Governor failed to hold employee responsible

Intent often is not a measure of whether a miscreant is breaking the law or policy. As a  former prosecutor, Gov. Susana Martinez knows that better than most.

Her knowledge of the law makes it even more difficult to understand why she isn’t doing more to rein in her free-spending chief of staff.

Her office’s defense? It was “poor practice,” but there was “no ill intent involved.”

That’s a defense a crusading district attorney could shred.

But as governor, Martinez is content to look the other way. Her chief of staff, Keith Gardner — who should know better — was caught using a state credit card for thousands of dollars in personal spending, a direct violation of state policy and procedures.

State-issued cards cannot be used for personal purchases, even if the buyer plans to pay the state back. Yet, Gardner used the card for more than $5,000 in payments. He spent on hotels, tires, a cell phone and accessories, a necktie, heartburn medication, car fresheners, a coin display case, a copy of Popular Science magazine and more.

Some of his purchases were even tax-free because they were charged on his government card.

All of that, despite signing an agreement at the beginning of his employment with the state indicating that he understood state policy on the use of credit cards, as well as accepted the possible consequences — up to and including prosecution.

The purchases, first reported by the Albuquerque Journal, garnered this email response to reporter Steve Terrell from the Governor’s Office:
“Keith and the chief financial officer met regularly and reconciled purchases. He made regular reimbursements of any items that needed to be repaid. Those purchases and reimbursements were paid back throughout the last three years.”

Because of his violations Gardner now must obtain a pre-authorization for any purchases. It’s important to be clear that Gardner repaid all purchases, with interest. It appears he was careless rather than criminal.

The governor’s statement says Gardner met regularly with the chief financial officer and “reconciled” purchases. That meeting should have happened once. Gardner should have been told not to use the state card again for personal items. Period.

After a second meeting, his card should have been taken away. Any more violations, and he should have faced further penalties. None of that happened.

Gardner has not been disciplined for flouting state policy. At an annual salary of $136,350, Gardner can afford his own purchases. He’s also smart and savvy enough to follow state policy. He did not, despite signing the statement.

Working for the public sometimes means doing things the hard way and keeping strict track of how money is spent. It means keeping expenses separate, even on a trip. Gardner failed at that, and his boss, Gov. Martinez has failed at holding him accountable.

— The Santa Fe New Mexican

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