Newspaper criticizes ABQ racino lease process
‘If you’re setting the ethical bar based on the Richardson administration, you are setting it way too low,’ Journal reporter writes
The Albuquerque Journal is expressing serious concerns about the Martinez administration’s awarding of a 25-year lease for the racino at the state fair grounds.
Over the weekend, the Journal explained in a commentary from one reporter and a separate newspaper editorial why it’s concerned about the awarding of the lease by Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration to the Downs at Albuquerque.
“Individuals and a company connected to the Downs at Albuquerque racetrack and casino gave at least $70,000 to Martinez’s campaign last year. (Martinez opponent Diane Denish got $50,000.) The State Fair Commission this week approved a Martinez administration deal to give the Downs a new 25-year lease at Expo New Mexico.
“The question is whether the deal serves our interests or the interests of the Downs and Martinez. Maybe it’s in everybody’s interests. Who knows? One thing is certain: The administration didn’t do enough to build public confidence in the new lease.”
Why not? As Cole points out, the administration is quick to defend the process by noting that it put the lease out to bid, while the Richardson administration “simply wanted to give it to the Downs without bidding.”
“But if you’re setting the ethical bar based on the Richardson administration, you are setting it way too low,” Cole wrote.
Among the issues:
- Expo New Mexico, which runs the property, issued a request for proposals without input from the State Fair Commission, even though the commission had to approve the lease.
- Given 30 days to submit proposals, only two companies bid on the lease. According to Cole, “RFPs are supposed to spur competition, and when they don’t, it’s the job of government managers to figure out why. The administration should have examined the RFP for reasons why it didn’t attract more interest, made any needed changes, then reissued it. That is standard practice in government when an RFP doesn’t attract expected interest.”
Cole asserts that there should have been more interest in the lease, given that it was for a casino in the middle of Albuquerque. He asks why national gaming companies didn’t submit bids.
“Makes you wonder whether the administration wanted others to submit proposals,” Cole wrote.
In its editorial, the Journal wrote that the lease deal has “been hotly contested by members of the New Mexico State Fair Commission, state lawmakers, the Legislative Finance Committee and fairgrounds neighbors as creepily secretive, rushed and exclusionary to all but administration insiders.” And it wrote that the State Fair Commission “fed that criticism” last week when it “worked some procedural magic and voted on the lease even though the meeting initially was set up as a discussion workshop and the vote initially planned for Dec. 1.”
Actually, the vote to approve the lease was initially set for the commission’s Nov. 9 meeting but was delayed, the Journal wrote, “because it looked as though it was going to fail.” Then the proposal “was reintroduced via some procedural jockeying last Monday.”
The process, according to the Journal, “smacks of discounting any discussion in favor of stacking the deck for an insider.”
What now? Cole wrote that the governor can direct the Board of Finance to reject the lease so the state can start the process over, or she can direct the board to approve it “and argue for the rest of her administration that at least her government was slightly more ethical than the previous one.”