On March 10, the City of Albuquerque Office of Inspector General released an investigation report that found that the Albuquerque Parks and Recreation and the Mayor Keller Administration spent $236,622 to purchase artificial turf for the Rio Rancho Events Center. The purchase was for the benefit of the privately owned New Mexico Gladiators to play their home football games.
The Inspector General found that the purchase of the artificial turf “appears to be a donation/ gift” to benefit the privately owned Gladiators and found that the team’s logo with colors is emblazoned on the field reflecting ownership. The Inspector General noted in no uncertain terms that the New Mexico Department of Finance (DFA) found the purchase of the turf violates the New Mexico Constitution clause commonly referred to as the “anti donation clause” which strictly bars public government entities from donating to private corporations.
The executive summary of the Inspector General report states as follows:
On December 7, 2022, the Office of Inspector General (OIG) received an allegation that the City’s Parks and Recreation Department (P&R) violated the NM Anti-Donation Clause through the purchase and installation of indoor stadium turf for the Duke City Gladiators (DCG) resulting in a misuse of taxpayers’ dollars. The OIG determined that the allegations contained elements of potential fraud, waste, or abuse and that it was appropriate for the OIG to conduct a fact-finding investigation. The purpose of the investigation was to determine if a violation of Article IX, Section 14 of the New Mexico Constitution occurred concerning the purchase and installation of stadium turf for the Duke City Gladiators.
As a result of the investigation, the OIG was able to substantiate the allegation that the City’s Parks and Recreation Department violated the NM Anti-Donation Clause through the purchase and installation of indoor stadium turf for the Duke City Gladiators resulting in a misuse of taxpayers’ dollars. In part, this allegation was able to be substantiated based on a statement in a letter from the New Mexico Department of Finance and Administration (NM DFA), whereby, NM DFA’s legal counsel determined that the use of the funds would violate the terms of the appropriation and that if the City were to use the funds in the proposed manner it would also violate the New Mexico Anti-Donation Clause, N.M. Const, art. 9, § 14.
It has been reported that the Attorney General’s Office is now reviewing the Inspector General’s report.
The link to review the entire Inspector General report is here:
PRESSURE FROM HIGHER MANAGEMENT
The report in detail describes as a “rushed” acquisition process to buy the artificial turf. The report states that documentation reviewed by investigators shows that there were numerous City of Albuquerque employees involved in the turf purchase including at least one city attorney and the turf vendor. The report states all knew the field turf was being purchased for use by the Gladiators in Rio Rancho. There is no mention of any City of Albuquerque employee questioning or attempting to stop the purchase
One of the most revealing interviews conducted by the Inspector General was that of an employee with the Parks and Recreation Department involved in the procurement process for the artificial turf. The city employee said that management made it clear there was an urgency to procure the artificial turf quickly and the employee felt “absolute pressure”. The employee said that upper management “wanted this done yesterday” and indicated that there was a “big push to make it happen”. The city employee stated that City attorneys, procurement personnel, and upper management said to “make it happen”. The employee told the Inspector General feeling “queasy” knowing the artificial turf was to be installed in Rio Rancho.
A DEPARMENT DIRECTOR MISLEADING CITY COUNCIL
A very serious finding in the Inspector General’s report was that Albuquerque Parks and Recreation Director Dave Simon provided incorrect information to the Albuquerque City Council at the January 8 meeting of the City Council. City Hall observers say it was lying. Multiple city councilors were aware of the purchase likely because of a November, 2022 Channel 13 Larry Barker investigation report. At the January 8, 2023 city council meeting, councilors questioned why the City of Albuquerque would pay for artificial turf with city of Albuquerque funds and then turn around and install it a City of Rio Rancho facility.
Simon told the city council the City of Albuquerque had contributed $74,000 to the turf purchase while the State of New Mexico contributed the $162,622 remaining balance. The Inspector General found Simon’s representation was not true and cited records showing the city paid the entire sum and was never was reimbursed by the state for any amount.
In the 2022 legislative session, state lawmakers appropriated $160,000 for artificial turf playing fields at park and recreational facilities in Albuquerque. Financial documents reviewed reflect the city paid for the turf and its installation in April 2022 and prior to the City receiving the state money for its own use.
DEPARTMENT OF FINANCE FINDS VIOATION OF ANTI DONATION CLAUSE
Article IX, Section 14 of the New Mexico Constitution provides in part as follows:
“Neither the state or any county, school district, or municipality, except as otherwise provided in this constitution, shall directly or indirectly lend or pledge its credit or make any donation to or in aid of any person, association or public or private corporation … .”
The single most damaging finding in the Inspector General report involved the City of Albuquerque asking for state reimbursement of the funding for the purchase and the New Mexico Department of Finance and Administration (DFA) denying the request. State finance officials ruled the appropriation was not legal because public money cannot be used for the benefit of a private business as per the anti-donation clause contained in the New Mexico Constitution. The DFA told the City of Albuquerque its use of the funding violated the terms of the New Mexico legislature’s appropriation to the City of Albuquerque.
The DFA told city officials, including the city attorney that if the city used the funds for the artificial turf purchased in the manner stated it would violate the state’s Anti-Donation Clause. For that reason, the city’s Inspector General found it violated the state’s anti-donation clause and was a misuse of taxpayer dollars. The Inspector General also found that the City of Albuquerque used voter approved bond money allocated for City of Albuquerque parks and recreation facilities. The Inspector General concluded officials failed to make sure the purchase was cost-effective and benefited the citizens of Albuquerque. A Parks and Recreation Department employee also told investigators there was pressure from high up in the Keller Administration to push the purchase through.
CITY RESPONSE TO INSPECTOR GENERAL REPORT
Mayor Tim Keller’s administration, the City Attorney Office, the City’s Parks and Recreation Department and the Gladiators’ owner disagree with the Inspector General report. According to City of Albuquerque officials, the city retains ownership of the artificial turf which also has the Keller Administration publicity logo “One Albuquerque” on it.
City Attorney Alan Heinz wrote in a letter in response to the OIG report that City of Albuquerque is merely allowing the Gladiators and Global Spectrum, the private company that operates the Rio Rancho Events Center, to temporary use the artificial turf in Rio Rancho in exchange for “valuable consideration.” managing
The “valuable consideration” is outlined in the City of Albuquerque’s agreement with Global Spectrum and the Gladiators and requires the team to host and staff 14 youth events per year and for the team to provide the city 50 free tickets to each home game. The Inspector General’s investigation raised serious doubts about whether Global Spectrum and the Gladiators were meeting those terms.
According to the Inspector General report a city employee who was supposed to know about the youth events said none were scheduled from April 2021 to January 2023 and multiple city staffers somehow involved in the turf purchase said they had never personally seen the free tickets.
Franchesca E. Perdue, a city spokeswoman with Department of Finance, said the city’s purchase of the artificial turf was done properly and said this in a statement:
“The cursory OIG report was misinformed. Under their logic, CABQ could not buy a track for the Lobos, netting for the Isotopes, or turf for the United; all of which we have done for years.
This is a City-owned resource sponsored by Albuquerque legislators. It was not a gift to a team and the City Attorney agrees it is not a violation of the anti-donation clause. We are more than willing to work with the OIG to update their findings.”
Perdues statement “The cursory OIG report was misinformed” totally omitted the fact the it was the New Mexico Department of Finance legal counsel that determined that the use of the funds would violate the anti-donation clause .
GLADIATOR OWNER DISPUTES INSPECTOR GENERAL REPORT
Gladiators owner Gina Prieskorn-Thomas disputed the Inspector General report. She said her team has met its obligations “and then some.” She said tickets are distributed to “various youth organizations affiliated with the city” and that the youth camps have occurred as required. The Albuquerque Journal reported that Prieskorn-Thomas said she provides camp attendance reports directly to Albuquerque Parks and Recreation Director Dave Simon, but told the Journal should could not furnish the for review until she’d consulted with an attorney because the documents contain children’s contact information.
Prieskorn-Thomas said she lobbied state legislators for the turf field and that it was initially supposed to go into Tingley Coliseum, a state-owned facility where the Gladiators previously played. When the pandemic prevented them from using the venue in 2021, they relocated to Rio Rancho. While there is no agreement yet to return to Tingley, she said she is in discussions with property representatives to move back. Prieskorn-Thomas said this:
“There was never any intent for that field not to be in Albuquerque.”
Prieskorn-Thomas never said why it was alright to install the artificial turf purchased and owned by the City of Albuquerque in a State Facility such as Tingly Coliseum and not installed in a City of Albuquerque owned facility.
Review of Keller campaign finance reports reveals that Prieskorn-Thomas donated $1,250 in her name and $250 under a company named Dark Horse Investments INC for a total of $1,500 to past Keller election campaigns.
The link to the quoted news source is here:
CITY COUNCILLORS REACT
It was in November of 2022 that KRQE 13’s Investigative Reporter Larry Barker first uncovered the city’s questionable spending on artificial turf for the Duke City Gladiators. Barker contacted Democrat Albuquerque City Councilors Louie Sanchez and Republican Brook Bassan for their reaction to the Inspector General’ report finding that the purchase violated the state constitution.
City Councilor Louie Sanchez said this:
“That money should be spent for Albuquerque taxpayers within the Albuquerque city limits or at an Albuquerque facility.”
KRQE Investigative Reporter Larry Barker ask city Councillor Brook Basaan if the artificial turf transactions was “by the book?”
ABQ Councilor Brook Bassan responded:
“No. No, not at all. I think that there’s nothing by the book about this. As councilors, as a mayor, as public servants to the city of Albuquerque, we are under obligation and law to make sure that we don’t break the anti-donation clause, and this clearly does that.
City administrators claimed the people of Albuquerque still benefit from that turf because the facility hosts youth activities, but the Inspector General found that was not enough to make the purchase above board, and recommended the city try to recoup the misspent money from the Gladiators and the events center.”
The Attorney General’s Office is now reviewing that report.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
Review of the Inspector General Report reveals that the purchase of the artificial turf was so very wrong on a number of levels. It does not pass the smell test for the following reasons:
FIRST: The NM anti donation clause is clear that no municipality shall directly or indirectly make any donation to or in aid of any person, association or public or private corporation in aid of any private enterprise. The acquisition of artificial turf for the benefit of a private entity falls squarely into the very definition of what is prohibited. If the artificial turf is in fact owned by the city of Albuquerque, then the city should be charging the Gladiator’s football team and the City of Rio Rancho a fee or rent for use of the artificial turf.
SECOND: Upper management in the Keller Administration exerted immense pressure on lower-level employees to “make it happen” and Keller Administration upper management “wanted this done yesterday”. Higher ups in the Keller Administration insisted on the purchase.
THIRD: The City’s voter approved bonds were clearly meant for spending the money raised on City of Albuquerque facilities, but the funding was spent on an asset installed in a City of Rio Rancho facility. The field is located in the City of Rio Rancho and any proceeds or gross receipts tax on ticket sales, concessions, or merchandise are not benefiting the citizens of the City of Albuquerque but providing a benefit to the citizens of the City of Rio Rancho.
FOURTH: All the documents reviewed by the Inspector General clearly show that the $260,00 was used to buy artificial turf for use by United New Mexico with its logo on the turf even though it had no ownership interest in the turf. The City of Albuquerque , Global Spectrum L.P., and the Duke City Gladiators (DCG) documents reflect that the artificial turf playing field would be an asset of the City, the City would retain ownership, yet it was installed in a City of Rio Rancho facility and not a City of Albuquerque facility.
FIFTH: All City of Albuquerque employees, especially those in the Parks and Recreation Department, knew the artificial turf would be going to Rio Rancho but they said nothing nor did they question or resist it or make any effort to stop it from happening. Feeling “queasy” does not cut it when no attempt was made to stop the transaction or object to or sign off on it with documented protest.
SIXTH: The City’s response to the Inspector General’s report was lame at best as it attempts to down play what happened by saying “OIG report was misinformed”. The city totally ignored the fact that New Mexico Department of Finance and Administration legal counsel determined that the use of the funds would violate the terms of the appropriation and that if the City were to use the funds in the proposed manner it would also violate the New Mexico Anti-Dnation Clause, N.M. Const, art. 9, § 14.
SEVENTH: It’s painfully obvious that the Keller Administration at best mislead the City Council and at worst down right lied to the city council at the January 8 meeting when councilors questioned why the City of Albuquerque would pay for artificial turf with city of Albuquerque funds and then turn around and install it a City of Rio Rancho facility. City Councilors Louis Sanchez and Brook Basaan now raise objections in a Larry Barker interview yet do not do a thing demanding accountability or disciplinary action for being lied to or mislead by the Keller Administration at a city council meeting. It is getting to the point that the City Council needs to place under oath Keller officials to testify truthfully before they make presentations to the city council.
Eighth: Mayor Tim Keller is a former New Mexico State Senator and a former New Mexico State Auditor. He is very familiar knows damn well how the “anti-donation” clause works and how very serious it is to violate it. When the Inspector General reports that a Parks and Recreation Department employee told investigators there was pressure from “high up” in the Keller Administration to push the artificial turf purchase through, there is very little doubt that pressure came from the Office of Mayor Tim Keller, perhaps even Keller himself or Chief Operations Officer Lawrence Rael doing the Mayor’s bidding. After all, that’s what any influential football fan and supporter of the Duke City Gladiator’s would do.
MAYOR TIM KELLER
Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller makes it known to the press and the public, and even brags about, being a former St. Pius High School Quarterback. He enjoys living his glory days on the football field, so much so that he has actually showed up to LOBO Football practice field to give a “pep talk” to the UNM football team players as the coach introduced him and then watched with glee. Keller has also “suited up” in a Gladiator Football Team uniform to throw around a football with the New Mexico Gladiators. Keller has had numerous “publicity shots” of himself posing in a Gladiator football uniform holding a football with one head shot of him with a very serious look of determination on his face like any high school football jock would do for a year book.
In 2017, when then New Mexico State Auditor Tim Keller first ran for Mayor, he was swept into office by a landslide. He ran for Mayor riding a wave of popularity he carefully crafted as a white knight who proclaimed he stopped “waste, fraud and abuse” of taxpayer money. He relished uncovering “waste, fraud and abuse” by government and referring cases to authorities for prosecution.
Since becoming Mayor, Tim Keller he has virtually ignored “waste, fraud and abuse” within city hall thereby condoning it. On more than one occasion “waste, fraud and abuse” has been found within the Keller Administration, especially within the Albuquerque Police Department with overtime pay scandals and Mayor Keller has never denounced it and has done nothing to curb it.
Now this. The Inspector General has “determined that the allegations [in the complaint] contain elements of potential fraud, waste, or abuse” and found that that the purchase of the artificial turf was a violation of the State’s anti-donation clause. More than a few city employees who were involved the $236,622 purchase need to be removed. Despite what is going on, Keller is nowhere to be found, he has not been interviewed as to what he intends to do to make this right. His silence is so typical of Tim Keller to keep low not to be seen during controversy involving his management team and it reflects his failure as a Mayor.