Sunday, June 2, 2013

ROUNDHOUSE ROUNDUP: Fascinating Contracts

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican 
June 2, 2013

Nathan Korn is a member of the state Law Enforcement Academy Board, first appointed by then-Gov. Bill Richardson, then reappointed in 2011 by Gov. Susana Martinez, who also named Korn to her transition team the year before. He also is a lawyer and the owner of Kaufman’s West in Albuquerque, which bills itself as “The Most Fascinating Store in New Mexico.”
Nathan Korn

I became fascinated when I realized that Kaufman’s West has made more than a million dollars selling uniforms, body armor and other equipment to state government in the past four years.

According to information from the state Sunshine Portal, Kaufman’s contracts total $1,222,401 for the fiscal years of 2010 through 2013.

His biggest two clients in state government are the Department of Public Safety, with $182,184 in Kaufman contracts for the current fiscal year, and the Corrections Department, which has just under $85,000 in contracts with Korn’s store this year. But other departments, including Game and Fish, Children, Youth and Families, and Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources, also have contracts.

No, the Law Enforcement Academy Board — which certifies officers and revokes or suspends certifications for officer misconduct — does not award contracts for police uniforms or equipment.

Neither Korn nor Gov. Susana Martinez, who reappointed Korn to the board, have made any secret of Korn’s business with the state. The news release from the Governor’s Office announcing Korn’s reappointment noted, “Korn is the president and founder of Kaufman’s West, LLC, which provides uniforms, gear and equipment to the U.S. Military and law enforcement organizations across New Mexico.”

In his financial disclosure form filed with the Secretary of State’s Office, Korn wrote, “All public safety agencies in New Mexico,” in the section that asked about “business with state agencies over $5,000.” He didn’t spell out every contract, but the disclosure forms don’t ask for such specific information.

Korn is a political contributor, too, though not a large one. Like many businessmen, Korn has contributed to both sides. In 2010, for instance, he contributed $2,300 to Martinez as well as $1,000 to Democrat Diane Denish, who ran against Martinez for governor that year. His wife, Deborah Peacock, gave Denish $2,000 that year. Korn later donated $2,000 to Martinez’s 2011 inauguration.

In 2006, Korn gave $1,000 to Gov. Bill Richardson’s re-election campaign, plus $1,000 to Attorney General Gary King. That’s somewhat ironic, considering that on the academy board, Korn is best known as a critic of King, who also sits on the board. He and other board members have blamed the backlog of misconduct cases on King’s office.

To be fair, Korn’s company has been supplying state agencies with uniforms and equipment since 2006 — four years or so before he was appointed to the academy board. According to a spokesman for the state General Services Department, Kaufman’s contracts totaled more than $611,000 in the 2008 fiscal year, so he could argue that he’s actually made less per year since he joined the board.

I asked a spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office if there appeared to be any conflict of interest with a person sitting on a law-enforcement board making big cash bucks from selling goods to law-enforcement agencies. There doesn’t appear to be any, spokesman Phil Sisneros said.

I asked Vicki Harrison, executive director of New Mexico Common Cause, about it. She said as long as a contract is awarded by competitive bidding and the official doesn’t get involved in the procurement process, there’s no problem.

But, she added, “there are still issues with public perception when an appointed official makes money from the agencies they work with, so full disclosure, combined with excusing oneself from voting on anything that can be construed as a conflict of interest, is paramount to keeping and strengthening the public’s trust in government.”

That seems to be the case here. But I still find it fascinating.