Public regulation commissioners during an emergency meeting Friday vented their frustration and shock at being evicted by the state General Services Department from their longtime office, but offered no answer on how they plan to respond.
“I feel like we’ve been handed some dynamite with no options, no alternatives or a plan to even accommodate us,” said Commissioner Valerie Espinoza.
The Public Regulation Commission must vacate its office on Paseo de Peralta in Santa Fe by the end of June. The state’s public utility regulator first learned that its lease agreement was terminated via a hand-delivered letter Tuesday.
The curt, three-sentence letter, addressed to PRC chief of staff Jason Montoya, says pursuant to the state’s authority outlined in the Property Control Act, it “intends to terminate the agreement effective June 30, 2020.”
It does not state why.
Anna Silva, a division director within the General Services Department, wrote that they’re “ready to assist PRC in its search for appropriate office space,” and provided a telephone number and email address to reach her.
Michael Smith, the PRC’s general counsel, said the agency’s lease agreement does not expire until 2022. “If you rent an apartment and your landlord comes back with a new lease that says, ‘I wanna extend your lease under new terms,’ when you don’t agree to that, that doesn’t void your existing lease. That’s basic common sense,” Smith said.
An attorney for the General Services Department was not available Friday to discuss the legal authority that allows the department to terminate the PRC’s lease.
Espinoza and commission Chairwoman Theresa Bencenti-Aguilar expressed frustration with the decision and said the Governor’s Office made no prior attempts to discuss the situation with them or inform them that their office of more than a decade is being requisitioned for the brand-new Early Childhood Education and Care Department.
Commissioners also lamented that the PRC does not have the money to move or lease a new building. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s administration did not offer any financial resources to help cover the cost, they said. “We do not have a budget to make a move. ... Where’s the money gonna come from?” said Commissioner Jefferson Byrd, via a teleconference call into the emergency meeting.
Commissioner Cynthia Hall also telephoned in, although she left the call about a half-hour into the meeting to take another call, much to the clear displeasure of other commissioners.
“Commissioner Hall, respectfully, you cannot rush into this meeting and tell us that you got to go,” Becenti-Aguilar said.
Becenti-Aguilar said she believes the lease termination was the Lujan Grisham administration’s next plan after legislation to dramatically restructure the commission failed to pass the Legislature during this year’s session.
“She has not asked us to go to her office and have a mutual diplomatic conversation,” she said. “The people of New Mexico, they are on our shoulders. And now the governor of New Mexico said, ‘Start packing.’ I have never seen this before.”
General Services Secretary Ken Ortiz said Thursday that the PRC’s lease is being terminated because there was no other state building with enough space to accommodate the new Early Childhood Education and Care Department.
Before becoming general services secretary, Ortiz turned down an offer to be PRC chief of staff.
Although commissioners say they have always been in that building, a 2009 news release from the PRC shows that much of its staff had been strewn across the city and relocated under one roof for the first time that year.
The lease termination notice comes after longstanding frustration with the PRC over how it handled the rollout of the Energy Transition Act, which requires that New Mexico shift to zero carbon electricity production by 2045.
Since its creation, the commission has faced complaints that commissioners have been too close to the industries they regulate, as well as accusations of political favoritism in hiring, and it has been plagued with infighting among commissioners and difficulty keeping staff positions filled.