A spokesperson for the state Public Education Department has confirmed that an ethics investigation into the Mora School District is under way.
In August, former Mora school district employee Roger Gonzales notified the school board publicly of potential violations of state statues. He then hand-delivered a letter outlining the alleged violations to the state education department. The investigation appears to stem from the allegations contained in Gonzales’ letter.
Board President George Trujillo told the Optic on Thursday that he isn’t aware of an ethics investigation, though he said he has been informed about an investigation related to the licenses of Superintendent Dora Romero and Business Manager Dawn Biagianti. Trujillo said Romero notified him of that investigation.
As of press time, Romero hadn’t responded to several messages from the Optic.
Gonzales’ letter alleges the district is in violation of several state statutes including the Open Meetings Act, the state Procurement Code, and the Inspection of Public Records Act. He also alleges that the district isn’t adhering to internal controls.
Gonzales’ letter contends that the district has violated the Open Meetings Act by giving Romero directives and direction on items behind closed-doors. Under the law, a public body can go into executive session to discuss certain matters exempt from the Open Meetings Act, but any action must be taken in open session.
Gonzales alleges that the official meeting records back him up.
“Such directives have resulted in adverse actions toward certain individuals whose constitutional rights to due process and property have been grossly violated,” he said.
Gonzales added that Romero has publicly stated, both in writing and orally that the board gave some of the directives to her during executive sessions, in violation of the Open Meetings Act.
Ironically, Gonzales himself has been the subject of a PED ethics investigation and actually had his school business license yanked after PED officials found that he had misspent school funds, among other things. He has filed an appeal.
Gonzales said the district was notified in 2009 by the State Auditor’s Office that it needed to develop and implement internal controls and operating procedures. He said the board adopted those procedures in 2010.
He alleges the district did not comply with the procedures when it came to the payment for services regarding Biagianti. Biagianti started working at the district in late June as a contract business manager through Coop Educational Services.
Documents provided to the Optic by Gonzales show that roughly 14 working days after she began work at the district, Biagianti created a purchase requisition for her own services and approved that requisition herself. She also created the purchase on July 16 in the amount of the $10,000.
On Aug. 24, CES billed the district for $8,818.71 for Biagianti’s work from June 26 to July 18. The amount includes $309.24 for mileage from Biagianti’s home in Santa Fe to Mora and $799.47 for meals and lodging while working at Mora Schools.
Documentation of receipts received from Gonzales indicate that Biagianti stayed at the Mora Inn for two nights in June, costing the district $116.54. The district was also renting a home for Biagianti from the Mora Presbyterian Church for $300.
The invoice includes breakfasts, lunches and dinners at Hatcha’s, Kristy’s Korner Kafe, and Russells Discount Foods in Mora. Many of the receipts provided to the district are not itemized and include only a grand total, along with the tip amounts.
Romero signed off the purchase order. Biagiani is still working at the district even though her business license through PED was expired. It is unclear whether she applied for a new one. PED spokesman Larry Behrens said that under state rules, a person can perform a job for 90 days while a license request is under review.
The district had previously been in trouble with the state PED for misspending funds during Gonzales’ tenure as the district’s chief operations officer. In April of 2012, the state PED yanked his business license amid concerns of misspending of public money. It also ordered him to repay roughly $16,400 that was found to have been misspent, plus an undisclosed sum to cover disciplinary proceeding costs.
Gonzales has appealed the findings to the district court in Santa Fe.
The district implemented new internal controls after PED found that Romero had signed off on the purchasing of leather jackets for state lawmakers, an expense that was submitted by Gonzales and former business manager Agnes Padilla in 2009. Romero has said she was misled, being told that the jackets were for school personnel.
In his letter, Gonzales compares what happened back then to what is currently occurring.
“This irresponsible behavior mirrors the same behavior witnessed during her previous tenure as superintendent nearly four years ago,” he wrote. “She must claim responsibility . . .”
Gonzales most recently served as interim Mora County manager.