Rio Arriba taxpayers to pay for county employees’ trip to NetRoots convention

By Rob Nikolewski on May 29, 2013
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Taxpayers in are footing the bill for two county employees to attend a four-day convention in California with a decided partisan political bent, has learned.

In late April, Rio Arriba County Commissioners in a 3-0 vote approved out-of-town travel expenses for , the county’s director for Health and Human Services, and Erika Martinez, the county’s public information officer, to attend the convention in San Jose, Calif.. Reichelt told New Mexico Watchdog that a rough estimate of the cost will be about $2,000.

THE WAY TO SAN JOSE: NetRoots Nation bills itself as “one of the most powerful political events of the year” that features ‘some of the brightest minds in progressive politics.’Photo from NetRoots Nation website.

In its promotional material for the June 20-23 convention, NetRoots Nation “one of the most powerful political events of the year” that features “some of the brightest minds in progressive politics.”

NetRoots Nation was by , a well-known liberal blog.

“This convention is a time for progressives across the country — and the world — to come together and build a stronger, more united movement,” the convention’s website says.

“We didn’t think of it as partisan or non-partisan,” Commissioner told New Mexico Watchdog. “It was presented to us as a way to get information out to the public, to communicate better with the public. That’s how it was presented to us.”

“It isn’t for the political stuff,” Reichelt said when asked why she asked for the County Commission to approve the trip. “It’s the very best conference for using social media, for working with communities … They have their political track and their training tracks.”

“There’s a lot of outreach through the social media (at the convention),” said Martinez, who added the conference will be helpful “to educate people about health care in the coming year.”

Reichelt said this convention will mark the fourth straight year she’s attended NetRoots Nation. She went by herself in 2010, was accompanied by three other county employees in 2011 and was joined by Martinez last year. Each year, Reichelt said, the county, located north of Santa Fe, picked up the expenses.

Lauren Reichelt, director of Health and Human Services for Rio Arriba County

“It’s my job to talk to our public about health care,” said Reichelt, who has been Health and Human Services director for 15 years, and calls herself “a non-apologetic supporter” of the Affordable Care Act.

“It’s damn good health policy,” she said. “I don’t want to go to a place, that for example, to a convention that will tell me there are death panels because I know that’s not true.”

In addition to her position with the county Health and Human Services Department, Reichelt is an active blogger. Her the sites she writes for, including Daily Kos.

In a Daily Kos post last month, Reichelt mentioned she’s the new vice chair of the Rio Arriba County Democratic Party.

“If you read most what I write, I blog about health care issues,” Reichelt said. “I do a lot of personal writing, such as my experience with PTSD. It tends to be more about that.”

But in a , Reichelt criticized Republicans proposals on Medicare by writing, “If Republicans and their corporate funders retake the White House and Senate, they’ll load their helicopters and assault rifles once again for Medi-Bear.”

“Blogging has helped me do my job better,” Reichelt said, adding that the NetRoots Nation convention helps her more efficiently communicate about various health fairs in the county, get residents to use the Internet more often and “spread the word about the importance of immunizations and things like that.”

Martinez and Reichelt said the expenses OK’d by the commission cover the registration fees to the NetRoots Nation convention, air fare and $135 in per diem.

Contact Rob Nikolewski at and follow him on Twitter @robnikolewski

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