By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog
Even in departing, Winston Brooks is a source of controversy.
After six bumpy years as the superintendent of Albuquerque Public Schools, the 62-year-old Brooks resigned Friday after signing an agreement with the Albuquerque School Board that will see him receive a lump sum payment of $350,000.
The public hasn’t been told why.
Brooks won’t give a reason why he’s stepping down and the board won’t release an investigative report into what was called a “serious personnel issue” concerning Brooks that led to the resignation.
The report will be kept “in a file separate from Brooks’ personnel file, and it shall not be released to anyone,” the agreement said.
The only public comment from the board was a statement issued by board president Analee Maestas that said in part “both (Brooks and the board) agree that this decision is the best option for APS at this time.”
Brooks had two years remaining on his contract, worth about $600,000.
New Mexico’s Inspection of Public Records Act has an exemption for “letters or memorandums which are matters of opinion in personnel files” as well as a “attorney-client privileged information.”
But Susan Boe, executive director at NMFOG, has doubts whether those exceptions apply in the Brooks case.
“Our position is there are a lot of facts in that report and they should be disclosed,” Boe told New Mexico Watchdog on Monday. “As for the attorney-client privilege, we don’t have the report so we don’t know how much of that strictly applies. And the attorney-client privilege can be waived by the client. In this case, the client is the school district.”
New Mexico Watchdog will file an Inspection of Public Records Act request to obtain details of Brooks’ resignation. NMFOG’s executive committee is meeting Tuesday to decide to file its own IPRA request. If the committee goes forward, New Mexico Watchdog and NMFOG will join forces and file together.
Update 8/19: New Mexico Watchdog filed its IPRA request Tuesday afternoon. NMFOG filed its IPRA request separately from New Mexico Watchdog on Tuesday. In a news release, NMFOG president Kathi Bearden said, “The investigation report is a public document and needs to be released. No one has seen the report, but we assume it is mainly a factual account, not opinion, and therefore not protected by the limited personnel exemption under IPRA.”
The school board’s agreement also mentions Brooks’ wife, Ann, saying APS waives its right to file any legal complaints against Brooks or his wife. Both sides agreed to pay a $25,000 penalty if they publicly bad-mouth each other.
It’s not known why Ann Brooks, who is not an APS employee, is mentioned in the agreement.
“That’s certainly not the personnel exception,” Boe said.
Last November, Winston Brooks called 911 during a dispute with Ann Brooks. No arrests were made, but Winston Brooks, a diabetic, was taken to a nearby hospital for elevated blood sugar levels and high blood pressure.
“The public has a strong interest in knowing the circumstances that led to his resignation and it’s costing (taxpayers) $350,000. At a minimum they could redact the investigation and take the stuff that is opinion and take that out,” Boe said.
In addition to the $350,000 buyout, the district agreed to grant Brooks $25,000 in sick pay for a month. Then there’s the still-to-be-disclosed cost of the board’s investigation into the “serious personnel issue” that led to Brooks’ ouster.
What’s more, there are at least two lawsuits pending against Brooks that the district and Albuquerque taxpayers face. One suit was filed by three APS principals who allege women were disproportionately demoted in 2010. The other is from a former associate superintendent who claims she was demoted after complaining Brooks “treated women with disdain.”
One clause in Friday’s agreement cryptically says if “Brooks is sued by any person for any actions taken while acting in the course and scope in his duties as Superintendent, Brooks will be provided a defense and indemnification for any settlement or verdict, with counsel designated by the District.”
“What kind of things are we indemnifying?” asked Bearden. “Civil complaints? Criminal complaints? And for what period time?”
Click here to read the Brooks’ resignation agreement with the school board.
During his time in Albuquerque, Brooks can point to a number of successes. For instance, the agreement mentioned graduation rates jumped from 50 percent to 73 percent during Brooks’ tenure.
But he also was the center of a number of controversies.
The biggest came last November when Brooks, tweeting during a board meeting to a television reporter, made fun of Public Education Department secretary-designate Hanna Skandera. Gov. Susana Martinez, who had clashed with Brooks, chastised Brooks, who was suspended three days by the APS board.
The liberals on Albuquerque’s City Council may flex their muscles at tonight’s Albuquerque City Council meeting.
Two bills (P-14-5 and O-14-14) would increase the gross receipts tax by 1/8 of one percent to fund “essential services.”
The intent is to fund (a) mental health services and (b) capital improvements. No specifics are offered.
As I wrote several months ago when the mental health tax hike was first proposed, New Mexico’s per person spending on mental health is middle-of-the-pack among states. There is very little evidence as to the need for this tax hike or that enacting it will result in improved services.
Regarding the capital spending proposal, Albuquerque has robbed the Capital fund to spend more on operations and pay. The way to correct that problem is to balance the books. Use Capital money only for capital improvements. Taxpayers should NOT pay now for “something” and find out what the real needs are without leaping to the “increase tax” solution. Furthermore, Albuquerque should reconsider management of its golf courses and the zoo (to name just two things) which could result in cost savings.
It’s official. Tesla has broken ground at its new “gigafactory” near Reno, Nevada. While New Mexico appears to have missed out on Tesla and its expected 6,500 jobs, some legislators, when asked, seem willing to spend as much as 500 million tax dollars to lure the company to the state.
While details are by no means firm, it appears that Tesla is looking for an infusion of $500 million, not tax breaks of $500 million. The difference between the two is that tax breaks don’t actually “cost” the state/taxpayers anything because Tesla would have to locate in New Mexico for any tax revenue to result from its activities. When it comes to outright spending of New Mexicans’ tax dollars, those are dollars that come directly out of the pockets of average New Mexicans and the businesses already located here.
This important nuance explains why we at Rio Grande Foundation oppose payments made to the film industry which, according to a new legislative report, paid out $251 million in incentives to the film industry with $103.6 million in state and local tax dollars generated over the same basic time period. In simple mathematical terms, the state spent $147 million more than it generated from the film industry in recent years. That’s called a “loss” in any other industry. Jobs were created, but the net loss really illustrates the inherent problems with the program.
The same reasoning explains why fiscal conservatives should not support outright spending of $500 million to bring in Tesla. Tax breaks are one thing, but if the company goes under, there are no “clawbacks” that will get $500 million in outright spending back.
Long-term, generous subsidies and tax exemptions are not the answer for New Mexico’s economy. In fact, it is no surprise that the company broke ground in Nevada, which, aside from proximity to the company’s factory, is a state with a right to work law and zero income tax.
Recently, site selection expert John Boyd was interviewed about New Mexico’s chances of attracting Tesla. His comments were enlightening. He said, manufacturing companies look for reasons to scratch off states when considering where to build major facilities — and no right to work law is at the top of the list. Boyd again reiterated the need for right to work stating, “I can’t underscore how critical right to work status is.”
“Right to work” is not “anti-union.” It simply states that union membership must be optional and not a condition of employment. “Right to work” must be at the core of efforts to turn New Mexico around. Taxes are a second area in dire need of reform. As economist Steven Moore has illustrated in study after study, having a zero income tax means both stronger economic growth and faster population growth than the national average and the states with the highest rates on personal income. It all goes back to the adage that if you want more of something, tax it less; if you want less of something, tax it more.
Liberals clearly understand this when taxes were raised in a successful effort to reduce tobacco consumption, but they seem not to believe that workers will choose to go where they can keep more of their hard-earned money.
Despite the state’s challenging economy, New Mexico has made some progress in recent years in gradually reducing taxes on productive activity (Bill Richardson reduced the top income tax rate from 8.2 to 4.9 percent and Susana Martinez has made New Mexico a “single sales factor” state, reduced taxes on manufacturing inputs, and is phasing down New Mexico’s corporate income tax).
Unfortunately, decades of reliance on the federal government and a business-unfriendly gross receipts tax, underperforming educational system, and poor regulatory environment mean that the transition away from government reliance and toward prosperity will require greater cooperation and even bigger reforms.