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‘Monuments to Me’ may be over in NM

By   /   January 24, 2013  /   No Comments

OOPS: Convicted former state Sen. Manny Aragon has an elementary school library named after him. He pleaded guilty in 2008 to siphoning $4.2 million from the Metro Courthouse Construction project in Albuquerque. (AP Photo)

By Rob Nikolewski | New Mexico Watchdog

SANTA FE — For nearly three years, New Mexico Watchdog has compiled numerous examples of what we call “Monuments to Me” — buildings constructed using taxpayers’ dollars that are named after politicians who are still in office.

But a bill recently introduced in the Legislature would put an end to all of that.

“There really hasn’t been a mechanism to determine who really deserves to get a name on a public building,” said freshman state Sen. Mark MooresR-Albuquerque, of Senate Bill 89 that would restrict the privilege to political figures who are deceased or no longer in public life.

The bill would not change the names of existing buildings.

“There are a lot of people in New Mexico who are doing good work,”said Moores, who said the sight of such buildings has irked him for years. “We don’t need to be naming our buildings just after the politicians.”

Taxpayer-funded buildings named after public servants dot the landscape in the Land of Enchantment, sometimes with embarrassing results.

For example, last August neighbors near Lowell Elementary School in Albuquerque complained that the school’s library is still named after Manny Aragon, the former state Senate leader who is serving time in federal prison for accepting kickbacks.

In addition to the ban on naming buildings for sitting politicians, SB89 also would establish a process for naming public property.

“Let’s take a look at the body of work … these public servants are doing for New Mexico in historic perspective before we start slapping names on buildings,” Moores said.

Structures and programs in New Mexico have been named after politicians of both major parties, ranging from office-holders with national prominence, such as Pete Domenici, who had the federal courthouse in Albuquerque named after him before he resigned from the U.S. Senate, to municipal and county officials.

Last fall, two incidents in Taos generated controversy.

In early October, county commissioners voted to name three buildings in Taos County’s new municipal complex after themselves.

The commissioners reversed their decision after residents howled, although the county did order a bronze plaque honoring them for “overseeing” the construction of the complex.

Then, just three weeks later, the Taos County Clerk had her name inscribed in gold lettering on 55 historic record books as part of project to preserve documents dating back to the 1800s.

“My concern has been that politicians will name buildings after fellow politicians or their political supporters,” Moores said. “There really hasn’t been a mechanism (to see who) really deserves a public building (named after them).”

After reading some of the Watchdog’s “Monuments to Me” articles, then-Sen. Mark Boitano, R-Albuquerque, introduced a similar measure in the 2011 session, but it never got out of committee.

“We hope we can get this bill out of committee,” Moores said, “because it does make a lot of sense.”

SB89 has been assigned to the Senate Public Affairs Committee. No date for a hearing has been set.

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Here is our interview with Moores.


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Since 2010, Rob Nikolewski has covered New Mexico politics and investigated fraud, waste and abuse in government. He also writes an opinion column in the Sunday editions of the Santa Fe New Mexican. Rob joined New Mexico Watchdog after 20 years in television as a sports anchor and reporter. He anchored at MSNBC, New York City, Boston, Pittsburgh, Phoenix, Reno and Boise, winning three regional Emmy awards along the way. He holds a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University, a master's in public administration from Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs and a bachelor's degree in journalism from Trinity University in San Antonio.