We wish public officials would more frequently ask the question, “What if this makes the newspaper?”
It’s likely that Mora school officials didn’t ask this question when they went on a spending spree for legislators. Through a public records request, this newspaper discovered that the district spent thousands of dollars for perks for state legislators and Mora school officials.
Among the more questionable expenses during this year’s legislative session were $2,400 for 18 leather jackets for state legislators and top Mora school officials. Another $750 went for a dinner for 13 people at the Bull Ring — again, with the same folks involved. Thousands more were spent for other meals and goodies for the legislators.
Shortly after the Optic filed a public records request for these expenditures, Superintendent Dora Romero placed two top district officials, Agnes Padilla and Roger Gonzales, on paid administrative leave in connection with the spending spree. And Romero said she has referred the spending to the state auditor’s office and the state Public Education Department for further investigation. Indeed, the superintendent herself appears to have approved the spending.
Both Gonzales and Padilla insist that the expenditures were legitimate because they were paid for through an administrative activities account, which they said was made up of donations from banks and others over the years.
Assuming they’re correct, the spending is still egregious. Could these funds have been used to further the purpose of education? We think so, and we suspect most of the district’s constituents would fully agree.
Why do the schools need to buy top-of-the-line jackets for our legislators? They already have coats. And why does the district feel it must provide the lawmakers meals and hundreds of dollars worth of jerky? They already have the means to feed themselves.
Some may contend that this is how the game is played in Santa Fe. Maybe so, but we’d rather Mora spend its money more wisely.
Our legislators aren’t paid exorbitantly, but they know what they’re getting into when they run for office. They are hired to represent the people and bring what resources they can to their districts.
The Mora district is under no obligation to shower our elected representatives with gifts, especially with money that passes through the schools. In fact, we wish our legislators would just tell entities such as the Mora district to spend their money on worthy purposes, not on perks for the powerful.
It’s likely that the state will find that these expenses are perfectly legal. But Mora officials should keep in mind that perfectly legal doesn’t mean perfectly ethical.
In this case, the spending leaves much to be desired. And we bet those involved now wish such expenditures never made the newspaper.