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Where does this former New Mexico lawmaker actually live?

December 30, 2018

It’s a long way to Ocate.

For a member of a local economic development district who had been reimbursed mileage for the trip when driving from the small Mora County town to attend meetings in Santa Fe, the drive amounts to about $120.

But voter registration records show the board member and former legislator, Thomas Garcia, lives in Las Vegas, N.M.

That is 50 miles closer to Santa Fe.

Put another way, Las Vegas is a cheaper round-trip drive by about $50.

In all, the distance between Ocate and Las Vegas does not amount to much money for the nonprofit economic development district, which reimburses executive committee members at a rate of 54.5 cents per mile. And it does not appear to be an issue for the organization’s board, on which Garcia has served for about nine years. But the issue comes at a time when the usually obscure organization, which has a $20 million government contract to cover the cost of elder services around much of the state, is under financial scrutiny. And questions about Garcia’s residence have dogged him throughout his political career.

So, where does Garcia actually live?

Garcia says he lives in both homes but that Ocate is his residence.

“My starting point and ending point is always going to be Ocate,” he said Friday.

Garcia is on the board as a member for Mora County. But in his telling, there is not a particular re-election process for his seat. So, he sits on the board until he steps down or is removed. And in October, he took over as the organization’s interim executive director after the board declined to renew the contract of his predecessor.

Garcia stopped taking mileage reimbursements for attending board meetings at that time.

State records show he voted in Mora County through 2016. But starting with the municipal election last March, he has voted in Las Vegas. He said he had considered running again for the state House of Representatives in District 70, which covers Las Vegas and the rest of San Miguel County. He also owns property in Las Vegas and switched his voter registration to that address.

Gov. Bill Richardson appointed Garcia to the state House of Representatives in 2006. A lobbyist later accused him of sexually harassing her during his time at the Capitol, which he has denied. He ended up leaving the House in 2012 after redistricting to run unsuccessfully for a seat in the state Senate.

The North Central New Mexico Economic Development District is a council of governments that includes eight different counties, including Santa Fe. Most notably, it handles the money for senior services across most of the state, funneling it from the state government to local organizations that provide meals and more.

The organization’s work has raised questions about money management. Earlier this year, before Garcia became the organization’s executive director, the state auditor flagged nearly $1 million in unexplained expenses associated with a fiber optics project and said more than 12 miles of cable was unaccounted for.

The organization is now advertising for a new executive director, with a salary ranging from $90,000 to $105,000.

The district’s 35-member board includes officials from county and city governments across the region as well as officials from tribes.

A smaller executive committee meets more regularly.

Executive committee members get a $46 allowance for each meeting plus mileage, or at least a total of $75 if members of the executive committee live nearby.

The New Mexican obtained records of payments to board members from a five-month period this year, before Garcia became executive director, which showed about $1,500 in payments to Garcia for nine separate days. Most of those payments were in sums around $170, which would match with the mileage for driving between Santa Fe and Ocate.

That’s where Garcia says he is usually coming from when attending executive committee meetings.

“Normally,” he said, “I’m coming from Ocate.”

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