New Mexico’s Serna Warned Against Dual Roles, Consumer Group Says

June 13, 2006

The former president of the Con Alma Health Foundation who also served as superintendent of the New Mexico Insurance Division was warned about a possible conflict of interest because of the dual roles, a consumer group said.

Staff members from the national group Consumers Union met with Eric Serna before he ordered the creation of a health foundation in 2001 to remind him of their policy.

“There should never be anyone who is in political office on the board of the foundation because of the inherent, at least appearance, of conflict, if not actual conflict,” Laurie Sobel, a senior staff attorney at Consumers Union, told the Albuquerque Journal in a copyrighted story published Sunday.

Serna stepped down as board of trustees president in April and retired as insurance superintendent in May amid a personnel investigation by the Public Regulation Commission.

Serna has maintained there was no conflict, but a Web site commentary by Consumers Union said his dual roles violated “a core value of the foundation to maintain the public trust.”

The attorney general is investigating Serna for his dealings with Century Bank of Santa Fe, which does business with the state Insurance Division and which donated to Con Alma.

Con Alma, the state’s largest health foundation, has assets of more than $25 million and has earned $8 million on its investment portfolio over the past four years.

Between 2002 and 2004, more than $221,000 from various insurance companies rolled in to the foundation, the Journal reported. Altogether, private donations exceeded $557,000.

Rather than ask for Serna to resign as president, the board opted to forgo donations from the insurance industry.

Executive director Bob Desiderio said the foundation can exist without fundraising.

“In hindsight, we could have eliminated all of this problem that we’re going through now,” he said. “Because we wouldn’t be in it now (except for the fundraising).”

Desiderio said the foundation plans to expand its ethics and conflict of interest policies. It also is rethinking its approach to fundraising.

“We want to make sure our gifts are consistent with out mission and, secondly, that we don’t violate any conflict of interest policies,” he said.

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