SANTA FE (KRQE) – Is the man in charge of a state agency who was under fire for abusing his power being given more power?
That’s the concern coming from a couple of commissioners on the Public Regulation Commission who say a new resolution from the PRC’s Chief of Staff would limit their power to investigate corruption and work with agency staff.
The resolution was proposed as part of a board meeting in Santa Fe on Wednesday. Tension was evident the moment the resolution hit the floor.
“If you can gag, I guess if you want to call it, the commissioners, just so that you can have dictatorial rules around here, you’re crazy!” exclaimed Commissioner Ben Hall while speaking to Chief of Staff Vincent Martinez.
Commissioner Hall and fellow commissioner Valerie Espinoza attacked the ordinance during the meeting. Espinoza specifically called out Martinez, accusing him of drafting the ordinance as a “retaliatory” measure in response to recent criticism by Espinoza.
The commissioner has been outspoken against Martinez as of recent, calling for his resignation in the face of a recent incident of self-reported misconduct.
In early April, News 13’s Katie Kim reported On Special Assignment that Martinez admitted to sending a PRC staff member in a state vehicle to pick up his son earlier this year.
“This is derived from your recent misconduct,” said Espinoza.
“I would have to respectfully disagree with you,” said Martinez.
Martinez’s newly proposed resolution would add new language on the books to clarify the rules and responsibilities of PRC’s board of commissioners and the Chief of Staff.
Espinoza and Hall said Monday that the resolution gives the Chief of Staff positions too much power.
The proposal had some commissioners acting out.
“I do want to say that I am a whistle blower,” said Espinoza as she blew a real whistle in the middle of the meeting. “And anybody can come to me to report the misconduct happening here.”
In the midst of the meeting, Espinoza didn’t present two amendments that she proposed to the ordinance.
“You’re too busy grand standing with your whistle to explain your amendment,” said Patrick Lyons, a fellow PRC commissioner.
The comment sent off bickering between Espinoza and Lyons, forcing commission chair Theresa Becenti-Aguilar to slam the gavel and call the meeting back to order.
Among the changes Martinez is proposing, commissioners would be barred from “interfering with the work of any classified employee, investigate, or otherwise admonish, either publicly or privately, any classified employee, for perceived improper conduct.” The change would force all employees to report misconduct to the Chief of Staff.
Another proposed change in the resolution would force all PRC employees to tell their supervisors about any work they’re doing for commissioners.
Espinoza says the ideas are too controlling.
“This is a mere intent to gag… put a gag order on those trying to blow the whistle,” said Espinoza.
But fellow commissioner Karen Montoya supports the resolution, saying the idea is to clarify the existing power that the PRC Chief of Staff already has.
“This is so commissioners don’t have undue power,” said Montoya.
Meanwhile, Vincent Martinez says he is not trying to cut power from commissioners or give himself any more.
“This is not an attempt at … certainly not my attempt at commission authority, I know what the commission does and I know what their responsibilities are,” said Martinez.
Commissioners ended up tabling the resolution during Wednesday’s meeting until their lawyers can take a look at it. The commission meets again next week.