In a 3-2 vote, and after about 30 minutes of heated debate, county commissioners voted Thursday during a special meeting to award the task of redistricting Chaves County Commission districts to state Sen. Rod Adair.
County purchasing director Tammy Johnson said Adair, R-Roswell, owner of New Mexico Demographic Research in Roswell, submitted the lowest bid â€” $15,889â€ˆâ€” out of the three companies which gave quotes to the county clerk in June. Albuquerque-based Research and Polling Inc. bid $19,260, and Sterling Fluharty, of the community organizing group SouthWest Organizing Project,â€ˆalso based in Albuquerque, bid $19,693.
County Commission chairman Greg Nibert, along with Commissioners James Duffey and Kim Chesser, voted to accept the quotes given to the clerk, and later voted to give the job to Adairâ€™s company, rather than proceeding with a formal Request For Proposal process.
â€œIt seems that unless thereâ€™s some significant problem or savings, that we ought to award the bid to somebody on board and start undertaking this process,â€â€ˆNibert said, adding, â€œI donâ€™t see the conflict between (Adairâ€™s) legislative duties and redistricting the County Commission seats.â€
Commissioner Richard Taylor, who voted against the measure with commissioner Kyle â€œSmileyâ€â€ˆWooton, strongly urged the commissioners to proceed with the RFPâ€ˆprocess to avoid a conflict of interest. He said that granting the job to Adair would not â€œpass the smell test,â€ since it would be accepted by â€œour Republican county clerk and … five Republican county commissioners.â€
â€œI also question whether Sen. Adair has an ethics or independence situation here,â€â€ˆTaylor added. â€œI, as an auditor, have to have independence in doing an audit. I cannot audit the books of the county because I am a county commissioner. I would not be independent. Iâ€ˆwould like transparency and independence so that everyone knows what we have done in the selection process, and the ultimate accepting of a redistricting plan, is above board, and meets all the proper tests.â€
Wooton also implored the other commissioners to use an RFP, and likened that selection process to any business that hires a new employee by advertising for the position and conducting interviews with different candidates.
â€œI know thatâ€™s the way we do it in my business,â€â€ˆWooton said. â€œThat’s the way Iâ€™m sure everybody in the public does it in their business. They shop the deal around a little bit, and then they make a decision on who they think is best for the job.â€
Wooton added, â€œIâ€™m not saying that these three candidates are not the best for the job â€” they probably are â€” but I think we owe it to the public to shop the deal around a little bit.â€
Adair dismissed claims that there was a conflict of interest for his company to adjust Chaves County Commission districts as â€œjust plain stupid.â€
â€œItâ€™s not a conflict of interest to redistrict your home county,â€ he said in a phone interview Thursday. He noted that Research and Polling Inc. has done work for Bernalillo County, where the company is headquartered.
He added that his company, which he founded in 1996, has adjusted the boundaries of other county districts in the area over the past 10 years, like San Juan and Lincoln counties, as well school board districts for Clovis and other nearby cities.
State statute requires that after census information is completed and published, counties re-district before the next election for county commissioners. In this case, the redistricting process must be complete by the end of 2011.
County officials were unable to say whether the RFPâ€ˆprocess would cost more than obtaining the three quotes, though Johnson speculated, â€œthe cost would probably be about the same.â€â€ˆJohnson also noted that the RFPâ€ˆprocess would have been more time consuming than obtaining the three quotes, by about two to three months.
County Manager Stan Riggs said DoÃ±a Ana County chose to use the RFPâ€ˆprocess, while Eddy County obtained quotes. Lea County is waiting to decide for prices to go down, he said.
Before the meeting ended, another state lawmaker, Senate President Pro Tem Tim Jennings, D-Roswell, took to the floor and warned the commissioners about the dangers of gerrymandering, or adjusting districts that establish a political advantage for one party.
â€œI have to tell you that when you have somebody who is openly involved in county partisan politics, they should not be dividing their own county,â€â€ˆJennings said. â€œI donâ€™t think that any of you would think that itâ€™s appropriate if the Democrats came in and did all of your plans, and said, â€˜This is what you got, and itâ€™s all from the inside, and thereâ€™s no place out there for people to see.â€™ … This process needs to be really out in the open.â€