The letter Andrea Romero sent to city economic development head Matt Brown contained just two sentences.
"I would like to see that the MIX Santa Fe services contract be assigned to the Santa Fe Chamber Opportunities Fund for the fiscal year 2018-19. The Santa Fe Chamber of Commerce has agreed to act as the assigned designee of this contract, and [Andrea Romero Consulting] will be working with it to carry out ongoing duties and responsibilities with the Chamber."
Since 2015, Romero has made about $20,000 a year on a contract to promote the business networking group MIX Santa Fe. It's focused on fostering connections between Santa Fe entrepreneurs, and Romero's role has been to plan events, handle social media and create buzz.
Now, she apparently wants to continue the work, but with the Chamber of Commerce acting as a buffer between her and the city. Santa Fe's governing body isn't sure why.
The city manager has already signed off on the transfer, but it's not clear he had the power to do so. The new city attorney says the governing body needs to give the okay, a proposition at which the council balked during its last meeting, and eventually delayed until the end of this month.
The confusion seems to stem from a series of job changes at City Hall and miscommunications between city staff and the council—all set against the backdrop of Romero's run for state House and her controversial contract with another entity, the Regional Coalition of Los Alamos National Lab Communities.
SFR called Romero last week to talk about why she requested the switch. She replied immediately by text message, asking for an emailed list of questions. Because such a back-and-forth is fraught with possibilities for misunderstanding and delay, SFR asked for a brief phone interview. Romero refused.
Instead, she claimed in a text message this week that the move had been planned for quite some time. She refused to make herself available to answer questions.
It's that kind of vague exchange about the reasoning for the contract reassignment that has given City Councilor JoAnne Vigil Coppler fits.
"The thing that raised my suspicion was that with, what, six or seven months left in the contract, for it to be assigned to a different entity? No one was able to explain the significance of that," she tells SFR.
Romero's contract expires on April 5, 2019. According to procurement rules, a new contract for the same services must go out to bid.
During the Aug. 29 City Council meeting, Vigil Coppler complained to her colleagues that no one from the city seemed to be able to adequately expound on what seemed to her like an unusual request, or why the city was willing to go along with it.
Vigil Coppler told councilors she had no issue with the city's investment in MIX.
“[However] I do have a quarrel with us subrogating our responsibilities to another entity that hasn’t gone through the procurement process. [The Chamber of Commerce] hasn’t competed or anything like that,” she said. “I hate to say it, but I think this is a political move and I don’t like it.”
Having beaten incumbent state Rep. Carl Trujillo in the June primary, Romero was the presumptive next state representative from House District 46. She faces a write-in challenger, however, in Democrat Heather Nordquist. Romero's letter to the city asking to reassign the contract was written week after she beat Trujillo.
Though the contract with Romero predates her run for office by years, the city would have a contract with a sitting state representative were she to win. Mayor Alan Webber campaigned for Romero in the primary. SFR's call to Webber Monday went unreturned. Tuesday, a city spokesman said Webber had no comment.
Romero previously held a similar contract that's made headlines. While acting as executive director for the LANL coalition, she had to reimburse the group for inappropriate spending on baseball tickets in Washington DC, as well as for food and drink purchases both in the capital and back home in Santa Fe. Her contract with the group wasn't renewed.
MIX's story, and Romero's, is that the group has been seeking for some time to make itself a nonprofit entity.
Co-founder Kate Noble tells SFR that MIX's board told Romero to ask the city to reassign the contract. The business group has had ties to the Chamber of Commerce since its beginning, and the board has been using the chamber's 501c3 arm to ensure it can get grants from donors who won't give to either a public entity like the city or to a for-profit group.
“These things are disconnected,” Noble says. “We asked her to because we’ve been thinking about what [MIX’s] future should be.”
Noble says she wasn't aware that Romero's letter to the city came so soon after her primary victory, but tells SFR that the move away from direct funding by the city isn't nefarious. Noble has emails between MIX, city staff, and the Chamber of Commerce discussing the switch in May.
Brown, the city's economic development director, confirms that MIX talked with him about making the switch last spring, before Romero won her race. He says that while the city wouldn't have a say about who the Chamber of Commerce hires to complete the contract, the city will have the same oversight of how its money is spent.