State says DA must pay up for unused phone service

ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – The Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office is thumbing its nose at a state law — and in return, state state officials have sent the office a nearly six-figure bill for services the office didn’t use.

KRQE News 13 investigative reporter Larry Barker uncovered the story in 2011 when DA Kari Brandenburg asked the New Mexico Department of Information Technology for an exception from the state central telephone system. Brandenburg said she could find a phone system that was better than what the state offered.

Brandenburg also was paying the state $14,000 a month for phones, fax machines and service. She says she could get a private company to provide the same service for $9,000 a month.

The IT Department runs and maintains all the high-tech computers that operate the state-wide phone system, which provides telecommunication for almost everyone in state government. In fact, there’s a state statute on the books that says government agencies must use this phone system.

“Here’s somebody who’s not playing in the sandbox quite frankly,” said Department of Information Technology Cabinet Secretary Darryl Ackley.

Brandenburg says the phones were more than a decade old. And the message system often didn’t work.

“People would call us and we’d never get their messages,” she said. “I’d check my messages and check my messages and they’d say: ‘No calls, no calls, no calls, no calls.’”

Last March, Brandenburg’s staff gathered up all the state-owned phones in the office and dumped them on the IT Department’s doorstep. But for the next eight months, the state continued to bill the DA’s office. Today, the state says she owes nearly $93,000.

“We are being billed regularly for services they aren’t providing us,” Brandenburg said.

She says her office has continually been in contact with the IT Department. State staff, Brandenburg said, agreed to not bill the DA’s office.

Brandenburg said she’s worried the unpaid bill will pop a red flag on her yearly audit this fall.

Secretary Ackley says he never approved the District Attorney’s Office to drop service. He said he’s also asked to see all the contracts with the private phone company provider and the service agreements.

Ackley said he’s only received some of that paperwork, so he kept billing the DA’s office.

When KRQE News 13 asked Secretary Ackley why the bills would continue after the DA’s Office returned all their phones and asked repeatedly to drop the state service, he said Brandenburg’s office isn’t following the rules.

“If you move you don’t take your phone or your satellite box and drive it over to the satellite company and throw it on the door and say quit sending me a bill, there’s a formal process for a reason,” Ackley said.

He also points out the DA’s office kept using six fax lines and and a phone line until last week.

But KRQE News 13 has learned not everyone plays by the same rules.

The Legislature does not use the state’s phone system. Neither do dozens of state agencies, district courts and other DA offices, even though it’s required by state statute. But Ackley’s office doesn’t have any enforcement power.

“It’s debated a lot. We fall back on, well that’s the law that’s on the books,” Ackley said.

Secretary Ackley says he will now look at crediting some or all of the DA’s bill.

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