In late 2013, the Bernalillo County Commission made a unanimous vote of no confidence in Treasurer Manny Ortiz during a special board of finance meeting, according to reporting in The New Mexican.
Ortiz is the incumbent in the race for Bernalillo County Treasurer, which is pitting four Democrats against each other in the primary.
The report said that county commissioners were “critical” of Ortiz’s investment practices, and commissioners limited the county’s investments to those that mature in six months or less.
Padilla served as investment advisor under Ortiz in early 2013, through November, he said. Ortiz had worked under Padilla, who had previously been the county’s treasurer, and said the two were “good friends.”
Another challenger is Nancy Bearce, who spent a career in public health insurance, first for Albuquerque Public Schools, then for the state’s health insurance pool.
Another Democrat, Christopher Sanchez, works in the Bernalillo County treasurer’s office as accounting manager. He is quick to distance himself from both Padilla and Ortiz.
There were initially two Republicans in the race, Christopher Romero and Kim Hillard. Romero said Tuesday he had dropped out of the race.
“I’m running for re-election—you’re exactly right, I’m an incumbent,” said Democrat Manny Ortiz. “I won the first term and of course the two term. I feel that we’ve got the office running real smooth and I want to continue to keep the current procedures and time that we’ve spent improving the office operations—everything we have is running very smooth.”
Ortiz said his office’s last audit “we had no findings at all, so that’s why I’d like to run again. … Morale is high with all the employees, so we’d like to continue that.”
Ortiz explained that his opponent in the race, Patrick Padilla, had worked in his office as the investment advisor, and said he had worked under Padilla for eight years, when Padilla was Treasurer. “Patrick and I are good friends, too,” he said. “I saw in the newspaper he said he was going to come back and right everything that was going on—I guess that’s his opinion.”
Asked about his accomplishments in office, Ortiz said, “The big thing is we have changed the investment policy. We changed the investment policy to be more, I guess you would say, to meet the statute a bit closer to what we’re trying to do. Patrick’s idea was long-term investments, our idea is short-term.”
Ortiz said focusing on short-term investments is better because “when you have liquidity needs, you have to be able to have the money available to handle your liquidity.”
Asked what the biggest challenges the position faces, Ortiz named “the investments,” adding, “dealing with county commissioners also.” He explained that he has a lawsuit pending against the county commission. “They have tried to take my day-to-day operations away from my statutory duties.”
He said the county commission had contracted with people that “should be working for me and not working for the county commissioners.”
Asked if he considered the lawsuit a good use of tax dollars, Ortiz said he “tried to talk” to county commissioners and the county manager. “Nobody wants to talk about it. … I didn’t want to sue the county but that’s my only alternative to get them to do the right thing. Maybe it’s not money spent well, but they have to honor my position as an elected official to carry on the statutory authority I have to do the job.”
Asked if he has ever been convicted of a crime, Ortiz answered, “I’ve never been convicted of anything. I have no bankruptcies and no DUIs.”
“I’m running for the position [of Treasurer], and I’m very well-qualified—I’m the accounting manager in the Treasurer’s office, said Democrat Christopher Sanchez.
He said he is running because, “I think everybody’s lost confidence in the Treasurer’s office in the last two to three years. I see a lot of room for improvement.”
Sanchez both distanced himself from Ortiz and Patrick Padilla, and pointed at them in the county’s “investment problems.”
He said he supports the county commission’s vote of no confidence against Ortiz, and the tighter procedures it implemented for investments.
Sanchez said Ortiz and Padilla “made it very clear they want to go back to exactly the way things were.”
He explained, “I wholeheartedly support the not-so-lenient investment policy. I support having at least an investment advisor. The main thing, though, is we’ve got to get the confidence back of the commission, and the office lost the confidence of the public.”
Sanchez said that in his seven years in the Treasurer’s office, he was not made privy to investments, even though he had the title of investment banking officer, but was limited to accounting.
He said he has the experience to make those investments but said the job would have to start with “restoring confidence.”
Asked what the biggest challenge facing the office is, he replied, “The biggest obstacle is the voters themselves,” adding that the Treasurer is responsible for half a billion dollars in property tax. “That’s what these people prey on,” he said.
To change the perception of the Treasurer’s office, Sanchez said, “That’s simple. Follow the rules. It sounds so cliché, but be honest. The previous Treasurer put yield first. That’s not in the county’s investment policy anywhere—it’s safety, liquidity, then yield.” He said he would do away with “these buddy situations with brokers” and said he would also concentrate on customer service.
Asked if he has ever been convicted of a crime, Sanchez answered, “Yes, I had a DWI conviction.” He said it was about 15 years ago, and he pled guilty. “Quite frankly, I learned from my mistake,” he added. He said he never again got behind the wheel after drinking.
He said he wanted to highlight his endorsements, something he said his opponents have fewer of. “I worked from the bottom there in the accounting department,” Sanchez said. “It needs to change the attitude from the top. It’s been that way for far too long. I intend to change that. We’ve got good staff over there, we just need to change the mood from the top and be very visible.”
Patrick Padilla held the office of Bernalillo County Treasurer previously, most recently from 2005 to 2012, when he was replaced by Ortiz.
He served as investment officer under Ortiz “for less than a year,” starting at the beginning of 2013, and ending around November, he said.
Asked why he is seeking the office again, Padilla said, “I think it’s obvious that the current administration has no knowledge of what investment is all about—no knowledge of how to deal with county funds.”
He said the county commission “chose to sell an investment portfolio of about $268 million,” at the end of 2013, not mentioning the no-confidence vote, adding, “I had a conniption fit, if you want to call it that.”
He went on to say, “We’re talking about a commission that’s part time, and has no knowledge of investment.” Padilla added that “the current Treasurer allowed the county to sell [bonds] at a $17.2 million loss,” and “the county’s crying they have a $19 million shortfall—that’s not reality.”
Padilla said that as Treasurer, he “earned an average of $10.6 million a year” through his investments for the county. He said that in 2008 the city of Albuquerque had over $8 million invested in the state investment pool, and Santa Fe County about $3 million “when Lehman Brothers went broke.” He said Bernalillo County lost $8.68. “They came back to me and accused me of insider information.”
He said under his administration, the county’s investments were “100 percent collateralized by the federal government,” but now “they’re collateralizing the money at 50 percent.” Padilla added, “Somebody needs to say that or bring that up. The banks probably won’t fail, but what if they do?”
Padilla said if elected Treasurer, he would work with the Legislature to pass a law that would give a tax credit over time to people for their primary residences. “All the new subdivisions in Bernalillo County have mandated … to have this, that and the other thing. These people that live in a house in the South Valley, in the East Mountains, these individuals live in that house and they chose to live in that house. They don’t have those amenities like sidewalks and parks. … They also paid taxes.”
Asked if he has ever been convicted of a crime, Padilla answered, “Convicted, no.” Asked then if he had ever been charged with a crime, Padilla said first, “That’s not a fair question,” then adding that he had been stopped for DUI, “blew point oh-four,” and that the case was subsequently thrown out.
“I have one last goal in life, to give back to the citizens of this county that so overwhelmingly deserve it,” he said.
Nancy Bearce described herself as a New Mexican from Alamogordo. After college she spent 20 years working out of state before coming back to her home state to work for the Albuquerque Public Schools and then the state of New Mexico running each’s health insurance pools.
She said that at the state of New Mexico, she managed a pool of insurance for 80,000 people with a budget of $4 million annually, all in public funds.
“Both of those being public funds, I was always in Santa Fe reporting my budget, I was required to have annual audits, and I passed with flying colors each and every year,” Bearce said.
She said her experience there and “with the bureaucracy that comes with that,” qualifies her for the Treasurer’s position.
“Accounting is pretty much the same when you talk about public funds and how governments operate public financing,” she said. “I’m very familiar with all of that.”
Bearce said, “I think there certainly have been some issues that have come up over the past six to eight years with the current treasurer and the past treasurer,” referring to Ortiz and Padilla. She also pointed a finger at Sanchez, saying, “Even my other opponent that is running is from that office.”
She said there were “bad audits” followed by a no-confidence vote by the county commission and changes to the way the county makes its investments.
“I agreed with the investment policy because there was a complete failure by the current and past treasurer to adequately manage taxpayer money in a responsible way,” Bearce said. “I agree with their strategy because of their no-confidence vote.” She said the Treasurer’s office “lacks leadership.”
Asked why she is running for the office, Bearce answered, “Because I’m also a taxpayer. And I know we can do so much more than what we have.” She said she is “very committed to my community,” and added, “I want to make sure we again, manage that money properly.”
The biggest challenge the office faces, she said, is “really getting in there to see what the fiscal situation is.” She added, “After the audits came out badly and were turned over to the Attorney General, the office kind of went silent.”
She said at the top of her priorities if elected would be a “forensic audit.”
Bearce said she would also look to improve customer service and to modernize online transactions for taxpayers.
Asked if she has ever been convicted of a crime, Bearce answered, “No, I have not.”