[Lopez] makes about $26 an hour, the same amount she made at the COG, for 15 to 20 hours a week, officials said.The Journal felt that the problem was the fact that Lopez got the job with the county without a proper posting - and that's certainly a part of the problem. The bigger problem is that as a state senator, Lopez is one of the officials that control state funding for the county not to mention that by hiring Lopez, she could be in violation of the Hatch Act.
Lopez, a South Valley Democrat who is seeking her party's nomination for lieutenant governor, said her role as a state lawmaker didn't affect her hiring.
"I felt that since they were paying my salary ... it made sense to work for the county," Lopez said. "The money was already being funneled straight over to the COG."
The Hatch Act applies to executive branch state and local employees who are principally employed in connection with programs financed in whole or in part by loans or grants made by the United States or a federal agency.The Hatch act governs behavior of employees of governments whose agencies receive federal funding. Bernalillo County - like most governmental agencies - receives a healthy amount of federal funding. As such, Lopez is a covered employee according to the Office of Special Counsel.
Covered state and local employees may not-Not only is Ms. Lopez a state senator, she is currently seeking the Democratic nomination for Lieutenant Governor both of which are partisan elections. To be fair Senator Lopez' previous employer - MRCOG - was also a governmental agency that receives huge amounts of federal dollars, so she was probably already in violation.
* be candidates for public office in a partisan election
* use official authority or influence to interfere with or affect the results of an election or nomination
* directly or indirectly coerce contributions from subordinates in support of a political party or candidate
But there's another potential county violator - Commissioner Maggie Hart-Stebbins. You see, Commissioner Hart-Stebbins works for the Mid-Region Council of Governments or MRCOG.
Hart Stebbins currently serves as the Special Projects Manager for the Mid-Region Council of Governments, where she has been an integral part of many projects including the New Mexico Rail Runner Express.Ms. Hart-Stebbins was originally appointed by Big Bill, so there's a pretty good argument that she hasn't technically violated the Hatch Act... yet. However, when she becomes a candidate for the Bernalillo County Board of Commissioners she will be working for an agency that receives large amounts of federal funding and will be a "candidate for a partisan election."
More ironically, the district 3 commissioner may be in violation of her own proposed ethics legislation (read it here). The commissioner's legislation has a pretty broad definition of prohibited source. One of which is "any person or entity who has interests that may be substantially affected by the performance or non-performance of the officials duties of the elected official, volunteer or employee."
The county has three seats on the MRCOG Board of Directors. The board members are county commissioners. And even though Commissioner Hart-Stebbins is not one of MRCOG's board members, she certainly has influence with the commissioners who are. More importantly, Commissioner Hart-Stebbins has an interest or interests that may be substantially affected by the commissioners serving on MRCOG's Board of Directors.
There's really no end to potential conflicts of interest when government employees also serve as elected officials whose interactions affect one another. There's also no end to the number of temptations.
Voters need to feel that the officials they elect have the best interests of the electorate at heart. When personal interests can be affected by the vote of an elected official, that official's integrity and ethics should rightfully be called into question. Both Lopez and Hart-Stebbins present an ethical dilemma created by their employment for government agencies and power entrusted to them as elected officials.
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An Eye reader rightfully took us to task for our creative spelling of the word "dilemma." It has been corrected above.