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Eastern New Mexico News 

Watchful eye needed to avoid conflict of interest


August 6, 2017

The smaller the town, the more difficult it can be to avoid potential conflicts of interest.

Sometimes the sheriff is related to the prosecutor and the judge. Sometimes the city manager is a volunteer firefighter for the city. Or a county commissioner sells goods/services to the same county because that commissioner provides the best quality for the best price.

It’s difficult to criticize a small-town public servant for filling a role nobody else wants because it’s a lot of work for little (or no) pay.

But small towns cannot close their collective eyes to conflicts between public service and personal profits, no matter how small the town. Especially when hundreds of thousands of tax dollars are involved.

That’s why we’re glad to see a criminal investigation has been launched in connection with findings from an audit of Dora Consolidated Schools.

Hopefully, no individual took advantage of their role with the tiny Roosevelt County school district to score profits at taxpayer expense. But community members have a lot of questions and they deserve answers from objective observers, such as the district attorney’s office or the state’s attorney general.

The state audit completed in June identifies more than $100,000 in school funds that may have been mismanaged. At the least, there are issues with documentation and “general oversight deficiencies,” the audit shows.

The report alleges a school employee recycled school property for cash and kept most of the money — maybe more than $36,000. It also contends a school employee sold more than $41,000 worth of supplies to the district, possibly in violation of the Governmental Conduct Act, which governs the ethical and legal conduct of public officers and employees at all levels of government.

The state auditor’s office acknowledged that “transactions among people with personal and professional relationships may seem like an easy way to conduct business and may in fact save time and money.”

But, the auditor concluded, “it is precisely these transactions that should be well documented and subject to strict control procedures to avoid any appearance of impropriety.”

The Dora situation should remind public entities across the region to keep a close eye on potential conflicts and carefully document those that might raise suspicions.

Unsigned editorials are the opinion of the Clovis Media Inc.’s editorial board, which consists of Publisher Rob Langrell and Editor David Stevens.


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