A lobbyist’s campaign donation of $5,000 to a Bernalillo County commissioner recently caused a stir, prompting a citizen to file an ethics complaint under oath for a hearing.
Commissioner Charlene Pyskoty denied that Vanessa Alarid’s post created a conflict of interest for her when she decided to nominate Alarid’s husband – Antonio “Moe” Maestas – to a vacant seat in the New Mexico Senate.
Pyskoty did not back down from that commission’s decision and on Tuesday cast a deciding vote in Maestas’ favor when the split commission selected him for the position over six other applicants.
But Pyskoty said that she will actually stand out in an upcoming vote due to another campaign donation.
Prominent local hotelier Jim Long is seeking economic incentives from the county to support three new developments in the Lumber Mill District. That includes $146.4 million in Industrial Revenue Bonds, or IRBs, and millions in grants from the Local Economic Development Act (LEDA). Developers have to pay back the IRBs, but they bring tax breaks. District officials are still negotiating the value of these tax breaks.
As for the LEDA, the county would fund the grant by forgoing some of the taxes it would normally levy on Long’s businesses.
Long gave Pyskoty’s campaign $1,500 during the 2022 peak season when she ran unsuccessfully to retain her commission seat.
The district code of conduct prohibits elected officers and candidates from accepting a campaign donation of more than $1,000 from a “restricted donor” per primary or general election. This is a class of donors that includes any person or organization “seeking official action…by an elected official.”
The commission is scheduled to give its final vote on Long’s stimulus package at its December 13 meeting.
Asked about Long’s input by the Journal last week, Pyskoty said she intends to withdraw from the upcoming vote on the stimulus.
“Because of the donation, I want to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest,” she wrote in an email. “I have no other relationship with Jim Long.”
According to campaign finance records, Long also announced two new county commissioners.
Eric Olivas — who defeated Pyskoty in the Democratic primary in June and will take the seat Jan. 1 — received $1,500 from Long in the primary and $1,000 in the general election, according to campaign records. Barbara Baca, who will succeed outgoing Commissioner Debbie O’Malley, received $1,500 from Long before the primary.
In a recent complaint filed against Pyskoty, a citizen claimed that Alarid met the qualifications of a “restricted” donor because she represented the development team behind the massive planned Santolina community – a project that has applied for and will continue to require various permits from the commission — and that her $5,000 in-kind donation to Pyskoty constituted a misconduct.
The county Code of Conduct Review Committee is scheduled to address the complaint during a preliminary hearing on Dec. 2.
WINTER WARMTH: The Bernalillo County Commission has unanimously approved using just over $1 million from its behavioral health tax to operate a winter hotel for homeless families, repeating a program it also ran a year ago.
Deputy district manager Greg Perez said 80% of the approximately 60 families who stayed at the district’s winter hotel last year have moved to more stable accommodation, which he described as a “huge success”.
“I can only hope and pray that we have the same success rate this time with the 50 families we are bringing into the program off the streets,” he said.
The City of Albuquerque also continues to operate a hotel for homeless families, which it has done continuously since December 2020.
A city spokeswoman said 266 households – representing a total of 855 people – have transitioned from the hotel to permanent housing during this period.
Jessica Dyer: [email protected]