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City of Santa Fe employee returns from paid leave that followed audit

February 28, 2018 GMT

Five months after being placed on paid administrative leave, one of two high-level Santa Fe city employees implicated in a blistering report that found “extremely high risks of fraud” at City Hall is back on the job.

Teresita Garcia, the city’s assistant finance director, returned to work Monday, performing the same duties as before.

The other employee implicated in the report, Robert Rodarte, the city’s purchasing director, remains on paid administrative leave.

City officials declined to say Tuesday why Garcia was placed on paid administrative leave to begin with or what determination was made that allowed her to return to her job.

“This is a personnel matter and I cannot comment on the details but when the full process is complete I hope to provide more information,” City Manager Brian Snyder said in an email.

Meanwhile, Garcia, through her attorney, Michael Schwarz, is challenging the city in court over the city’s refusal to provide documents that she requested under the New Mexico Inspection of Public Records Act.

Garcia requested, among other records, documents that support some of the assertions made by Albuquerque-based McHard Accounting Consulting, which conducted the investigation that led to the stinging report on municipal operations.

The city denied portions of Garcia’s request on various grounds, including attorney-client privilege. But the city also contends that it doesn’t have the documents and isn’t required to provide them.

“It is my understanding that the City does not have copies of McHard’s work papers and McHard does not want to provide them,” the City Attorney’s Office wrote in a Nov. 20 email to Schwarz. “In addition, [New Mexico law] provides that accountants may keep certain communications obtained in an audit as confidential.”

In a brief interview, Schwarz said Garcia never received any explanation about why she was placed on leave. He said she returned to work after the city asked her to come back.

“She loves doing what she does,” he said. “She’s pretty good at it, too.”

Her return comes a week and a day before Santa Fe’s municipal election, in which voters will pick a new mayor and cast ballots for four City Council seats.

“One thing has nothing to do with the other,” said city spokesman Matt Ross. “We’ve said all along that we were doing our due diligence and we’d take appropriate action when the time came and we had the information that we needed. That’s what we did, regardless of the politics.”

Garcia declined to comment, but a source close to her said Garcia “has always maintained that the report … contained unsubstantiated hearsay.”

Garcia is paid about $103,000 annually, which means she collected about $43,000 while she was on administrative leave.

Garcia and Rodarte, both longtime city employees, were singled out in the McHard report, which some mayoral and City Council candidates have used as a springboard this campaign season. The report also highlighted another employee, Liza Kerr, the city’s internal auditor. The report stated that Kerr “does not appear to have been particularly effective” and that her internal audits “failed to address most of the issues noted in this report.”

The report said Kerr was “loath to visit” City Hall and said she preferred what the report called her “quite homey” remote office, where she had set up a yoga studio space and, when accountants visited, was preparing to roast root vegetables in an oven.

“A contributing factor” to the myriad issues with a lack of internal controls at the city “is an internal auditor’s office which failed to uncover or address many obvious issues over the years,” the report stated.

Ross said the city couldn’t get into details “because these are personnel matters.”

When asked for specifics of the city’s due diligence, Ross said he couldn’t provide them “at this time.”

Also unclear is what responsibility, if any, Snyder took after the McHard report found the city at risk of fraud and abuse. He has been in charge of running the day-to-day operations of the city for years.

Contact Daniel J. Chacón at 505-986-3089 or dchacon@sfnewmexican.com. Follow him on Twitter @danieljchacon.