When a Santa Fe County commissioner in 2012 slipped in last-minute additions to a list of roads to be improved with bond funds, he failed to disclose that he owned property on one of those roads before he then joined fellow commissioners in approving the spending plan.
Former County Commissioner Robert Anaya spearheaded the effort to reshuffle a list of road projects the former public works director had recommended for funding with a bond issue that was about to go before voters. At Anaya’s urging, the Board of County Commissioners approved nine new road projects for his sprawling district totaling nearly $3 million. These included funding a chip seal project on B Anaya Road, which is named after his grandfather and where he owns property.
At a cost of $364,600, the work proposed for the road was among the most expensive changes.
The road sparked renewed interest last week after the county spent more than $100,000 on a project designed to extend the life of the remote and sleepy road, which also leads to the home of the county’s deputy public works director.
Road projects fall under the purview of the Public Works Department, and the project was initiated only months before Robert Martinez, a longtime county employee, is scheduled to retire, raising concerns among taxpayers and some of the employees doing the work.
Not including last week’s project, the county has performed nearly $1 million in chip sealing work on the road in three separate projects in the past 11 years, according to county officials.
Nine years ago, B Anaya Road, also known as County Road 12B, didn’t generate any attention from the public.
Just before commissioners unanimously approved a spending plan that included the revised list, meeting minutes show, former Public Works Director Adam Leighland told the board, “At the last meeting we presented to you a list of bond and [gross receipts tax] projects, and what I’m presenting today is identical to that list with a couple of small changes and those small changes reflect — we had some conversations with Commissioner Anaya.”
Efforts this week to reach Leighland, who no longer works for the county, were unsuccessful.
B Anaya Road, located in Stanley in the far reaches of southern Santa Fe County, is named after Basilio Anaya, grandfather of Robert Anaya and his brother, Mike, also a former county commissioner.
Minutes of the July 31, 2012, commission meeting show Robert Anaya didn’t recuse himself from voting or disclose he owned property off the road, though he said in an email Wednesday a conflict of interest and financial disclosure statement he had on file with the county showed all his property interests.
“I acted with no malice or mal intent towards the public or anyone else,” Anaya said by email when asked whether he had followed the county’s code of conduct.
A declaration of policy that sets the general spirit of the code states that elected officials must “disclose personal interests, financial or otherwise, in matters of the county, and to remove themselves from decision-making when such interests exist.”
In his 2012 conflict of interest and financial disclosure statement, Anaya listed his personal residence as 123 Little Ranch Road, which is off B Anaya Road, as well as a 23-acre lot near Stanley. Anaya failed to disclose the address of the 23-acre lot, which is also off B Anaya Road.
State Sen. Liz Stefanics, who chaired the County Commission at the time, said Wednesday she didn’t remember whether Anaya had disclosed his property interests at the time of the vote.
“I couldn’t say yes or no because we’re talking about, what, seven years ago?” said Stefanics, D-Cerrillos.
Stefanics said Anaya probably should have recused himself from voting. “I think any of us who have a private interest should recuse ourselves in a decision,” she said.
Asked whether Anaya’s vote qualified as one of those instances, Stefanics said “possibly.”
“I don’t know if he owned it then,” she said, “but if he did, it seems like a probable thing to recuse, yes.”
Property records show Anaya has owned the 23-acre lot since Oct. 5, 2011, and he listed the Little Ranch Road property in his 2012 financial disclosure statement, which was filed in February of that year.
County Manager Katherine Miller, who is out of town on business, said in an email that, as an administrator, she had concerns about the last-minute changes suggested by Anaya.
“Last-minute changes do not allow staff sufficient time to vet projects for need, cost, and scope relative to the recommended funding level,” she wrote. “That said, it has been the practice of the Board of County Commissioners to allow commissioners to direct capital funding to projects within their own commission district. Ultimately, the final decision is made by the entire Board of County Commissioners.”
Miller said she was aware Anaya lived in the vicinity but did not know exactly where, nor did she know his street address.
Asked whether Anaya violated the county’s code of conduct, Miller said “we cannot determine whether” his conduct violated the code “because we do not have all the facts.”
“Generally speaking, in debating and voting on legislative matters, commissioners have a duty to disclose any conflict of interest or financial interest regarding the matter,” she wrote. “If a financial interest exists, then the commissioner would likely be disqualified from participating absent a showing of necessity.”
Anaya, who communicated only by email, declined to explain why he selected B Anaya Road for bond funding work when he and members of his family, who also own property off the road, would benefit from the project.
“I supported road improvements across the entire county, including heavily traveled roads and rural roads,” wrote Anaya, who now works as academic adviser and recruiter for New Mexico Highlands University’s Santa Fe Center. “To some people, the primary benefit they get from the county is public safety, reasonable solid waste fees and disposal and road improvements.”
Anaya added that he respected and appreciated the work of the county manager “and her entire team to improve roads countywide, and most importantly, the voters who approved bond improvements on roads and for other public purposes.”
Follow Daniel J. Chacón on Twitter @danieljchacon.