This week, SFR reports on Gov. Susana Martinez Chief of Staff Keith Gardner's leaked conversation with Brian Powell, the EMS chief at the Roswell Fire Department. At one point in the audio, Gardner suggested that Powell may be able to take on the top job at Expo New Mexico, the agency that manages the State Fair.
“Maybe we’re looking for a state fair manager—I’m about to fire that fucker, I’m so pissed off,” Gardner said. “God, they screwed up that. Those guys could screw up a wet dream.”
It’s unclear why Gardner was angry with Dan Mourning, Expo New Mexico’s general manager. Both Mourning and the governor’s office didn’t comment on Gardner’s statement before press time.
But just three days before the Oct. 14, 2011 conversation between Gardner and Powell took place, State Fair Commissioner Charlotte Rode had met with Gardner and Deputy Chief of Staff Ryan Cangiolosi to express her concerns about the state’s controversial awarding of a request for proposals racino contract with the Downs at Albuquerque.
The contract for the racino, which is located on the state fairgrounds, has been a heavily politicized issue for nearly a year now. Critics say the process was fixed. Click here for an in-depth look into how the deal went down.
“I had told Ryan Cangiolosi that I had huge concerns about the contract and the appearance of corruption.” Rode tells SFR. “They kept asking me, ‘Is there anything that’s illegal?’ I said I didn’t know, I’m not a lawyer.”
Three weeks before Rode met with governor staffers, five of the seven state fair commissioners—including Rode—called their own meeting by a majority to elect their own officers based on advice from the Attorney General’s Office. Rode says the Governor’s Office denied the meeting.
“I got a call from Cangiolosi and he scolded me for about an hour,” she says. “He made a reference that if I didn’t like the process I should resign. I know that day they were not happy.”
Mourning, who had been brought on as general manager earlier in the year, was one of several officials to recommend Rode for the commissioner position. Since then, she's become highly vocal and critical of the way the Downs lease was awarded.