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2 Sunland Park City Officials Suspended Following Audit

New Mexico Finance and Administration Secretary Tom Clifford has suspended two Sunland Park city officials after a state auditor’s report identified multiple violations of New Mexico law that have resulted in mismanagement of public funds.

The report also contains findings related to violations by several former city officials, including the former mayor, two city managers and the city clerk. Because those former officials are no longer in their positions, they are not subject to suspension, according to a New Mexico Finance and Administration (DFA) news release.

Sunland Park Finance Director Helen Gonzalez and Purchasing Agent Neryza Rivera have been suspended and the DFA will assume the duties of those two officials in accordance with New Mexico statute.

Gonzalez and Rivera will have a hearing within five days, but can request additional, limited time. In addition to these suspensions, DFA will exercise its authority under separate state statute to oversee and supervise disbursement of city funds.

“We have met numerous times with the State Auditor and his team and we will continue to work together to methodically and diligently ensure the proper expenditure of taxpayer dollars in Sunland Park,” Gov. Susana Martinez said in a statement. “The extraordinary level of financial mismanagement in Sunland Park is unacceptable; protecting public funds will be our highest priority.”

The state auditor concluded in his special audit report that the suspended Sunland Park administrators committed multiple procurement violations; expended funds beyond approved budget limits; violated the Per Diem and Mileage Act; and made numerous improper disbursements from the city’s Fire Protection Fund.

Under New Mexico law (Section 10-5-2, NMSA 1978), the Finance Secretary can issue suspensions if a State Auditor’s report finds governing officials fraudulently mismanaged funds, violated law related to fiscal management, or willfully violated DFA’s financial regulations.

Clifford said the suspensions are aimed at restoring public confidence in Sunland Park’s financial operations and protecting New Mexico taxpayer dollars.

“We are not here to make long-term policy decisions for the community,” Clifford said. “Our goal is to establish a properly functioning system of checks and balances to prevent future waste, abuse, and mismanagement of public funds.”

All core municipal services, including police and fire operations, will continue without disruption, Clifford said. Municipal employees will report to work as normal and continue to be paid.

Additional suspensions of municipal officials are possible, given that the State Auditor’s work is continuing in Sunland Park.

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