Michael Brasher was selected as the new member of the University of New Mexico’s Board of Regents less than a month ago and already faces criticism for what some consider a conflict of interest.
The criticisms surround Brasher’s seat on the State Board of Finance as well as the Board of Regents.
Brasher was appointed as a regent by Gov. Susana Martinez on March 21, according to the UNM Newsroom. Prior to his appointment, he served for three terms as a member on the State Board of Finance, where he still serves today.
“Four members (of the State Board of Finance are) appointed by the governor with the advice and consent of the Senate," according to the State Board of Finance website. The committee cannot have “more than two appointed members” from the same political party, and each member serves for two years.
Similar to the procedure for the State Board of Finance, the seven appointees to the BOR must undergo a Senate confirmation and serve “staggered terms of six years,” according to the UNM Board of Regents website.
UNM receives money from the State Board of Finance whenever there is a new construction project, major or program that the University wants to jumpstart. If the measure is voted in favor by the BOR and is passed by the Department of Higher Education, the State Board of Finance will determine the fate of the appropriation, according to Robert Aragon, a former UNM regent and current State Board of Finance member.
Aragon described the relationship between UNM and the State Board of Finance as “symbiotic.”
Appropriations for UNM’s upcoming taproom, Coronado Hall’s renovation and other University contracts in New Mexico will be decided by the State Board of Finance based on the actions of the BOR, he said.
“(The relationship between UNM and the State Board of Finance) is an interesting balance between the best interests of the University and the best interests of the state of New Mexico, and they don’t always go hand-in-hand, because we have been known to reject projects from the institutions of higher learning,” Aragon said.
Government officials must annually fill out a report to give the Secretary of State, stating there are no conflicts within a state entity, he said.
However, the “appearance of any conflict still might exist,” Aragon said, citing a time he had to abstain from a vote on the Board of Finance to avoid a potential conflict of interest with a past client he worked with.
There are no rules preventing Brasher from serving as a regent, and he believes he “has the knowledge and experience and background” to avoid a conflict of interest, Aragon said.
Kathleen Sabo, the executive director for New Mexico Ethics Watch, said she disagrees with Aragon and questions the validity of Brasher’s vote on both boards.
“By all accounts, he is a wonderful upstanding person, but in order to…fund one thing, you’re choosing not to fund something else,” Sabo said. “There would always be a question about whether he was influenced in any way.”
Brasher has three clear options: choose to serve on one board, openly discuss with both boards the nature of a vote or recuse himself from “votes on either board that would…lead to a potential conflict,” she said.
Brasher would be better off choosing one position if he must recuse himself from voting on higher education issues, Sabo said.
“You have one less person able to vote on...finance issues involving the University,” she said, adding that there are other qualified candidates to take on the role as either a BOR member or a member of the State Board of Finance.
While it would be nice to have Brasher on both boards, it would be in his best interest, legally speaking, to sit on only one, Sabo said.
Cinnamon Blair, the UNM chief marketing and communications officer, released a statement about Brasher’s appointment.
“Members of the UNM Board of Regents are appointed by the governor. The University respects each of those appointments and is committed to working collaboratively with members of the board,” she said.
When the Daily Lobo contacted Brasher, he said he was unavailable for an interview. However, he sent a statement over email, saying he would recuse himself from any decision making if his vote alludes to a conflict of interest.
The Daily Lobo reached out to Martinez’ office multiple times for comment but did not receive a response prior to the publishing of this article.
Anthony Jackson is a freelance reporter with the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @TonyAnjackson.