There is a very classic song by Peggy Lee dealing with disappointment with the following lyrics:
“Is that’s all there is, is that all there is? …… If that’s all there is my friend, then lets keep dancing, let’s break out the booze and have some fun …… if that’s all …… there is!”
With this song in mind, please read the following full blog article:
HEADLINE: Grisham should fire Diego Arencon now!
July 17, 2020
Diego Arencon is incompetent and should be immediately removed from his position as deputy chief of staff for Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham.
In a KRQE, Larry Barker investigation, Arencon shows the entire world why political hacks should not be rewarded with positions that require safe stewardship of taxpayer funds. You can watch the entire report here:
Arencon has no educational background to be deputy chief of staff, nor does he have the experience and knowledge to control millions of taxpayer dollars. But that is exactly what his friend, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, appointed him to do. Arencon and Grisham go way back to her early days in politics. It was during that time when Arencon, president of the local Albuquerque Fire Union, tethered his future to Grisham’s political career. He never wavered in his support for Grisham and in return Grisham gave him a cozy job as her deputy chief of staff. A job that Barker’s report clearly shows he is not qualified for.
Everyone should watch this report and call Governor Grisham and demand that she holds Arencon accountable for losing our money and remove him from his position. I am sure she can find him another cozy place in state government where his incompetence will not cause the taxpayers to lose millions.
Some of the highlights of Barkers’ investigation include:
Arencon was the coordinator of New Mexico’s search for PPE (protective equipment). Arencon stated that he literally had only hours to make decisions to bring PPE home (to New Mexico) to make people safe. Hours? Really? A person well versed in procurement issues would know that you don’t rush this, that if you do the odds that you will be the victim of fraud and waste rise dramatically. Of course, Arencon has no background in this position so he was easily fooled.
In March, at the beginning of the pandemic, Arencon got an unsolicited phone call from a company in Santa Fe called Bionet. Unsolicited. You know those calls and emails promising all sorts of things that are all a scam. Right, that’s the company Arencon decided to spend millions of our dollars with.
Barker: “Had you ever heard of Bionet before?”
Arencon: “No, never.”
Barker: “So what you knew about the company (Bionet), was what they (Bionet) told you?”
Arencon: “That is correct.”
Bionet has no showroom, no warehouse, no storefront and no listed phone number. Yet Arecnon believed them when they told him they could deliver ten million face masks every week. I hope that Arecon never receives the Nigerian prince email. You know the one that says he has $50 million and he will give you a share for helping him. Arencon was so easily duped by Bionet, wasting millions of our dollars, that he would probably jump at the Nigerian prince story.
Barker: “You really knew virtually nothing about Bionet, so how did they end up with nearly $8 million dollars in state purchase orders?”
Arencon: “That’s a great question.”
Yes Diego, it is a great question and one that is easily answered. You blew it. Arencon wasted millions of taxpayer dollars because he violated state rules and regulations. Arencon does not have the knowledge nor background to steward millions of hard-earned New Mexico tax dollars. We learned this the hard way.
There is a lot to digest in this ten-minute Larry Barker investigation. Don’t watch it on a full stomach because it will make you vomit all over your TV screen. The blatant violation of rules, the stupidity by which Arencon acted, the lost money, it’s all enough for most New Mexicans to wonder who is in charge in Santa Fe? Well Governor Grisham, who is in charge? She hasn’t removed Arencon, he is still her deputy chief of staff. I wonder how many business owners in New Mexico, would keep on the payroll, an employee who clearly violated rules and lost the company millions.
Oh, but this is government and political friendships trump all. Grisham and Arencon are tethered at the hip. I doubt she does anything to him. You know why she won’t get rid of him? Because it wasn’t her money. If Arencon had gone into Grisham’s bank account and squandered most of it, I am sure she would kick him out. But that isn’t how it works in government. Sadly, I will bet that Arencon continues making his six-figure state government salary (that you and I pay for) and Grisham either ignores the investigations or minimizes them into nothing.
The FBI, New Mexico Attorney General, State Auditor have all opened investigations into Arencon’s actions with Bionet. Everyone is looking at this colossal wasting of our money. As Barker said in his report, Arencon was duped. But he was only duped because he violated the safeguards that are in place. Grisham should hold Arencon accountable and remove him from his position and fill it with someone who is qualified.
State Auditor Brian Colon and the Legislative Finance Committee has released instructions to all government agencies of the risks related to Emergency Procurements. It’s too late for Arencon and our millions, but hopefully it will stop other government agencies from being “duped”.
The link to the ABQReport is here:
NOT THE FIRST TIME
This is not the first time that Deputy Chief of Staff Diego Arecon has come under scrutiny and played politics with taxpayer or other people’s money and causing Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham some embarrassment or loss of support for her own agenda. The last time attention was brought to Diego Arecon was the Governor’s Public Employee Retirement Association (PERA) Pension Solvency Task Force.
On February 19, 2019, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham announced a “solvency task force” for the Public Employee Retirement Association (PERA) pension program. The 19-member task force included PERA officials, labor union leaders, retiree representatives and others. The committee was tasked with providing recommendations on contributions and payouts with a plan to be presented to the 2020 New Mexico legislative session to reform the PERA retirement system.
Lujan Grisham appointed Deputy Chief of Staff Diego Arecon as the chairman of the PERA Solvency Task Force and Arecon selected the membership. Arencon is the longtime former President of the Albuquerque Fire Fighters union who retired in 2018. Arecon, with the Governor’s blessing, recruited 6 representatives from public safety out of 16 on the Governor’s PERA Solvency Task Force. There were no outside experts in government pension reform appointed or hired to assist the task force. Arencon essentially stacked the PERA Task Force with firemen and police officers who had absolutely no knowledge of how a pension fund operates. The task force membership included the Fraternal Order of Police, National Association of Police Organizations, New Mexico State Police Association, New Mexico Sheriffs’ Association, New Mexico Professional Fire Fighters Association, Albuquerque Fire Department Retirees’ Association. Fire and police represent less than 10,000 PERA members, yet they had seven votes on this task force. Retired Public Employees, represent 40,000 PERA members but they received only one vote. AFSCME represents 25,000 PERA members they also received one vote.
In 2017, Candidate for Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham said she would oppose cuts to benefits, including any reduction in the annual inflation-related pension adjustments that retired state workers and teachers receive. According to a campaign spokesperson at the time:
“She does not believe that New Mexico needs to eliminate our defined benefit system for current or future educators and state employees and opposes any reduction in cost-of-living adjustments.”
Not all surprising, the recommendations that emerged from the Governor’s PERA Solvency Task Force were the recommendations embraced by Arecon before any meeting was ever convened. They were also contrary to what candidate Lujan Grisham said on the campaign trail. Arecon conducted only two meetings of the task force, and both were closed to the public. The reform plan recommended by the task force was Mr. Arencon’s plan to fix PERA that would force all PERA members to “share the pain”. He called it the “shared risk” plan. But the problems at PERA did not require shared risk, nor a shared pain plan. The problems at PERA are very specific and required more contributions or a reduction in benefits by the retirement programs in jeopardy, but Diego Arecon intentionally refused to address them in order to protect his former colleagues and their public safety pension’s at the expense of all the other pension programs.
Firefighter and State Workers funds are the real problem afflicting the solvency of PERA pension fund. Their benefits are too rich for their contributions. This could have been fixed, it was not and PERA will continue to falter because the legislature in 2020 adopted the Task Force recommendation crafted by Diego Arecon who was only interested in protecting public safety pension funds. By refusing to address this obvious issue, Mr. Arencon tethered all the solvent PERA funds to the the failing of Firefighter and State workers plans. By not fixing them they will ultimately drag all of PERA into the abyss of insolvency.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
In the private sector, positions such as a Chief of Staff or Deputy Chief Operation Officers or Deputy Chief Administrative Officers (CAO), usually require years of experience and necessary education levels. Being an accountant, financial planner, stockbroker, realtor, medical doctor, and an attorney requires a person to have a formal education and then be licensed to carry on in the profession and to perform the work they are tasked with doing. Plumbers, electricians, teachers, firefighters and police officer also require formal training and a skill set.
But having the necessary credentials for government appointments all too often is not the way New Mexico politics works. If you tie your career to the right political star, you can go along way and get a lot done. The elected official always surrounds themselves with people they trust, who are loyal and who they can rely upon, during bad and good times. After all, you never hire anyone who you do not trust and who will not be loyal to you.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with seeking political appointments to make a living. Public service is very rewarding and can bring great personal satisfaction and one can accomplish a lot. No doubt you will be paid much less working for the government than in the private sector. There is one very big caveat to political appointments: there is nothing wrong going to work for an elected official and getting your job because of politics, but you must be damn sure you can do the actual job, and if you cannot, you should be removed or fired.
The actions of Deputy Chief of Staff Arencon in the private sector and the loss of millions, would call out for swift and aggressive termination. Such a financial hit would no doubt even drive smaller businesses into bankruptcy or perhaps take years for a company to recover. However, it is not at all likely that Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham will take any action against Diego Arencon for being “duped” and not using due diligence to protect the taxpayer from fraud when it came to the purchase of personal protection equipment.
ANOTHER OMINOUS FBI CLOUD BEGINNING TO FORM OVER THE ROUNDHOUSE
However, there is one very ominous black cloud that is now beginning to form over the Roundhouse. According to the Klein ABQReport the FBI, New Mexico Attorney General and State Auditor are looking into the Arecon’s dealings and purchase of PPE from Biotec. It’s normal for the Attorney General and the State Auditor to look for violations of the state purchasing code and it’s a big part of their jobs. However, it is only rare occasions that the FBI does it, and when the FBI starts looking it’s for felony criminal conduct and not for minor violations and misdemeanor violations in the state procurement and purchasing codes.
As a matter of course, the FBI confers with the United States Attorney on any criminal investigations. New Mexico’s past two Governor’s were plagued by such investigations that tainted their reputations. The Bill Richardson Administration was heavily pursued by then New Mexico United States Attorney Greg Forrate for “pay to play” allegation with state contracts. Republican Governor “She Who Shall Not Be Named” was also plagued by “pay to play” allegations over the “Dirty Downs Deal” with the award of the billion-dollar Downs Racetrack lease and the involvement of Republican political operative and consultant Jay McClusky. Even though no indictments or criminal charges materialized, both Governor’s were severely tainted by what happened and its likely their own aspirations for higher office went into the toilet in part because of it.
New Mexico once again appears to have another Governor who has national ambitions with Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham being consider by Vice President Joe Biden to be his running mate. Sources on the 4th floor are saying the Governor’s office is all abuzz at the prospect that we may have a Governor Howie Morales. Lujan Grisham has acknowledged that she has turned over her personal financial documents to the Biden campaign and she is even helping to fund raise for Biden. One thing is for certain, she has not taken herself out of contention for Vice President the way others have such as Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar. She would likely take the offer to run for Vice President, but she is probably as equally interested in a cabinet level position such as Secretary of Health which she would be more qualified for than Vice President having served as a cabinet secretary for 3 New Mexico Governors. It would also get her out of New Mexico as the state’s finances are ravaged by the effects of the corona virus, oil production bust and a certain recession. It’s no fun being Governor faced with crisis after crisis during bad times.
A problem for Lujan Grisham is that she has received high marks on dealing with New Mexico’s response to the pandemic. The Governor has taken charge of that response in no uncertain terms and has done far better than most Governor’s in the country. It is hard to believe she did not know what was going on with her Deputy Chief of Staff Diego Rincon and Biotec. Arecon’s loyalty to the Governor is unquestionable which gives rise to wondering to what lengths he will go to protect the Governor that he played an instrumental role in getting elected.
There are at least two things to watch to determine how serious the FBI is looking at the Biotec purchase contract. First, if search warrants are issued for any and all correspondence, including emails, phone records, calendars and appointment to and from the State and Biotec. Second, if anyone is interviewed by the FBI on the case, including anyone at Biotec, the Governor’s office and the State Procurement Office.
Until the FBI acts, you can expect Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham to continue dancing with Diego Arencon because he is the one who brought her to the Roundhouse Dance. Unless of course Joe Biden taps Diego Arecon on his shoulder and cuts in on the dance floor and selects Governor Lujan Grisham as his Vice President or names her to his cabinet which is far more likely.
If nothing happens with the FBI investigation and Lujan Grisham stays in New Mexico, no doubt she will be dancing with Diego Arecon to the Peggy Lee song:
“Is that’s all there is, is that all there is? ….. If that’s all there is my friend, then lets keep on dancing …. let’s break out the booze and have some fun, if that’s all ….. there is!”