Pat Lyons hopes New Mexicans have poor memories
It is a true tragedy that, 18 months into his own tenure, Ray Powell is still having to clean up Pat Lyons’ ever-more-numerous messes.
In a recent op-ed published in the Albuquerque Journal, Pat Lyons demonstrated that he never broke the bad habit of assuming that New Mexico’s citizens don’t know what the State Land Office does; unfortunately for him, this is untrue.
For example, his statement that, “(current Land Commissioner Ray) Powell… can rarely be found in his Santa Fe office,” is hardly an indictment; indeed, it speaks to Commissioner Powell’s credit that, in a modern age of computers and cell phones and with responsibility for 13 million acres of public lands, he isn’t spending his hours hiding from his constituency on 300 square feet of carpet; he is markedly more accessible than Mr. Lyons, who spent more time on his ranch than doing his job.
It is, in fact, very easy to get ahold of Commissioner Powell personally, at his office and throughout the state.
Mr. Lyons claims that the University of New Mexico sued Commissioner Powell over Mesa del Sol; no such lawsuit exists. He claims fiduciary dereliction by the land commissioner, yet the trust is financially healthier than ever. He claims credit for a recent decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service not to list the dunes sagebrush lizard as endangered, but such a listing was only proposed after he left office and the decision was aided by an agreement signed three months ago by Commissioner Powell – with bipartisan support – to protect the species on state lands.
He claims that Commissioner Powell “lost the case to keep the Center for Innovation, Testing, and Evaluation… on state trust lands,” but not only will part of this development indeed exist on trust lands – should it ever come to be built – but the Land Office could hardly “keep” something that it never had in the first place because, under the Lyons administration, they weren’t even trying to acquire it.
Most ludicrously, in regards to the Dixon Apple Orchard tragedy – land acquired by Mr. Lyons at a financial loss to the trust in a shady back-room deal – Mr. Lyons actually implied that if he were still land commissioner, an unseasonable spring frost and a major flood would never have happened and that his small team of non-firefighters equipped with no more than a 300-gallon tank would have single-handedly halted the second largest fire in state history.
(Indeed, despite Mr. Lyons’ grandiose claims, the “fire team” in question was not even created to fight fires at all, but to start prescribed burns.)
A master of revisionist history and obfuscation
He is not only a master of revisionist history but of obfuscation as well; while attacking Ray Powell for doing his job honestly and transparently, Mr. Lyons forgets that while he was land commissioner his office was known for a lack of oversight and hiding its actions from the public. He criticizes the land commissioner for halting the highly-publicized White Peak exchange, but forgets that his own actions in making the swap at all were deemed unconstitutional in a court of law – twice.
Finally, he ignores the fact that in December 2010, the state auditor released a report into his tenure that was filled with evidence of malfeasance.
The audit uncovered several exchanges that resulted in a financial loss for the trust, including lands exchanged for less than their appraised value, situations where staffers who were not appraisers changed the value after appraisal, and trades of parcels larger than those appraised. Some land exchanges were done without making an appraisal at all, and Lyons personally approved exchanges against staff advice without explanation.
What is most amazing about these infractions is that they all appear on a just one page of a 71-page report into the unethical, costly and damaging conduct of Lyons’ administration. Furthermore, the audit came before Commissioner Powell discovered even more infractions that Lyons managed to hide, the most prominent being two cases of illegal dumping on state lands, including 20 acres covered in chicken manure.
Unethical conduct has continued
Unsurprisingly, allegations of Mr. Lyons’ unethical conduct have continued in his current position of chairman of the Public Regulations Commission – as if a body already beset by so many scandals in its short history needs another. Within his first year in office, he was accused of being both verbally abusive and physically threatening to PRC staffers, and six months ago, an audit of the PRC again singled out unethical conduct by Pat Lyons, including private use of a public vehicle at taxpayer expense – a charge that is eerily familiar to followers of the antics of former PRC commissioner Jerome Block, Jr.
I must commend former Commissioner Pat Lyons for his remarkable imagination; I find that is the only polite explanation for many of his statements. His op-ed started with an unprovoked personal attack on the integrity of two private residents of Truth or Consequences and then turned into a creatively-crafted fictional account of his own tenure of commissioner of public lands.
It is a true tragedy that, 18 months into his own tenure, Ray Powell is still having to clean up Mr. Lyons’ ever-more-numerous messes.
Juan Carlos Holmes is a lifelong New Mexico resident and private political consultant for Democratic candidates. This piece was written as a friend and not in any official capacity.
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