By Jack King
District Attorney Brett Carter said Tuesday his office has assigned an investigator to look into allegations of wrongdoing in connection with the design and architect’s contract for a proposed special events center in Curry County.
Carter said he is responding to complaints from county residents who visited his office last week. In July, county commissioners chose a concrete dome design for the multi-million dollar special events center.
“Their main concern was the design (of the events center),” Carter said. “I told them that was not something our office has any control over. That was a decision for the Curry County Commission.”
Carter said members of the group also raised concerns about conflicts of interest and irregularities in the bidding process.
“There were fairly broad accusations. There was nothing specific and no specific person was accused. We’re looking into the whole process to see if anything occurred about which we could take action,” he said.
Retired architect Eldon Smith, a member of the group that talked to Carter, said Tuesday the group made no accusations of criminal intent.
“It was not so much about criminal actions. We went to (the D.A.) because we couldn’t get anybody else to listen to us. The commission wouldn’t listen; they’d already made up their minds. We just wanted someone to look at it from a civil (action) point of view,” he said.
Smith said the group’s complaints are:
– the commission is ignoring voters’ wishes in choosing a dome design;
– a concrete dome is an untried design for a rodeo arena;
– the bidding process was tailored to get a concrete dome and an architect who would design a concrete dome;
– “cattle people” are saying it will be difficult to get livestock up and down an arena floor that is lower than ground level;
– a contract for one company to both design and build a building costing less than $10 million is illegal in New Mexico, he said.
Smith also said Commission Chairman Tim Ashley has a conflict of interest in the process. Because Ashley owns Clovis Concrete, he stands to profit from the building, Smith said. LPDJ Architects, which was awarded the county contract, also received the contract for Ashley’s church, he said.
Ashley said LPDJ’s contract with the county will not be a design and build contract. He said whether or not his company will provide concrete for the special events center is “a decision I haven’t made yet.”
“I don’t really know,” he said. “I don’t contract with the county. Now I may end up supplying material for someone else who contracts with the county,” he said.
He said he brought information about concrete buildings to the county at the same time he was researching the technology for his church, solely because it seemed to be a good technology.
Wilma Fulgham, another member of the group who went to Carter, said its members were herself, Smith, Dr. James B. Moss, James Williams, Paul Dee Barnes and Linda Palla.
County Commissioner Kathyrnn Tate refused to comment Tuesday on allegations of wrongdoing inconnection with the development or awarding of the contract.
County Manager Geneva Cooper and all other county commissioners besides Ashley and Tate failed to return requests for comment and Architects Leland Gray and Jess Harris of LPDJ Architects could not be reached Tuesday night.