Ethics Commission directs its general counsel to investigate remaining Whitlock v. Dow allegations

by Kathleen Sloan | February 8, 2021
4 min read
(Left) Representative Rebecca Dow (R-District 38) has vociferously denied committing ethics violations in seeking state contracts for the not-for-profit AppleTree Educational Center that she founded, as alleged in a complaint filed with the ethics commission last September by Karen C. Whitlock (right), her general election opponent. Whitlock stated that the commission's decision last week to investigate certain parts of her complaint validates the seriousness and credibility of her allegations. Source: Dow's and Whitlock's social media

The New Mexico Ethics Commission last Friday, Feb. 5, notified state Representative Rebecca Dow (R-District 38) and her Democratic general election opponent Karen C. Whitlock that its general counsel will investigate allegations against Dow filed by Whitlock that fall within the commission’s jurisdiction.

Dow declined to comment to the Sun on this development. Whitlock said that the decision to investigate certain of her allegations supported her belief that they were credible and serious.

Whitlock’s complaint, filed with the ethics commission on Sept. 14, during the run-up to last November’s election, alleged that Dow had violated the Governmental Conduct Act, Procurement Code and the Financial Disclosure Act.

In a press release announcing the complaint’s filing, Whitlock claimed, “Since taking office in 2017, Representative Dow has secured state contracts directing more than $5 million to the company she founded, Appletree Education Center.” 

 “In order to prevent self-dealing, it is illegal under the Governmental Conduct Act (10-16-9 NMSA 1978) for a legislator or their family members to solicit government contracts without proper disclosure and compliance with the procurement code,” the press release stated. “Yet, while in office, Representative Dow has applied as a contractor for millions in state contracts, while repeatedly signing certifications that she was not a legislator. Moreover, as CEO of the company, she appears to have never disclosed her financial interest.”

Dow vociferously denied the alleged violations at the time. A Silver City Daily Press article published Sept. 15, 2020, paraphrased her, stating: “Appletree is a nonprofit in which neither she nor members of her family have a ‘substantial interest,’ as defined by the Governmental Conduct Act.”

Quoted directly in the article, Dow maintained: “The contractor is Appletree. I am not Appletree. I am not the contractor.”


Whitlock, who lost her bid to oust incumbent Dow, filed the complaint during the “blackout period”—within 60 days of an election—during which the Ethics Commission’s rules forbid it to take up a complaint against a candidate.  

Following that rule, the ethics commission did not consider Whitlock’s complaint until Feb. 5. That day, Walker Boyd, the commission’s general counsel, sent a letter to both Whitlock and Dow informing them that the “Commission voted to instruct me to continue my investigation of the complaint.”

According to its rules, the commission must inform the complainant and accused if it will or will not investigate a complaint within 90 days of the complaint’s filing. Taking into consideration the blackout period that ended Nov. 3, Boyd’s letter was sent close to the 90-day deadline.


Represented by Attorney Patrick J. Rogers of Albuquerque, Dow filed a motion to dismiss on Sept. 29, 2020, claiming the ethics commission didn’t have jurisdiction to rule on the issues raised. The motion also argued that Whitlock “failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted”—that is, even if the facts in the case were true, they didn’t amount to a violation of the law.

Ethics Commission rules allow the executive director to decide matters of jurisdiction, but not to determine if the facts prove violations of law. Jeremy Farris, the commission’s executive director, took up the jurisdiction issues, sending a letter to Whitlock and Dow on Oct. 21, 2020, dismissing parts of Whitlock’s complaint.

Whitlock’s complaint cited contracts awarded to Appletree that were all signed by Dow prior to July 1, 2019. Farris dismissed those parts of the complaint as outside the ethics commission’s jurisdiction. Another ethics commission rule states its purview began when it was formed on July 1, 2019; therefore, it examines conduct occurring after that date, not before.

Farris forwarded the remaining issues to the ethics commission. These included Dow’s Jan. 30, 2020, financial disclosure statement, which Whitlock claimed was deficient, in violation of the Financial Disclosure Act and the Governmental Conduct Act.

Farris also forwarded what remained of Dow’s motion to dismiss—that Whitlock’s facts did not amount to violations of the law.

The letter delivered to Whitlock and Dow on Feb. 5 did not specifically state what issues the ethics commission instructed its general counsel to continue to investigate.

Whitlock submitted the following statement in response to the Sun’s request for comment on the Feb. 5 letter:

“I believe that this letter indicates the allegations that were made, backed by evidence, are serious and they are taking these allegations seriously,” Whitlock stated in an email Feb. 7. “I appreciate this, since these allegations are serious and credible, and I would have never filed this complaint had it not been in an effort to address the integrity of our elected officials.

“The claims that were dismissed were not due to lack of credibility, but were dismissed because the Ethics Commission lacked jurisdiction. But, it was important to include those claims prior to July 2019 because they show a pattern of behavior. This is why I also filed a complaint with the Attorney General’s office.”

Kathleen Sloan is the Sun’s founder and chief reporter. She can be reached at or 575-297-4146.
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Understanding New Mexico's proposed new social studies standards for K-12 students

“The primary purpose of social studies is to help young people develop the ability to make informed and reasoned decisions for the public good as citizens of a culturally diverse, democratic society in an interdependent world.”
—National Council for the Social Studies 

Reader Michael L. Hayes of Las Cruces commented: What impresses me is that both the proposed standards and some of the criticisms of them are equally grotesque. I make this bold statement on the basis of my experience as a peripatetic high school and college English teacher for 45 years in many states with many students differing in race, religion, gender and socioeconomic background, and as a civic activist (PTA) in public education (My career, however, was as an independent consultant mainly in defense, energy and the environment.)

The proposed social studies standards are conceptually and instructionally flawed. For starters, a “performance standard” is not a standard at all; it is a task. Asking someone to explain something is not unlike asking someone to water the lawn. Nothing measures the performance, but without a measure, there is no standard. The teacher’s subjective judgment will be all that matters, and almost anything will count as satisfying a “performance standard,” even just trying. Students will be left to wonder “what is on the teacher’s mind?” or “have I sucked up enough.”

Four other quick criticisms of the performance standards. One, they are nearly unintelligible because they are written in jargon. PED’s use of jargon in a document intended for the public is worrisome. Bureaucrats often use jargon to confuse or conceal something uninformed, wrong or unworthy. As a result, most parents, some school board members and more than a few teachers do not understand them.

Two, the performance standards are so vague that they fail to define the education which teachers are supposed to teach, students are supposed to learn, and parents are supposed to understand. PED does not define words like “explain” or “describe” so that teachers can apply “standards” consistently and fairly. The standards do not indicate what teachers are supposed to know in order to teach or specify what students are supposed to learn. Supervisors cannot know whether teachers are teaching social studies well or poorly. The standards are so vague that the public, especially parents or guardians, cannot know the content of public education.

Three, many performance standards are simply unrealistic, especially at grade level. Under “Ethnic, Cultural and Identity Performance Standards”; then under “Diversity and Identity”; then under “Kindergarten,” one such standard is: “Identify how their family does things both the same as and different from how other people do things.” Do six-year-olds know how other people do things? Do they know whether these things are relevant to diversity and identity? Or another standard: “Describe their family history, culture, and past to current contributions of people in their main identity groups.” (A proficient writer would have hyphenated the compound adjective to avoid confusing the reader.) Do six-year-olds know so much about these things in relation to their “identity group”? Since teachers obviously do not teach them about these other people and have not taught them about these groups, why are these and similar items in the curriculum; or do teachers assign them to go home and collect this information?

Point four follows from “three”; some information relevant to some performance measures requires a disclosure of personal or family matters. The younger the students, the easier it is for teachers to invade their privacy and not only their privacy, but also the privacy of their parents or guardians, or neighbors, who may never be aware of these disclosures or not become aware of them until afterward. PED has no right to design a curriculum which requires teachers to ask students for information about themselves, parents or guardians, or neighbors, or puts teachers on the spot if the disclosures reveal criminal conduct. (Bill says Jeff’s father plays games in bed with his daughter. Lila says Angelo’s mother gives herself shots in the arm.) Since teacher-student communications have no legal protection to ensure privacy, those disclosures may become public accidentally or deliberately. The effect of these proposal standards is to turn New Mexico schools and teachers into investigative agents of the state and students into little informants or spies.

This PED proposal for social studies standards is a travesty of education despite its appeals to purportedly enlightened principles. It constitutes a clear and present danger to individual liberty and civil liberties. It should be repudiated; its development, investigated; its PED perpetrators, dismissed. No state curriculum should encourage or require the disclosure of private personal information.

I am equally outraged by the comments of some of T or C’s school board members: Christine LaFont and Julianne Stroup, two white Christian women, who belong to one of the larger minorities in America and assume white and Christian privileges. In different terms but for essentially the same reason, both oppose an education which includes lessons about historical events and trends, and social movements and developments, of other minorities. They object to the proposal for the new social studies standards because of its emphasis on individual and group identities not white or Christian. I am not going to reply with specific objections; they are too numerous and too pointed.

Ms. LaFont urges: “It’s better to address what’s similar with all Americans. It’s not good to differentiate.” Ms. Stroup adds: “Our country is not a racist country. We have to teach to respect each other. We have civil rights laws that protect everyone from discrimination. We need to teach civics, love and respect. We need to teach how to be color blind.”

Their desires for unity and homogeneity, and for mutual respect, are a contradiction and an impossibility. Aside from a shared citizenship, which implies acceptance of the Constitution, the rule of law and equality under the law, little else defines Americans. We are additionally defined by our race, religion, national origin, etc. So mutual respect requires individuals to respect others different from themselves. Disrespect desires blacks, Jews or Palestinians to assimilate or to suppress or conceal racial, religious or national origin aspects of their identity. The only people who want erasure of nonwhite, non-Christian, non-American origin aspects of identity are bigots. Ms. LaFont and Ms. Stroud want standards which, by stressing similarities and eliding differences, desire the erasure of such aspects. What they want will result in a social studies curriculum that enables white, Christian, native-born children to grow up to be bigots and all others to be their victims. This would be the academic equivalent of ethnic cleansing.


This postmortem of a case involving a 75-year-old women who went missing from her home in Hillsboro last September sheds light on the bounds of law enforcement’s capacity to respond, especially in large rural jurisdictions such as Sierra County, and underscores the critical role the public, as well as concerned family and friends, can play in assisting a missing person’s search.

Reader Jane Debrott of Hillsboro commented: Thank you for your article on the tragic loss of Betsey. I am a resident of Hillsboro, a friend of Rick and Betsey, and a member of H.E.L.P. The thing that most distresses me now, is the emphasis on Rick’s mis-naming of the color of their car. I fear that this fact will cause Rick to feel that if he had only gotten the facts right, Betsey may have been rescued before it was too late. The incident was a series of unavoidable events, out of everyone’s control, and we will never know what place the correct color of her car may have had in the outcome. It breaks my heart to think that Rick has had one more thing added to his “what ifs” concerning this incident.

Diana Tittle responded: Dear Jane, the Sun undertook this investigation at the request of a Hillsboro resident concerned about the town’s inability to mount a prompt, coordinated response to the disappearance of a neighbor. From the beginning, I shared your concern about how our findings might affect Betsy’s family and friends. After I completed my research and began writing, I weighed each detail I eventually chose to include against my desire to cause no pain and the public’s right to know about the strengths and limitations of law enforcement’s response and the public’s need to know about how to be of meaningful assistance.

There was information I withheld about the state police investigation and the recovery. But I decided to include the issue of the car’s color because the individuals who spotted Betsy’s car emphasized how its color had been key to their identification of it as the vehicle described in Betsy’s Silver Alert. Because the misinformation was corrected within a couple of hours, I also included in this story the following editorial comment meant to put the error in perspective: “The fact that law enforcement throughout the state was on the lookout in the crucial early hours after Betsy’s disappearance for an elderly woman driving a “light blue” instead of a “silver” Accord would, in retrospect, likely not have changed the outcome of the search” [emphasis added].

I would also point to the story’s overarching conclusion about the inadvisability of assigning blame for what happened: “In this case, a perfect storm of unfortunate circumstances, many of them beyond human control, hindered the search that it would fall to Hamilton’s department to lead.”

It is my hope that any pain caused by my reporting will eventually be outweighed by its contribution to a better community understanding of what it will take in the future to mount a successful missing person’s search in rural Sierra County.

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