By Daniel Libit
Jack L. Fortner, the University of New Mexico’s longest-serving regent, submitted his letter of resignation to Gov. Susana Martinez on Tuesday, NMFishbowl.com has learned. Fortner, who was first appointed to the UNM Board of Regents in 1999, served as its president from 2011-2015.
In his resignation letter to the governor, which was provided to NMFishbowl.com by a source, Fortner writes:
“I am grateful to have had the opportunity to serve my alma mater for nearly twenty years, and to have been able to contribute in various leadership roles to work to make our state’s flagship university an even more nationally recognized center of academics, research, medicine and athletics.”
The Farmington-based attorney, according to several sources, has been under intense political (and personal) pressure from Martinez and her allies to give up his seat, so as to make room for her new appointees at a time of critical decision-making at UNM.
Fortner and fellow Regent Bradley Hosmer have stayed on past their terms, after the state Senate declined to confirm their replacements. Martinez has nominated Albuquerque Hispano Chamber of Commerce CEO Alex Romero and former Republican state Sen. John Ryan to fill their spots.
In an interview with the Albuquerque Journal on Tuesday, Fortner said his presence on the Board had become a distraction.
“I think I kind of became a distraction to the university; it seemed like more people were focused on me than the good of the university,” Fortner told the paper.
In late April, a mysterious Twitter account, @NewUNMLeaders, began posting a series of broadsides against Fortner, accusing him of misappropriating school funds and overcharging for travel expenses. Shortly thereafter, according to a source, an anonymous call was placed to UNM’s whistleblower hotline that similarly raised allegations of misconduct, prompting the Board to hire a retired judge to conduct an investigation. The judge recently determined that no misconduct had taken place, the source said.
On Monday, state Senate President Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces, announced that the Democratic-controlled legislature would not be appointing any new regents during its special session. Appointment delays preceded Martinez’s decision last month to veto the state’s entire higher education budget, an eyebrow-raising move that invited national attention.
Last February, in an interview with New Mexico In Depth, former UNM Regent “Mel” Eaves charged the Martinez administration with “political intervening” in the school’s hospital decision, and singled Fortner out for carrying Martinez’s water. But sources say the dynamic has dramatically changed since then.
Now, with Fortner’s voluntary departure, Martinez will be able to further refine the Board at a time when far-reaching decisions are at hand: the hiring of the next UNM president; tuition increases; and the political hot potato of the proposed new hospital.
The Regents are scheduled to hold their budget summit tomorrow, Wednesday, at 1 p.m. Fortner, UNM acting President Chaouki Abdallah, and UNM Board of Regent President Rob Doughty did not respond to request for comment.
In lieu of commenting, Martinez’s spokesman forwarded along the letter the governor sent to Fortner, accepting his resignation.