafting simple but vitally important measures to ensure the public that county decisions are always made for the common good.

This is a guest blog by County Commissioner Maggie Hart Stebbins. If you'd like to submit a piece for consideration as a guest blog, contact me by clicking on the Email Me link on the upper left-hand corner of the page.

January 19, 2010 at 06:25 AM in 2010 Bernalillo County Commission Races, Bernalillo County, Ethics & Campaign Reform | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Jan. 23: Campaign Kickoff for Maggie Hart Stebbins for Bernalillo County Commission

Maggiehartstebbins Maggie Hart Stebbins will be hosting a kickoff for her Bernalillo County Commission, District 3, campaign on Saturday, January 23, 2010. All are welcome to attend the festivities from 1:30 PM to 3:00 PM at the Carpenters Union Hall located at 1021 Cardenas Drive NE in Albuquerque (map). Refreshments and snacks will be provided.

Maggie Hart Stebbins was appointed to the Bernalillo County Commission this past May to replace Deanna Archuleta, who left for a job at the U.S. Department of Interior. The law requires her to run for the seat this year, the first election after her appointment.

Hart Stebbins is the sponsor of a proposed new ethics ordinance for the county. She resigned from a job with the Mid-Region Council of Governments this past June so that she could concentrate on her duties as a County Commissioner.

January 10, 2010 at 01:04 PM in 2010 Bernalillo County Commission Races, Events | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Michelle Lujan Grisham to Announce Candidacy for Bernalillo County Commission

GrishamMichelle1009 Former New Mexico Secretary of Health Michelle Lujan Grisham will formally announce tomorrow that she is a candidate for the Democratic nomination for Bernalillo County Commissioner for District 1. The announcement event will take place at the Rio Grande Nature Center at 2901 Candelaria NW at 3:30 PM.

The District 1 seat, which represents the West Mesa and North Valley, is currently held by Alan Armijo, who is term-limited and finishing his second four-year term. Armijo chaired the Commission for six years. He ran unsuccessfully for City Council this year against incumbent Ike Benton.

Grisham is a 12th generation New Mexican, and has lived in Albuquerque for over 30 years, 17 of which she spent serving New Mexicans in the administrations of three governors. She was appointed Director of the state’s Agency on Aging by former Governor Bruce King 1991 and continued in that capacity through the administration of Governor Gary Johnson and into Governor Richardson’s tenure. Richardson elevated her position to cabinet rank, and later named Grisham to be Secretary of the Department of Health, a position she resigned in 2008 to run for Congress.

Lujan Grisham is a nationally recognized authority on aging and healthcare issues and has continued to work on access to health care and social services for New Mexicans, according to a statement released by her campaign. The release described Lujan Grisham as having an unparalleled record of public service in a bipartisan environment and being a strong advocate for health and long term care reform. Michelle says she understands the value of a strong voice on the County Commission and the impact the Commissioners have on the quality of life for Bernalillo County residents. She’ll wants to balance the challenges of growth with sustainability, while protecting the county’s natural resources and fighting for the well being of its citizens.

Michelle is the widow of the late Greg Grisham and the granddaughter of former New Mexico Supreme Court Chief Justice Eugene Lujan. She holds a Bachelor’s and a Juris Doctor degree from the University of New Mexico and has two grown daughters. She’s originally from the Los Alamos/Santa Fe area and has resided in Albuquerque since 1977.

The campaign’s web site will be up and running within a few days.

Loretta Naranjo-Lopez is also running in the Democratic primary for District 1 County Comissioner. She retired from her post as city planner at the City of Albuquerque in 2003 after 25 years of service. She ran also ran for County Commission in District 1 in 2006, and served as President of AFSCME, Local 3022, in 2001.

December 20, 2009 at 12:58 PM in 2010 Bernalillo County Commission Races, Events | Permalink | Comments (3)

Monday, August 31, 2009

Reception Honoring Bernalillo County Commissioner Maggie Hart-Stebbins Set for September 10

HartstebbinsFrom Fred and Joan Hart: Please join us in supporting Bernalillo County Commissioner Maggie Hart-Stebbins on Thursday, September 10th, from 5-7:00 PM at our home, 1505 Cornell NE in Albuquerque. Click for invitation (pdf). Please call with any questions and we look forward to seeing you there!

Maggie Hart-Stebbins was appointed by Gov. Bill Richardson to the Bernalillo County Commissioner this past May to replace Deanna Archuleta, who left for a job at the U.S. Department of Interior. Hart-Stebbins' current term will end in 2010.

August 31, 2009 at 04:04 PM in 2010 Bernalillo County Commission Races, Events, Local Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)