You miss a few payments on the $7,800 you owe on your car. A repo agent will take away your ride and your pride while the neighbors watch.

You fail to make payments on a years-old $7,800 credit card bill. The lender will make certain you suffer from the worry of being sued. All the while your debt will balloon with interest charges and late fees.

That’s the real world. Life isn’t as hard in the echelon of state Rep. Andrea Romero and her former employer, the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities.

The coalition’s board claims Romero still owes it $7,800 for impermissible expenses accrued during her tenure as its executive director from March 2016 to February 2018. It asked Romero in May to pay the bill.

Romero, D-Santa Fe, last month wrote a letter to the coalition disputing the debt attributed to her. She offered to pay nothing and pronounced herself blameless.

Her tactic appears to have worked. The coalition’s sitting executive director, Eric Vasquez, said Tuesday his board of directors is inclined to ignore Romero’s debt.

“At this point in time, the board does not have a plan to pursue something that could end up costing more than it’s worth,” Vasquez said. “You reach a point of diminishing return with legal action. Attorneys’ fees are rather expensive.”

The coalition used to be an obscure and useless organization operating on taxpayers’ dollars. It’s still useless, but it hasn’t been obscure since Romero’s failed leadership came to light.

She had a $140,000-a-year contract with the coalition that covered her salary and certain operational expenses.

Romero wasn’t rehired after the coalition’s misspending of public money became public.

Romero on Tuesday told me she’s repaid more than her share of any improper expenditures.

“I have already reimbursed RCLC for close to $2,000, based on the recommendation of Los Alamos County,” she wrote in an email. “The vast majority of this payment was for pre-approved expenses incurred by board members. To be clear, I paid RCLC back out of my pocket, as a contractor, for expenses incurred by others.”

Romero went on to say neither she nor any board member knowingly violated any standard for reimbursement.

“Both the State Auditor and the law firm hired by Los Alamos County reached the same conclusion,” she said.

Funny, but Romero and various board members charged taxpayers for lunches in and around Santa Fe. These meals for a select group in no way furthered the public interest. They only benefited coalition insiders.

Then there was Romero and board members running up a tab of $1,850.95 at the Casa Luca Restaurant in Washington, D.C. They spent money on booze as well as food at that outing.

Members of this favored group purchased bottles of Valdipiatta wine. My sources say then-Los Alamos County Councilor Rick Reiss ordered a $28 shot of WhistlePig whiskey. Reiss never responded when I asked him whether he drank the WhistlePig.

The coalition billed the public for more lavish late-night spending on food and booze at the Bull Ring in Santa Fe.

An unsophisticated college sophomore knows public money isn’t to be spent on alcohol, unnecessary trips to restaurants or extravagant meals.

Romero, though, says no one in the coalition knowingly did anything improper.

Romero won election to the state House of Representatives in 2018 while her scandal at the coalition unfolded.

She profited when her opponent in the Democratic primary, Rep. Carl Trujillo, came under even greater duress. A month before the election, lobbyist Laura Bonar accused Trujillo of sexually harassing her in 2013 and 2014.

Bonar later refused to testify under oath in a legislative inquiry, meaning her allegations against Trujillo were never heard in a public forum. By then, Trujillo was a lame-duck lawmaker and Romero was about to take office.

Romero’s troubles continued. A special state audit of the coalition listed 18 findings of bad financial practices. In addition, that audit stated the coalition misspent $51,500 in public money from July 1, 2014, through June 2018.

The auditors attributed more than $26,800 of the inappropriate spending to Romero. But the coalition board decided based on more investigation that Romero was responsible for about $7,800.

She said all of her requests for reimbursement were reviewed by Los Alamos County and the coalition’s then-treasurer, Santa Fe County Commissioner Henry Roybal.

Romero was the executive director, but she says she bore no responsibility for how the coalition operated or if her expenses were legitimate. In her view, someone else authorized reimbursements, so she shouldn’t be challenged by auditors or board members.

Federal taxpayers and those from nine area governments fund the coalition.

Vasquez is leaving at month’s end as its executive director. He says the organization is important to the public. In his view, it aggregates information and represents the region’s collective position on economic and environmental matters at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

In truth, the public would get along fine without the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities, especially after the economic ravages of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

New Mexico’s congressional delegation has more clout and more knowledge about the lab than Romero, Vasquez and the coalition’s board.

Romero is campaigning for reelection in House District 46, dominated by Democrats.

Unlike two years ago, the Republicans have fielded a candidate to oppose her, civil engineer Jay Groseclose of Santa Fe.

Groseclose is an underdog. But after the way Romero ran the coalition, the last thing she deserves is a free ride to another term in the Legislature.

Ringside Seat is an opinion column about people, politics and news. Contact Milan Simonich at msimonich@sfnewmexican.com or 505-986-3080.

(9) comments

Lee DiFiore

You are correct that Romero got nominated and elected while under this grey cloud. She will get reelected. I don't blame her or the other politicians that support her for any of that. It's just political rodents doing what they do. Who I blame are the voters who pulled the lever next to her name. Democracy ain't all it's cracked up to be.

Khal Spencer

"This candidate is endorsed by Whistle Pig Whiskey"

Mike Johnson

Yes this all too familiar saga of typical NM political conspiracy, corruption, nepotism, and cronyism just keeps getting better. Milan failed to mention that Eric is the husband of Stephanie Garcia-Richards, who of course is also connected to the Santa Fe Ring who engineered Carl's takedown, with leaders like Webber and Egolf also sponsoring and mentoring #ResistRomero. In most any other state, this whole conspiracy would have been dismantled by now, but not NM, too many powerful political forces at work for any state official, like the State Auditor or AG, to take them on. And so NM will continue as the most politically corrupt and dysfunctional state in America.

Khal Spencer

The GOP is fielding a candidate? That is great news! Its about time the Democrats stopped getting a free ride and saddling us with questionable candidates who are, by the way, fully supported by the Democratic machine.

I don't know anything about her opponent and its not my district but I hope her opponent is a viable, centrist candidate rather than yet another member of the fringe right. Given Ms. Romero's history, this should be a horse race rather than a foregone conclusion.

The two candidates profiles are here: https://www.santafenewmexican.com/news/elections/house-district-46-candidates-at-a-glance/article_a4ffe4e4-9466-11ea-9550-27f3d5a053cb.html

Mike Johnson

Yes Khal, and Jay is a lifelong friend of mine from Roswell, he is an outstanding person, and a very intelligent, well educated engineer who understands what the people need.

Khal Spencer

Yes, Mike. I read the piece about him and this sounds great for the people of your district. The people have the right to choose, so to speak...

Stefanie Beninato

Andrea Romero is a disgrace to our state. She violated practices for expenses and other items--it was not just one dinner in Washington....And who supported her? Our good mayor Webber whose audits are also far from perfect. And Alan what about all those problems with procurements--you know the extra padding on the contracts? Seems Romero and Webber are birds of a feather.

The real question is why voters elected her at all...Was it because of the unsubstantiated accusations of Laura Bonar?

Richard Reinders

Egolf was her biggest supporter he got rid of Carl Trujillo so Romero , a unknown with a very checkered past beat an incumbent, that only happens with a lot of money from Egolf and Pueblo funding.

Richard Reinders

Eric Vasquez organization Chicanos Por La Causa New Mexico leased the farm to Romero where she raised ostriches and got grants to do thousands in improvement on the farm and Romero sat on CPLC board, of coarse Vasquez is inclined to forgive the impropriety and the debt. They are all in bed together and costing tax payers thousands in audit fees and pocketing money. The only bill I heard Romero proposing since elected was a Forget Me bill to let her off the hook from the media. http://www.riograndesun.com/news/romero-pulls-fetid-garbage-bill/article_59449702-2a4a-11e9-a3f1-af7e082ad3d6.html

https://www.abqjournal.com/1215296/new-group-takes-over-embattled-regional-coalition-of-lanl-communities-ex-connections-to-former-executive-director-andrea-romero-include-an-ostrich-farm.html

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