Alibi V.21 No.20 • May 17-23, 2012 

Primary Election Guide 2012

County Treasurer

Democrat candidates

Salary: $65,501/year

Term: Four years

Tasks: Central banker for the county, responsible for property tax collections and investments. More than $1 billion flows through the office annually.

Manny Ortiz Dennis Latta
Background: He got his education in business administration, accounting and economics. Ortiz worked as an IRS agent and an adviser for the Small Business Administration. He’s served as the county’s investment officer for the last eight years, overseeing property taxes before they’re placed in either short- or long-term investments. He also runs a private accounting practice. Background: After 24 years as a sports reporter for the Albuquerque Journal, he was appointed by Gov. Bill Richardson to head the state Sports Authority. He oversaw the inauguration of the New Mexico Bowl, and today he runs his own sports promotion business. This is his first foray into electoral politics.
Management and Leadership: Continuity and experience matter, says Ortiz, and the treasurer’s office has a “solid team” he’d like to keep intact. The head of the department should have knowledge of its inner workings in order to take office effectively. Management and Leadership: Latta says he’s running out of concern that “an old boys’ system” is entrenched in the office. He promises to oversee merit-based hiring of new staff with an emphasis on IT expertise. The key to good management is “hiring the right people to do a good job.”
Investment Strategy: During his tenure as county investment officer, he’s gotten good results investing outside of the state’s Local Government Investment Pool, which is what most other counties opt for. Ortiz says revenue from his investments exceeded expectations during his time in office. He added that a few years ago, the state pool took a $1 million hit, and while much (but not all) was eventually recovered, Bernalillo County was insulated from the harm.

Investment Strategy: Because he’s so far been unable to locate the county’s financial reports online, his first priority would be to review the numbers. But Latta says it concerns him that the county has the most diversified investment portfolio in the state: “Their net is spread too wide.” He’d like to take a look at the state pool (which, with fewer unknowns, seems like the safer investment strategy to him) and possibly transfer county investments there.
Transparency and Accountability: Safeguards and oversight are built into the operations of the office at this point, and Ortiz said he’s well-versed in requirements for both. The investment policy is reviewed annually, vetted by the County Commission, and the Treasurer’s Office conducts monthly internal audits. Regular audits are conducted by outside entities, such as the state Tax and Revenue Department. Transparency and Accountability: His journalism background leads to the conviction that “there’s no such thing as too much transparency” with the exception of confidential personnel matters. In terms of daily operations and money flow, Latta says transparency can and should be improved—though he doesn’t elaborate about how.
Revenue and Property Taxes: Ortiz says he has compassion for folks who have a hard time making their property tax payments, and that it’s important that the Treasurer’s Office finds creative ways (such as payment plans) to make the collections process less painful. One of his priorities would be working with the Legislature to stabilize rates for taxpayers on fixed incomes. Revenue and Property Taxes: The office should prioritize collections while understanding that times are hard and people are struggling to keep up with payments. Common sense and discretion will be used when administering delinquency penalties. “If it’s a little old lady raising two grandkids and it’s a matter of raising taxes or putting dinner on the table, you can’t hit her over the head with a hammer. On the other hand, if it’s a corporation trying to get away with something, you have to use a great big hammer.”
The Alibi Endorses Manny Ortiz: Ortiz has firsthand knowledge of both the position’s responsibilities and the office operations. He’s played a big part in the county’s strong track record of keeping taxpayer funds solvent and secure. It's also commendable that he wants to get active at the state level to ease burdens for citizens most at risk for delinquency and property foreclosure. Ortiz is the clear choice in this race. Good intentions are obviously behind Latta’s candidacy, but other than vague disapproval of how the office is run, it’ not clear why Latta is in this race. Of particular concern is the fact that he has little related financial experience. He admits to a lack of familiarity with county investment practices, so he can’t describe his plan for the money in anything but generalities.