State fair commission head goes before panel

February 14, 2014 • State News

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Faced with a possible subpoena, the state fair manager appeared Thursday before a Senate committee to tell members that Expo New Mexico is financially solvent and most management problems are in the past.

Dan Mourning testified before the state Senate Rules Committee, which after two contentious hearings this week had threatened to force his appearance.

“We are better today than when I took over,” Mourning, who was appointed manager in 2011, told lawmakers.

He said an audit citing management problems — brought up repeatedly by the [auth] committee’s Democratic members — was two years old, and the fair’s operations are now financially sound.

Mourning also said he had not been avoiding the committee, but he was taking care of a family matter and had testified before other panels.

State fair commission nominees have been facing questions from Democrats about allegations of mismanagement and a much-debated lease that allowed Downs of Albuquerque to build a larger casino on the fairgrounds.

The committee heard earlier from current and former appointees of Republican Gov. Susana Martinez who criticized her administration for rushing through the 25-year lease in 2011.

Critics have questioned whether political contributions influenced the deal.

Republican committee members said concerns over the lease were politically motivated.

Mourning said the bidding process was far from secret. The proposal was advertised in the Albuquerque Journal and there was heavy news coverage, he said.

Sen. Tim Keller, D-Albuquerque, who attended the hearing but is not a member of the committee, called the state fair’s sole ad in the state’s largest paper “laughable.”

Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Albuquerque, chairwoman of the Senate Rules Committee, said questions remained about business dealings at the state fair despite Mourning’s answers.

“I’m not happy with some things that are taking place,” said Lopez, one of five Democrats running for governor against Martinez.

Sen. Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, said the debate on the state fair was a waste of time and was hurting the committee’s duties in approving new appointments to various boards.

“It’s amazing that we continue to talk about” the state fair, Ingle said. “We could have met this past summer on this.”

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