Wednesday, May 18, 2011
AG King Reports on Important Ethics Law Update
New Mexico Attorney General Gary King released a statement this week explaining that "highly significant and essential amendments to New Mexico’s Governmental Conduct Act were approved by Legislators in the most recent session." The statement continues:
"My office developed the legislation that passed and was signed into law, known as SB 432, sponsored by Senator Tim Eichenberg. I tried for the past four years to make this happen and I am grateful to the Legislature and Governor for making the amendments reality. On the good chance, however, that most New Mexicans and probably more than a few public servants have not heard about this anti-corruption measure and what it means, perhaps this short tutorial will be helpful.
"The new law expands and clarifies the definition of a public officer or employee covered by the Act and amends the prohibition against certain designated political activities to include elected or appointed officials or employees of state and local government agencies. This means employees and officers of village, county, city governments, (the definition in the bill says "local government agency" means a political subdivision of the state or an agency of a political subdivision of the state) are now subject to the ethical principles and prohibitions set out in the Act. The amendments ensure that all public servants statewide now have a common code of conduct instead of a patchwork of ethics laws.
"Additionally, the amended Act prohibits employees of state and local government agencies from participating directly or indirectly in the contracting process and prohibits them from becoming employees of the contractor doing business with the agency. It also provides a definition of what constitutes a contract under the Act.
"The bill also prohibits public officers, during their elected term, and public employees during their employment period from acquiring a financial interest when the public officer or employee believes or should have reason to believe that the new financial interest will be directly affected by the officer’s or employee’s official act. The bill also clarifies that the Act prohibits state agencies from entering into any contract with a public officer or employee or his or her business or that officer’s or employee’s family member or business unless the contract is awarded pursuant to a competitive process and unless the officer or employee has provided public notice of this fact.
"The same prohibition is extended to local government agencies as well. The bill also extends the prohibitions against state agencies entering into contracts with former state agency employees to local government agencies. Prohibitions regarding bidding, certain business sales and contributions that are currently applicable to state agencies are extended to local government agencies.
"As Attorney General, I have long held that the absence of a uniform set of ethical standards, applied statewide, undermines public faith in government in general and creates confusion in the public mind. More importantly, the newly expanded code of conduct will most definitely make it easier for law enforcement to address corruption all over New Mexico.
"Finally, the Governmental Conduct Act states that:
A legislator, public officer or employee shall treat the legislator's, public officer's or employee's government position as a public trust...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.
"At last, those words apply to all public servants in all facets of government across our state."
Not being a lawyer, I can't make the connection between this explanation and the concern of some of us in Otero County that there might have been some shenanigans going on in the recent purchase of the building that now houses some of the county administrative offices. The purchase price seemed to have been rather inflated. Was it a sweetheart deal? We will probably never know.
Posted by: Ellen Wedum | May 19, 2011 5:03:19 AM