Keith Gardner, chief of staff to Gov. Susana Martinez, reportedly described the misuse of his state-issued credit card as "poor practice and sloppy." We think he's being far too easy on himself, and so is the governor.

As reported by columnist Thomas J. Cole in the Albuquerque Journal, Gardner racked up almost $5,000 in personal expenses on his state-issued credit card. He did so after signing the same cardholder agreement signed by every state employee who gets a credit card. In it, Gardner avows that he understands state policy, which prohibits use of the credit card for personal purchases. Violation of the policy can result in "suspension, termination of employment, and/or criminal prosecution," the agreement warns.

Gardner wasn't suspended. He wasn't terminated. And, he won't be prosecuted. He didn't even lose his credit card. His wrist was slapped with a new requirement that any future purchases on his state credit card be approved ahead of time by the chief financial officer and one of the governor's deputy chiefs of staff.

We seriously doubt other state employees would be shown such leniency. This smacks of the same culture of personal entitlement in the upper reaches of government that Martinez railed against so effectively when Bill Richardson was in office.

Gardner defended his actions by arguing that he comes from the private sector, where use of the company credit card for personal purchases with reimbursements later is common practice. We can't speak to the companies where he has worked, but that is certainly not common practice for this company, nor do we believe, the vast majority of others.

This wasn't a one-time occurrence. According to the Journal, Gardner used his state credit card more than 40 times for everything from hotel bills, to a new cell phone to tires. There were at least 10 purchases of $100 or more.

Gardner reimbursed the state for the purchases, but did not include the required $241 in interest fees until informed by the Journal that they were due.

We don't believe it was Gardner's intent to defraud the state. But we do believe a state employee making $136,350 a year should be able to cover personal expenses without knowingly violating state policy. And we think once that policy has been violated more than 40 times by any employee, at the very least that employee should have the state-issued credit card taken away.

We believe Gov. Martinez should have acted more forcefully in sending a message that her administration will not tolerate the kind of abuse of state policy that was demonstrated here.

 

—Las Cruces Sun-News, May 9