Regional Coalition of LANL Communities Executive Director Eric Vasquez
BY MAIRE O’NEILL
Regional Coalition of LANL Communities board members meeting in Espanola Thursday were dismayed to hear from executive director Eric Vasquez that he never submitted the annual request to the Department of Energy for $100,000 grant the Coalition has been receiving for several years.
The failure to apply for the funds was revealed during the treasurer’s report item on the agenda presented by Vasquez because Board Treasurer Santa Fe City Councilor Peter Ives was absent for his third consecutive meeting. In response to a question from Espanola City Councilor Peggy Sue Martinez, an alternate member of the board, about the status of the funding, Vasquez said that “as was mentioned last time at the June 7 meeting, the RCLC is not receiving grant money this year”.
“We did not submit as we were getting our house in order dealing with the findings of the Office of the State Auditor. Furthermore the (Department of Energy Environmental Management) office which handles that grant is also currently completing an investigation by the DOE Inspector General which has not been finalized yet and that was in regards to how they handle these types of grants. They have not released that at this point in time. We have had informal conversations with a few different individuals within DOE and we think as long as we keep our house in order and maintain the direction we’re going, we’re set to resume in the new fiscal year which begins next month,” Vasquez said.
Martinez asked when the funding might resume.
“We need our final audits which I’m expecting also at the end of next month and second of all we need to have the IG investigation complete and the final report published and we do not know when that will be,” Vasquez replied.
At that point, board member Javier Sanchez asked Vasquez to verify that he had said the RCLC intentionally did not put in for the grant because “were trying to get our house in order”. Vasquez confirmed that was the case.
“Why?,” Sanchez asked. “Did we receive any indication from them that they weren’t going to and then we didn’t do it?”
“We were aware that the Inspector General Investigation was ongoing within DOE and had been ongoing since late last year and it was our understanding that (inaudible) until that investigation was complete,” Vasquez responded.
Under a separate agenda item requesting approval of an invoice for May 2019 billable activity for the executive director contract with Chicanos por la Causa New Mexico (CPLC) Board Secretary and Los Alamos County Councilor David Izraelevitz asked why there is no differentiation between unrestricted funds and the DOE restricted funds on the treasurer’s report under the ending fund balance which currently shows as $322,865. He suggested that in future reports the balance for each fund be provided so that the board would know which fund is being expended against.
Vasquez responded that separate accounts for the funding were created due to the state audit recommendations. Izraelevitz said he understood.
“But you said earlier there were some residual funds from prior (DOE) grants,” Izraelevitz said.
“I apologize. I probably misspoke. It is my understanding that the grant funds have all been expended after conversations with our fiscal agent,” Vasquez responded, adding that the Coalition is currently running on the unrestricted funds and that the separate account for the DOE funds has been created but it has zero balance. Los Alamos County is currently the fiscal agent for the RCLC.
Leo Marquez, alternate board member for Rio Arriba County questioned how the situation would be reflected in an audit. Vasquez said he would speak to the fiscal agent about that. re documenting what might be eligible under the DOE grant. Questions about how it would be audited. Said let me speak to the fiscal agent about that.
At the end of the meeting, the board returned to discussion of the DOE grant money when Chair Henry Roybal asked Vasquez if the grant application was ever an item for discussion on an agenda.
“That was not an item for discussion on an agenda. We were not in a position to put in for that. We were not yet in compliance with the OSA recommendations. Furthermore, and this is just as important, the DOE IG investigation was ongoing and it’s still ongoing. And the board was not yet in a position to move forward. Both sides were getting our houses in order,” Vasquez said.
City of Taos Councilor Darien Fernandez asked Vasquez if he had any idea when the DOE IG investigation will be wrapped up and the board would see the results.
“I have received no formal notification of when that will happen. I believe from just rumors that I’ve heard, that they are getting near the end,” Vasquez replied.
Izraelevitz said he has a concern that the decision to apply for the grant or not is something that should not have been done without the board. He said “this type of level of decision” because of its seriousness needs to come before the board. He said sometimes there are time restraints but that a special meeting could be called if necessary or that it an executive committee were formed it could expedite a decision and then confirm bring it before the full board. He added that the New Mexico Municipal League and the New Mexico Association of Counties operate this way.
Fernandez asked Vasquez if when the decision was made not to apply for the DOE grant, it was in conjunction with any discussion with Roybal or Ives or anyone else. Vasquez said it was not a formal discussion.
“We were looking at basically were we going to be in compliance. We wanted to see if we could get there, but we were not yet in compliance. So it was more along the lines of we weren’t ready,” Vasquez said.
Fernandez asked when the decision was made, when was the first person on the board notified. Vasquez replied that “it was in casual conversations soon after that.”
Martinez said she was curious as to whom Vasquez was referring throughout the discussion as “we”.
“A variety of conversations occurred with different individuals including our fiscal agents and staff over there, members of the CPLC and myself. But I was the decision maker,” Vasquez replied.
The revelation of the decision not to apply for the DOE grant came just three weeks after board members were informed that the RCLC would not be receiving its $100,000 grant this fiscal year.
Vasquez has not indicated which DOE officials he has spoken with in recent months about the RCLC grant status. Los Alamos Deputy Manager Steve Lynne who manages the County’s fiscal agent responsibilities was not available Friday for comment.