EPCOG regains major contract

Sharna Johnson

The Eastern Plains Council of Governments has regained a major contract that triggered layoffs when it was lost in December to a competitive bidder.

The Eastern Area Workforce Development Board (EAWDB) contract has been returned to the hands of EPCOG, where it is expected to remain for at least 18 months, Interim-Director Sandy Chancey told board members during a regular meeting Wednesday of EPCOG’s executive board.

Chancey said in January she was approached by the EAWDB and asked if they would take the contract back after the winning bidder withdrew before signing the contract.

“(New Mexico Tech Net) was having difficulty on their end and had to pull out,” she said.

“I think our relationship with that board will be a lot better going forward,” she said.

The contract accounted for about a third of EPCOG’s $2 million budget and its loss resulted in five people being laid off.

Chancey said some of those employees were able to be moved into other positions within EPCOG and as the budget allows, staffing will be rebuilt.

It also reduced the number of programs EPCOG manages to three — economic development, housing and transportation — after lost grant money led to the closure of a teen parenting program and the Temporary Assistance to Needy Family (TANF) program.

Chancey alluded to the recent troubles for the organization and told board members she and her staff are continuing to restructure and are working to regain lost relationships.

She also said audits that hadn’t been conducted in six years or more are in progress and while they have been challenging, she said they are finally being accomplished.

She said the first audit for 2004-2005, which is expected in July, is expected to have problems.

“I don’t think that it’s going to be pretty,” she said.

“We’re committed to getting these caught up. We’ll continue to have trouble until we get caught up but they’ll get easier as they go on.”

Explaining for the benefit of new members who joined the group this year, Chairman Gary Watkins said in years past EPCOG could not find an accounting company to do the audits.

“We went out to bid and nobody would bid,” he said. “We went back to the state auditor and told them we’re trying to do right.”

Chancey added that it is not uncommon for small entities to have trouble finding someone willing to see them through an audit.

The problems were made worse by a 2008 embezzlement, she said.

Former employee Lori Howard was convicted of embezzlement in March 2010 and sentenced to 10 years in prison after she pleaded guilty to 72 counts of embezzlement and fraud of $145,000 in tornado victim relief money.

Chancey said she and her staff have worked to create a system of checks and balances so what happened can be prevented in the future.

“We are a work in progress, but we are making progress,” she said.

Chancey has been with EPCOG for about a year and a half and became interim director Dec. 1, replacing Richard Arguello.

EPCOG is a consortium of seven counties in eastern New Mexico and helps local governments with infrastructure planning and economic development. It includes Union, Harding, Quay, Guadalupe, De Baca, Curry and Roosevelt counties.

The executive committee consists of representation from the seven county governments within EPCOG’s region.

New members introduced Wednesday were Vanita Menepace, Harding County, George Gonzales, De Baca County and Van Robertson from Union County.