Morning Word

State Auditor IDs Hundreds of Late Audits and Financial Reports

City considers preserving city manager pandemic spending authority

State auditor IDs hundreds of late audits

Reports released yesterday by State Auditor Joseph Maestas show that while the City of Santa Fe continues to have a problem with late audits, it’s not the only one. In fact, more than 400 public agencies appear on the auditor’s “at-risk lists,” aka those that have not filed annual audit reports or financial reports or whose reports revealed problems. The first list, which includes public agencies behind on their audits, includes more than 50 agencies, such as the Legislature, the Higher Education Department and Northern New Mexico College. Eleven new municipalities joined the City of Santa Fe on the list—including Española—along with six counties. The second list includes entities that filed their reports on time but about which independent auditors found problems. The Public Education Department and town of Bernalillo appear on that list. The third and largest list—a new addition this year—includes more than 340 financially non-compliant local public bodies such as acequias or land grant associations that have not filed timely financial reports. “Transparency and openness are my top priorities,” Maestas said in a statement, adding: “These numbers are concerning and finding its name on this list this should be a wake-up call for any entity, to get their financial house in order.”

City manager may hold onto emergency spending powers

New Mexico’s public health order emergency, enacted in March 2020 at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, will end in just a few days when Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham lets it expire March 31. An emergency provision the City of Santa Fe put in place, which allows the city manager to unilaterally approve expenditures up to $200,000—versus the $60,000 limit previously in place—could remain intact. Since put in place, city managers have approved approximately $20 million in expenditures that would normally have required City Council approval—$7.8 million approved in 2022 alone by City Manager John Blair. While Mayor Alan Webber indicated he is interested in maintaining the practice, which he says is under review by the city attorney, not everyone is on board. District 2 Councilor Michael Garcia said he’s open to “letting it expire” and returning to the previous practice. For one thing, as SFR writer Andrew Oxford reports this week, while the city manager is required to provide monthly updates on contracts he has approved that are worth more than $60,000, those updates are neither posted publicly nor included in the council’s agendas. Garcia says that has led to less public awareness about how the city spends taxpayer money, aka decreased transparency. While the City Council isn’t slated to discuss the city manager’s financial authority at its meeting tonight, it will hold a public hearing on allowing the city manager authority to close public spaces when fire weather requires doing so. The council will also weigh potential changes to its campaign finance laws. As for the mayor, he returns for his first in-person State of the City address since the pandemic, at 6 pm tomorrow night at the Santa Fe Community Convention. Speaking of declining transparency, tickets are sold out and the city is reportedly not live-streaming the event, though it plans to post a video afterward.

Sec. Toulouse Oliver testifies on election landscape

New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver testified yesterday before the US Senate Committee on Rules and Administration during its hearing on “State and Local Perspectives on Election Administration” (Toulouse Oliver’s opening remarks take place just before the 37-minute mark on the previously linked video). Toulouse Oliver testified alongside Nebraska Secretary of State Robert Evnen, South Carolina State Election Commission Executive Director Howard Knapp, Durham County Board of Elections Director Derek Bowens and Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law Co-Director Marcia Johnson. Her goal in testifying, Toulouse Oliver said in her opening remarks, was partially to highlight some of New Mexico’s initiatives taken to address the changing electoral landscape. “The rise of misinformation and election denialism since 2020 has made the job of non-partisan election administration much harder,” she said. Toulouse Oliver discussed changes made to the election code during the most recent legislative session that increase compensation and training for poll workers; another provision shields elected and appointed officials from having their home addresses made public—enacted in the wake of drive-by shootings targeting Democratic officials. Toulouse Oliver also told the committee the “federal government can help states and their election administrators by providing consistent, robust funding streams.”

Stop and smell the chile

‘Tis the law of the land: New Mexico’s official aroma is the smell of roasting green chile—any time of year. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham yesterday signed the bill—masterminded by students at Monte Vista Elementary, carried by state Sen. Bill Soules, D-Doña Ana and attracting attention far and wide. The only notable change made to the legislation eliminated a line specifying the official aroma as the smell of green chile roasting during the fall (here’s some back story on that). As the Albuquerque Journal reports, New Mexico is probably the first state to enact an official state aroma. The new designation adds to the list of official stuff such as Official State Cookie (biscochito); tie (bolo) and fossil (Coelophysis), to name a few. Also from the Journal: the Legislature did not approve “Red or Green” by Lenny Roybal as the oficial state song. That doesn’t mean you can’t sing along.

COVID-19 by the numbers

Reported March 28New cases: 213; 674,440 total cases. Deaths: two; Santa Fe County has had 401 total deaths; 9,104 total fatalities statewide. Statewide hospitalizations: 97; patients on ventilators: four

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s most recent March 23 “community levels” map shows DeBaca County has turned red, indicating high COVID-19 community levels (categories that weigh both hospital and case metrics). The CDC recommends people living in red counties take a number of precautions, including wearing masks. The current map also shows four counties (twice as many as last week) are now yellow, with medium levels: Cibola, Quay, Curry and Roosevelt counties. The rest of the state remains at green—aka low—levels. Corresponding recommendations for each level can be found here.

Resources: Receive four free at-home COVID-19 tests per household via; Check availability for additional free COVID-19 tests through Project ACT; CDC interactive booster eligibility tool; NM DOH vaccine & booster registration; CDC isolation and exposure interactive tool; COVID-19 treatment info; NMDOH immunocompromised tool kit. People seeking treatment who do not have a medical provider can call NMDOH’s COVID-19 hotline at 1-855-600-3453. DOH encourages residents to download the NM Notify app and to report positive COVID-19 home tests on the app.

You can read all of SFR’s COVID-19 coverage here.

Listen up

At 1:30 pm MT today, Albuquerque-based writer and filmmaker Jason Asenap (Comanche and Muscogee Creek) will join Alta Live to discuss the implications land art carries for Indigenous people. In an essay he wrote for Alta Journal at the end of last year, Asenap details his first encounter with the concept of land art during an art history course at University of New Mexico in 2013. “To create this art,” Asenap writes, “you carve out, dig into, or brand your mark on a parcel of land, driven by a singular vision. It seems like another white man making his mark on the land, on a property.” In addition to his filmmaking, Asenap also writes for a variety of publications, including EsquireHigh Country News and New Mexico Magazine. Register here for the discussion.

The world according to Meow Wolf

Shondaland trumpets the “ever-expanding world of Meow Wolf,” writing that “disorientation is the fuel that Meow Wolf artists hope will light a creative fire in everyone.” The story runs through the collective’s storied beginning (plucked the name Meow Wolf from a hat; got going in an old bowling alley thanks to George RR Martin’s largesse), before moving onto the present-day experience for visitors encountering Meow Wolf’s various interactive exhibitions. “When people first enter, I would love for them to have no idea what’s going on,” co-founder and Senior Creative Director Caity Kennedy tells Shondaland. “Then, I want that confusion to shift to curiosity and impulsive exploration.” Meow Wolf—which has installations now in Santa Fe, Denver and Las Vegas—will open its next iterations in Texas: one in Grapevine this summer and another in Houston next year. “As the physical world has become confined by predictable design parameters, Meow Wolf’s visionaries believe their work matters now more than ever before,” the story notes. As such, co-founder Vince Kadlubek tells the magazine: “This tendency has compromised our ability to explore and discover, to imagine, to envision possibility, to create the unprecedented. We hope that visiting a Meow Wolf inspires the imagination and reminds folks that the world can be different than it has been. And maybe more importantly, remind them that they can be different than how they’ve been.”

NM poet wins First Book prize

Yesterday, New Mexico poet Sara Daniele Rivera won the prestigious 2023 Academy of American Poets First Book Award. Rivera’s manuscript, The Blue Mimes, will be published by Graywolf Press in April 2024. She also will receive $5,000 and a six-week, all-expenses-paid residency at the Civitella Ranieri Center in Umbria, Italy. The Academy of American Poets will purchase thousands of copies of The Blue Mimes to send to its members, making it one of the most widely distributed poetry books of the year. She will also be featured on and in American Poets magazine. Rivera, a Cuban and Peruvian American artist, writer, translator and educator from Albuquerque, received her MFA in creative writing from Boston University. Her writing has appeared in numerous publications, including the Loft Anthology, The Green Mountains Review and Storyscape Journal. Writer Eduardo C. Corral, who chose Rivera’s manuscript for the prize, said in a statement Rivera’s book “reminds us that formal choices—lyric essay, intertextuality, line drawings—also resonate emotionally. Here, grief is connective. Here, grief is reflective. With memories rooted in New Mexico, in Cuba, and in Peru, grief is also earth-rich. Rivera’s poems are beautifully and deftly crafted—some of my favorites, though, intentionally refuse sense-making, which infuses the book with a mesmerizing strangeness. I felt deeply the grief in this book. I felt less alone after reading it.” Of the prize, Rivera said via Twitter: “I couldn’t have dreamt of something like this for my first book. Thank you, mil gracias from my deepest heart to @EduardoCCorral for believing in this book enough to open this door for me.”

The calm before the wind

The National Weather Service forecasts a sunny day with a high temperature near 61 degrees and northeast wind 10 to 15 mph becoming southwest in the afternoon. Don’t get too comfortable: Tomorrow is expected to bring high winds and critical fire weather. As we head into not just snake season but also windy season, PNM yesterday shared an evergreen video of stray party balloons causing a power line explosion to make a point, that being: Mylar party balloons can cause fires and power outages if released into the air, so keep them inside. For more tips on avoiding electrocution and other disasters on windy days, read the advice here. Also, for whatever reason, the next video in the queue after PNM’s exploding balloons was Mavis Staples performing “I’ll Take You There” at the White House 10 years ago, which may be soothing after the aforementioned explosion.

Thanks for reading! The Word enjoys reading about spring cleaning more than she enjoys actually spring cleaning.

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