NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – It’s a gift to taxpayers from state lawmakers and it’s called Project 1891. Even though it will cost us $50,000, no one is exactly sure what the project is. In fact, when it comes to Project 1891, public officials didn’t follow the rules. They broke them.
This story begins at the Roundhouse where lawmakers shell out money for community projects, like roads, schools, and bridges. They call it Capital Outlay. You probably know it better as ‘pork’. Each year, hundreds of millions of dollars are divvied equally among all 112 lawmakers. And then without hearings, debate, or any public input, each member is allowed to dole out public dollars for projects in their district.
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Tucked away among the more than $800,000,000 allocated this year for water systems, flood control, and parks you’ll find Project 1891. Sponsored by State Representatives Antonio “Moe” Maestas (D, Albuquerque) and Javier Martinez (D, Albuquerque) it’s a $50,000 Capital Outlay appropriation for an obscure project described as a Bernalillo County International Heavy Metal Music Mobile Museum.
“Any project that improves the quality of life, in my opinion, is worthy of investment,” said State Representative Javier Martinez. “New Mexico music has never had a national chartbuster. But it is very important to the culture and the people of the state. So to capture that in a museum, I think would be fantastic,” State Representative “Moe” Maestas said.
Even though lawmakers approved the money to fund a Heavy Metal Music Museum, don’t line up to buy tickets just yet. No one bothered to look into the details of the proposal. If they had, they would have discovered it’s a funded project with no written proposals, plans, design, or budget. How does that happen? That’s the $50,000 question.
A mobile heavy metal music museum is the brainchild of one-time Albuquerque radio personality Mike Trujillo. “Seeing that it’s going to be an interactive museum, it’s going to be, I think, a fun experience for youngsters to get to see some of the heavy metal history,” said Mike Trujillo. “There’ll be some possible artifacts, tickets, drumsticks, T-shirts, whatever, so people could see and maybe want to contribute to as well.”
Now Mike Trujillo doesn’t have money of his own to build a museum so he sought public funding. His first call was to Bernalillo County Commissioner Adriann Barboa. “I had known Commissioner Barboa, and I thought I would ask her about this in regard to this project. And she said that that would be fine,” Trujillo said.
“He was wondering if I would agree that this was a valuable project and put it on the county’s (Legislative Capital Outlay request) list,” Commissioner Barboa said. She admits she approved the project without requesting any documentation relating to Trujillo’s proposed music museum. “I never received a written proposal,” said Commissioner Barboa.
A single phone conversation was good enough for the Commissioner. A funding request was sent to Santa Fe and in March, without knowing how the money would be spent, legislators put their seal of approval on a $50,000 Mobile Heavy Metal Music Museum. Even the project’s executive director isn’t sure what the museum will entail. “We haven’t finished our design for it yet, so we’re not entirely sure how that’s going to look,” said Mike Trujillo.
State Capital Outlay money does come with strings attached. Appropriations must have a public purpose and a public benefit. State money can support non-profit groups but never for the benefit of a private person or business. If Commissioner Barboa had done her homework she would have discovered Mike Trujillo’s organization is not licensed, registered, incorporated, or a non-profit.
Did Commissioner Barboa ask to see any documentation showing how the $50,000 was going to be expended? “No, I think that this is a startup project. I’m excited to support culture, New Mexican culture, New Mexico music.” She says she agreed to request state funding for Trujillo’s project based on his passion. “If anything I’ve ever learned is that passion and drive gets things done,” said Commissioner Barboa.
A Bernalillo County Ordinance requires full County Commission approval for all Capital Outlay funding requests. That didn’t happen. In addition, for the music museum to qualify for public funding, Mike Trujillo’s organization must be affiliated with an IRS-recognized non-profit. Trujillo admits, that his organization is not a non-profit. “We’re working on our non-profit status right now. We have not yet completed that,” said Trujillo. Because he doesn’t have a non-profit, the music museum project does not qualify for public funding. However, that didn’t stop county officials from sending a funding request to state lawmakers.
Bernalillo County Chief of Staff Clay Campbell admits to sidestepping protocol when the county requested legislative funding for the project. Mike Trujillo was not asked to fill out a formal funding application for the $50,000 and Bernalillo County failed to evaluate Trujillo’s project for viability. “I will accept responsibility for that,” Clay Campbell said.
Campbell says Commissioner Barboa’s telephone request to seek public funding for Mike Trujillo was ‘rushed’ because it came just days before a legislative deadline. Why couldn’t the project have waited till next year’s legislature so it could be properly evaluated? “It could have and it should have and I accept responsibility for that,” said Bernalillo County’s Chief of Staff Clay Campbell.
“It’s just something that seems incredible on its face. You could see red flags on this one going up from the very beginning,” said former Bernalillo County Commissioner and former State Auditor Wayne Johnson. “It’s something that should have never gotten through their system… a heavy metal mobile museum. What is the public benefit? That should have been the first question that was asked,” Johnson said.
Even though the music museum doesn’t meet legislative Capital Outlay funding criteria, state lawmakers appropriated the $50,000 anyway. “It’s really important for us to use every penny wisely. Otherwise, I think public officials are not doing their jobs,” said former State Senator Dede Feldman. “This is public money. It is important that these projects be vetted before an appropriation has been made. That is (their) job as elected officials. Otherwise, we are going to be wasting public money,” Dede Feldman said.
Lawmakers voted in March to fund the music museum project. However, it is not a done deal. New Mexico’s Department of Finance and Administration (DFA) must first sign off on the project. “We have rules, we have regulations, we have state law, and we have a federal law that we have to follow with all of these appropriations,” DFA Cabinet Secretary Debbie Romero said.
Secretary Romero says the only way the Heavy Metal Music Museum can receive public money is if it is operated by a legitimate non-profit. If the organization is not a non-profit then, Secretary Romero says, that is “absolutely” a problem. “Bottom line is to protect public money. Our job is to ensure that we are safeguarding tax dollars,” Secretary Romero said.
Former State Auditor Wayne Johnson has advice for public officials who dole out state funds. “It’s not your money. It’s the public’s money. And you’re there to care for it and make sure it’s spent effectively, efficiently, and make sure that it’s not misspent,” said Johnson.