Mayor Alan Webber is downplaying an email he sent to a city resident late last month that seemed to question the State Auditor’s Office’s representation of the city’s audit problems.
After missing audit deadlines for three consecutive years, the city took another hit on April 26 when state Auditor Brian Colón announced CliftonLarsenAllen, the city’s contracted outside auditor, had abruptly resigned. In a news release, he said the city had about $4 to $5 million in cash it failed to reconcile by an agreed-upon date and was not in a position to be audited.
In an interview with The New Mexican that day, Colón, who is running for the Democratic Party nomination for state Attorney General, said “the house is on fire,” while referring to the city’s accounting issues.
In an April 30 email obtained by The New Mexican and several other outlets, Webber told a resident the city does have a “problem” with its money — it has $4.5 million more than it had on record — but suggested the situation wasn’t being properly communicated by Colón.
“Yep, you read that right my friend: There’s more money in the bank than on our books,” Webber wrote in the email. “So our problem isn’t who stole the money; our problem is who forgot to record the money before it went into the bank?
“Of course, you wouldn’t know that from Auditor Colon who is, by the way, running for Attorney General. But you knew that and I’m sure there is no connection between his campaign for AG and his press releases about the City’s finances. You’d have to be very cynical to think there was anything fishy about that.
“Thanks for asking — most people just believe what they see on TV or read in the paper and never do what you did: Ask!”
In an interview this week, Webber said his email was in response to a particularly “cynical” email he received from the resident that seemed to imply someone at the city stole or lost the unreconciled funds.
The mayor said he didn’t think the email exchange rose to any level of serious significance.
Webber said his comment about Colón’s candidacy for Attorney General should be read verbatim, and not as sarcasm.
“The one thing about emails is there is no tone of voice,” Webber said “It is just the words on the paper.”
Webber said a previous email sent to him provided more context for his response but refused to provide the email and said he couldn’t remember whether the individual had mentioned Colón’s candidacy and wouldn’t clarify why he brought it up in his own response.
”I think someone is trying to use it to stir the pot,” Webber said. “I’m not interested in that. I’m interested in trying to get the audit on track; get the audit submitted.”
He later added: “I’m not interested in picking a fight with the auditor or anyone else,” Webber said. “I was trying to respond to a person who was being very negative and cynical about the city and provided a response.
”It obviously is now turning into a little effort to make it into something it was never supposed to be,” he added.
Webber said the city has about $1.4 million in cash left to reconcile.
After a reporter read the email to him, Colón said: “It appears the mayor is not comprehending the gravity of the circumstances” surrounding CliftonLarsonAllen’s resignation.
Colón said he began looking into the city’s audit issues two years before beginning his campaign for Attorney General, including asking for updates from the city and calling for a corrective action plan.
“At some point, the public has right to know that the financial house for this particular audit is so upside down that they can’t present for the audit,” he said. “The head in the sand for the ostrich is never a good approach.”