ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) - The University of New Mexico has paid outside consultants more than $1.25 million in recent years to advise it on upcoming changes to health care laws and come up with a strategic vision for the university.
"It's always a touchy thing," said UNM President Robert Frank. "I justify it because we're looking for something to go to 2020. It's a vision for this university."
Frank's office paid a North Carolina-based consulting firm, Cirra, Inc., nearly $125,000 to help him transition into his role as president, according to UNM documents. Then he paid Cirra another $130,000 to come up with a road map of where the university wants to be by the end of the decade and how it plans to get there.
Called UNM 2020, the far-reaching plan encompasses everything from how to raise graduation rates to how to improve the school's reputation.
"It is touching every part of this university from the north campus to the south campus to every one of our branches," Frank said. "It's going to drive the entire way this university operates."
To put together that plan, Cirra President Steve Sloate, who has known Frank since the two of them worked together at the University of Florida in the 1990s, flew from Durham, N.C., to Albuquerque every month for the last year and a half. Taxpayers covered his airfare, hotel and food for those trips.
"There was no planning office here at the University of New Mexico and there had been no strategic plan created at the institutional level," Sloate said.
All in all, the president's office has paid Cirra $254,530 since January 2012, according to documents.
The University of New Mexico Hospital also hired outside consultants in recent years. It spent $999,428 on contracts with three other out-of-state companies to advise it on how to handle an expected major spike in the number of patients it treats because of health care reform passed in 2010, said Dr. Michael Richards, executive physician for UNM Health System.
"(The new legislation) required major changes of how we deliver and think about health care," Richards said. "What the outside individuals bring to us is a national perspective and a national knowledge."
Frank acknowledged that his predecessor, David Schmidly, came under fire for spending more than $310,000 to pay a Washington D.C.-based media strategist to handle the university's public relations despite having a communications office. However, he said the spending on the strategic plan was worth it.
He also said that despite having about 17,000 employees at UNM, it was necessary to hire outside help to develop that plan.
"Well, you know, there are a lot of ways to do it," he said. "Everybody here has a full-time job. It's worth what we've paid for it and I think we'll show it day after day as we use it in everything that we're doing. "
But Glenn Walters, deputy secretary for the state's Higher Education Department, questioned whether UNM's consulting contracts are worth the money.
"It is a little concerning," Walters said. "I would hope that they would look internally first before they would go for a contract outside since they're already paying those salaries for employees. We want to make sure at higher ed that the money is first going to the students."
An Albuquerque Police officer involved shooting over the weekend marks the fifth since late October and city officials are taking notice.
A woman was stolen from her daughter's car, a woman who died more than five years ago.
Albuquerque police shot and killed a man Sunday night after responding to an assault call near UNM.
Deputies were led on a chase around 4 p.m. Monday after a person called 911 to report their vehicle had been stolen and was being driven recklessly around Albuquerque.
New Mexico could have hundreds of millions of dollars more to spend as legislators get ready to put together next year's budget in the upcoming legislative session.
Organizers of the Gildan New Mexico Bowl are hoping to shed the disappointing attendance numbers that weighed down the event last year when the Colorado State Rams and the Washington State Cougars face off Dec. 21.