August 23, 2018 500 AM
I, too addressed the Presidio County Commissioners’ Court on Wednesday in support of keeping the county Office of Management and Budget. In retrospect, it was a waste of time because Commissioners Brenda Silva Bentley, Loretto Vasquez, Eloy Aranda, and Jose Cabezuela had already made up their minds. So much for representative government of the people, by the people and for the people.
So here’s what I told our elected public servants anyway, for what it’s worth: I have lived and worked and raised children and practiced journalism in Presidio County for 30 years. I love it here.
When the FBI busted former Commissioner Lorenzo Hernandez and Presidio school board member Carlos Nieto last year on bribery charges – they had guaranteed the FBI agent disguised as a businessman seeking a contract with the county that they could deliver the vote – and the feds stated there was a history of corruption in the county, I was offended. It’s not true, I thought, this is an isolated case of Hernandez and Nieto lining their pockets under the guise of working for the public good. Hernandez has since pleaded guilty, and Nieto’s trial is in October. He has pleaded not guilty.
But then I got to thinking, former Sheriff Rick Thomson smuggled more than a ton of cocaine into the county from Mexico. The cocaine sheriff was a dirty cop. In another case, a former county tax assessor-collector got caught stealing taxpayer money from her office. And in yet another instance, a former tax assessor-collector’s office employee also got caught with sticky fingers.
So, with all due respect to the county where I live and to the good people of Presidio County, the county indeed has a history of corruption. It needs all the help it can get and that includes the three departments of financial oversight, a treasurer, an auditor, and the OMB.
And now comes allegations that OMB was abolished in a political retaliation against its director, Katie Sanchez, who twice ran against county Treasurer Frances Garcia and lost. Sanchez also alleges that Silva Bentley, Aranda, and Vasquez met illegally last year and made a county payroll decision.
Two of the commissioners who took the vote in the FBI sting, Vasquez and Aranda, are still on the court, and south county residents even re-elected Aranda in March. Commissioner Silva Bentley, a former county-district clerk, smelled a rat and voted against the bogus contract. But she makes no secret about being friends with the county treasurer, and calls her “girl” on their Facebook posts, helped her campaign, which is allowed, but we know where her allegiances are in the OMB vote, despite what she said publically about this being about cost-savings decision only. Interestingly, the golf course budget is larger than the budget for OMB and it apparently isn’t on the chopping block. The OMB budget was $108,000. The golf course budget is $139,000. The golf course has 40 members, according to a recent report. It costs Presidio County tax payers $3,475 per golfer. That’s a cost we can do without.
So adios, OMB and director Katie Sanchez, you and Jeannie Hall did your work well. Our county residents will miss you more than they know when the county digs itself back into a hole.