SANTA FE (AP) Gov. Bill Richardson has ordered a re-bidding of a Transportation Department headquarters and commuter rail hub project, which had been awarded to a private developer that was one of the governor’s political donors.
The multi-million-dollar project near downtown Santa Fe is under investigation by the administration because defendants in a courthouse construction scandal have possible links to it. The development was to be financed and built by a company affiliated with Gerald Peters of Santa Fe, who has contributed to the governor’s gubernatorial and presidential campaigns.
The governor halted contract negotiations between the department and the developer.
On Aug. 31, he scrapped the current bidding process — called a “request for proposals” — and said the project will be re-bid after the completion of two investigations that he has ordered.
Peters said, “Rebidding is necessary to reconcile the public perception of this project with the reality of its merits and the integrity of those involved.”
Richardson said the new bidding process for the public-private project will be overseen by three cabinet secretaries — the heads of the Department of Finance and Administration, the General Services Department and the Transportation Department.
Richardson said public-private projects “are complicated and can be risky, which is why we need an extra layer of oversight to ensure public trust in what we are trying to do for the state.”
The department’s inspector general and an outside law firm are to review the agency’s handling of the bidding for the headquarters and rail station project as well as a second project that called for relocation of a district office and maintenance yard.
Developers involved in both projects have contributed money to Richardson’s gubernatorial and presidential campaigns.
Richardson said the contributors play no role in his decisions on state business and he isn’t involved in decision-making on such construction projects.
The department’s manager for both projects was a former Albuquerque court administrator, Toby Martinez, who has been indicted on federal charges for allegedly bilking the state out of millions during construction of the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Courthouse. Martinez was hired by the department after leaving the court job. He has since resigned.
A federal indictment alleged that Martinez and other defendants in the courthouse corruption case plotted to become involved in a DOT development project and skim a portion of its cost.
The indictment didn’t name the project, but Transportation Secretary Rhonda Faught said it was the proposed development of a district office and maintenance facility — not the rail hub and department headquarters project.
The department canceled negotiations with the Chicago-based developer in the district office project earlier this year because Faught said a satisfactory deal couldn’t be reached.
In that project, the developer was to finance and build a new District 5 office and maintenance facility for the agency near Santa Fe. The agency was to swap 42 acres of state land, where the district facility is housed, with the developer in exchange for construction of the district office at a new site.
Peters has provided Richardson’s campaign with use of a corporate jet plane, and the campaign has reimbursed a Peters’ company for the flights at a favorable rate allowed under federal election rules. He also recently co-hosted a presidential campaign fundraiser for Richardson.
Peters made approximately $137,000 in monetary and in-kind donations, including the use of a plane, to Richardson’s 2002 campaign for governor.
Peters’ company, SCS Development, was selected in December through a competitive bidding process — one of two bidders — to finance and build a rail station and new headquarters for the department on a 25-acre tract near downtown Santa Fe. In exchange, the company could build residential housing, retail shops and commercial outlets on the state land under a long-term lease.
The project had been proposed in 2005, but the initial round of bidding was canceled after just one bid was submitted — by a company affiliated with Peters.
“I am glad the investigations are going to be completed and a more transparent and open process will be used in the future,” Peters said in a statement. “It is extremely important that the first public-private partnership for New Mexico and a project of this magnitude proceed under an irreproachable process.”
Peters has extensive business interests, including a bank, real estate and restaurants in Santa Fe and art galleries in Santa Fe, New York and Dallas. He also has his eye on the gambling industry.
Jemez Pueblo and Peters have asked the Interior Department to allow them to build a casino in Anthony, which is approximately 300 mi. from the northern New Mexico pueblo. If the federal agency agrees, then it would be up to the governor to decide whether to approve or reject the off-reservation casino.