NM Watchdog story puts heat on county approving taxpayer dollars for liberal political convention

By Rob Nikolewski on June 11, 2013
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It took a couple weeks but a New Mexico Watchdog story about the Rio Arriba County Commission spending $2,500 in taxpayers’ dollars so two county employees can attend a well-known liberal political convention has generated plenty of controversy.

“This entire conference is clearly not training for any County employee,” a blistering editorial in the Rio Grande Sun pronounced while the chairman of the state Republican Party issued a news release Monday (June 10) saying, “To use taxpayer dollars to fully fund a trip for such blatant and scathing political reasons is a gross misuse of power.”

GOING ON THE TAXPAYERS' DIME: The Rio Arriba County Commission approved $2,500 in expenses for two county employees to attend the NetRoots Nation convention in California.

GOING ON THE TAXPAYERS’ DIME: The Rio Arriba County Commission approved $2,500 in expenses for two county employees to attend the NetRoots Nation convention in California.

Back on May 29, New Mexico Watchdog was the first to reveal that in a 3-0 vote, Rio Arriba County commissioners approved out-of-town travel expenses for Lauren Reichelt, the county’s director for Health and Human Services, and Erika Martinez, the county’s public information officer, to attend the NetRoots Nation convention in San Jose, Calif.

NetRoots Nation is an annual meeting that bills itself as “one of the most powerful political events of the year” that features “some of the brightest minds in progressive politics.”

When the NM Watchdog story came out, Reichelt estimated the cost to taxpayers at roughly $2,000 but city manager Tomas Campos told the Sun it will cost the county about $2,500.

“This is just another instance in which working for the good of all citizens took a backseat to political agendas,” John Billingsley of the New Mexico Republican Party said in his statement.

According to the county clerk, Rio Arriba County has a 77.7-10.8 percent edge in Democratic Party vs. Republican Party registration and Reichelt was named the county’s Democratic Party vice chair earlier this year. Martinez is a registered Democrat.

Martinez told New Mexico Watchdog, “There’s a lot of outreach through the social media (at the convention),” and said the NetRoots convention scheduled for June 20-24 will be helpful “to educate people about health care in the coming year.”

In an article published Tuesday in the Albuquerque Journal, city manager Campos said criticism of the commission’s decision was “misleading” and that “If you look at the agenda, there are, like, 200 workshops. They have some really great courses and panels, and the ones I try to focus on have to do with social media outreach, media tactics, and educational support.”

A look at the convention’s agenda shows 195 events. While some have titles such as “Digital Campaigns on a Budget,” other offerings include “What the F*** Do We Know? Applying Scientific Research to Elections,” “How to Win Elections with Data-driven Field Operations” and “Legitimate Tape: Using Republicans’ Own Words to Shut that Whole Thing Down.”

According to a news story in the Sun, Campos said he and assistant County manager David Trujillo will go over the usefulness of the trip when Reichelt and Martinez return.

“Me and David will sit down and look at it again,” Campos said.

But the Sun’s editorial took no prisoners.

“Regardless of which side of the political spectrum you’re on, you must look at the Netroots Nation conference story … and come away with questions about what the County’s management philosophy is,” wrote managing editor R. Braiden Trapp in the newsweekly’s lead editorial. “Reading the topics at the conference, it seems the County’s agenda is purely far left rhetoric and not inclusive of all County residents.”

Click here to read the New Mexico Watchdog story that uncovered the commissioners’ vote.

Contact Rob Nikolewski at rob@nmwatchdog.org and follow him on Twitter @robnikolewski

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One Comment For This Post So Far

  1. John Ennis
    3:24 pm on January 4th, 2014

    These people should be forced to pay the county back for this partisan trip. It is a crime to misuse funds. But, I am not for putting these characters in jail.

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