BELEN — The city of Belen is investigating financial discrepancies within the police department’s budget, including possible abuse of power allegations against Belen Police Chief Scott Conner.
Belen Mayor Jerah Cordova said during the city’s annual audit, Southwest Accounting Solutions, LLC, reported to city administrators “a couple of financial concerns related to the police department and the police chief.”
The mayor said the auditors will be including their findings in its audit, but it won’t be made public until after the audit is completed in December.
“Generally speaking, the audit is considered confidential until the auditors complete their work,” Cordova said. “The auditors found a couple of minor issues regarding the anti-donation clause. They don’t consider these substantial, and the city is going to fully investigate and we need to understand the full implication (of these findings.)”
The auditors also brought additional concerns to the city administration’s attention, which are also of a financial nature that could potentially be more than what is in the audit.
“The auditors were not tasked with fully researching and investigating all of these issues because it’s not within their purview,” Cordova explained. “But it’s become incumbent upon the city to do a thorough investigation and do it quickly.”
Because the allegations are currently being investigated, the mayor said he couldn’t be specific about what they are.
“All the allegations are related to financial concerns,” he said. “All of the issues were related to the auditor’s work at the city, and all of the issues are related to the police department and to the police chief.”
At this point, the mayor said, the only action the city is taking is the investigation.
“The auditors provided some characterizations that were inaccurate,” the mayor said. “I don’t want to put out any characterizations that are misleading of the chief.
“I also want to be fully transparent with the public with what’s appropriate in terms of audit process and personnel, and to ensure this investigation gets completed fairly and we’re able to come up with the facts correctly.”
Cordova did say the auditor did reach out to the state auditor about their findings to let them know of their concerns. The mayor said the state auditor was appreciative of being informed, and will be monitoring the situation but won’t be getting directly involved at this time.
When asked if Conner will be placed on administrative leave while the city conducts its investigation, Cordova said the chief will continue his normal duties.
“According to the precedent in the city, when we have put people on leave and times when we have not,” he said. “It’s dependent on the legitimately of allegations. We’re taking the issue seriously, but the chief will continue to function as the chief, but if additional information comes to light that requires additional action, we will take it.”
Conner, who was appointed by the mayor in June 2016, resigned as the De Baca County sheriff before coming to the Hub City.
“I have cooperated with the auditors about what they’ve seen as a possible violation of the anti-donation clause,” Conner said. “I will continue to cooperate with the city and the auditors to make sure that there will be no audit findings in the future.”