Eileen Welsome says reporters in Albuquerque should look more closely at large projects funded by the taxpayers "and why these projects end up being three to four to five times what the original estimates were." Welsome published the results of weeks of investigation and six public records requests at ClearlyNewMexico.com last week.
Welsome, who won a Pulitzer Prize in 1994 for a series that ran in the Albuquerque Tribune, wrote an article that examines the relationship between Mayor Martin Chavez and architect Marc Schiff.
Schiff also worked on the Metro Court complex and admitted in a plea agreement to being part of a ring that the U.S. Attorney's Office alleges stole $4.2 million in taxpayer money. Schiff worked on the Balloon Fiesta Park and Museum, a project that's sucked up $40 million and is coming in way over original estimates, Welsome reports. She adds a description of an incomplete museum with a leaky roof and cracked floor.
"Reporters should be looking into why a project like this has dozens and dozens of change orders and contract addendums," Welsome says. "Somebody should be looking at the way taxpayer money is spent." Clearly New Mexico approached Welsome with the assignment. The organization wasn't involved in editing the story. "No one told me to write the story this way or that way," she says. "I wrote the story as if I were writing it for a magazine or a newspaper."
Welsome works out of Denver these days and has published two books. She says she has no idea what the reaction to this story will be, just as she had no idea what her Pulitzer-winning series would bring. The stories, published in 1993, shined a light on 18 people who were injected with plutonium without their knowledge by the U.S. government. "After we published our first story, I thought my phone would be ringing off the hook," she says. "As it turned out, I didn't get one phone call the first day that we published." The following weeks brought a flood of responses. Still, she says, it's always an unknown. "Sometimes stories get bigger, and sometimes stories fall into black holes."
Welsome's report on Mayor Chavez and Schiff pokes a stick into a hornet's nest and stirs up a swarm of questions. The most important question, Welsome says, is: What is the relationship between Schiff and Chavez? "And why did Marc Schiff have this access to the mayor? Why did the mayor keep Schiff on despite recommendations he be fired?"
Chavez and his chief administrative officer, Bruce Perlman, didn't respond to any of Welsome's requests for interviews, and she says she doesn't think they will after they read the article, either. Welsome won't speak to whether anything she's uncovered so far is illegal or unethical. "I wrote the story based on what I considered is newsworthy," she says. "I don't think it's for me to judge legal or ethical boundaries."
She says her piece stands on its own. "Where the story goes is where the story goes. It's not up to me," she adds. "It's more information for people to make decisions about their elected leaders."