Gov. Bill Richardson pledged to cut highly paid political jobs …
Gov. Bill Richardson pledged to cut highly paid political jobs …
Gov. Bill Richardson is coming under fire from lawmakers on …
Some lawmakers say a recent Larry Barker investigation into the…
Gov. Bill Richardson finally commented publicly Tuesday about …
Behind-the scenes information on current events, news …
Updated: Tuesday, 11 Dec 2012, 12:28 PM MST
Published : Wednesday, 10 Feb 2010, 10:04 AM MST
SANTA FE (KRQE) - Gov. Bill Richardson pledged to cut highly paid political jobs and freeze new hiring to help with the state budget crisis. But as KRQE News 13 investigative reporter Larry Barker discovered, some cuts were fictions that took money from already strapped agencies.
Richardson earlier had doled out about 450 policy-making jobs throughout state government in positions exempt from personnel rules, so the governor could hire whoever he wants.
These are the political appointees loyal to the governor and armed with fat paychecks. There are deputy cabinet secretaries, public-relations flacks, museum directors, administrative assistants and many others.
Yet while these hand-picked hires help to run state government, sources tell KRQE News 13 it's not unusual for the governor's office to order agencies to put inexperienced appointees on the state payroll and pay them big salaries.
Case in point: India Hatch, a political hire with a state career orchestrated by the governor. She was hired to run the New Mexico Racing Commission although she had no racing experience.
Later the governor moved her to the Gaming Control Board. She had no gaming experience.
Next stop? The New Mexico Film Museum with--you guessed it--no museum experience.
Last year, Hatch landed back at the racing commission. The governor's office ordered the agency to stick her in a deputy director's job and pay her $88,000 a year.
Now, in light of the state budget crisis, the governor is coming under fire for his hiring practices.
"People are not as well-qualified under governor-exempt positions," state Sen. John Ryan, R-Albuquerque, said. "They're making more money, their duties and responsibilities are not well-defined, and that's the part I have a problem with."
For another example there is Sharon Maloof, executive director of the New Mexico Film Museum.
The film museum is perhaps New Mexico's most unusual cultural property. It's not in the phone book, and there are no exhibits, no visitors and no staff. In fact, there's no museum.
What they do have, however, is an executive director. Last year, the governor put Maloof in charge of a staff of none at a nonexistent museum paying her $88,000 a year. Maloof became the highest-paid museum director in the state system administered by Cultural Affairs Secretary Stuart Ashman, a member of Richardson's cabinet.
Yet Ashman was not involved in establishing Maloof's salary.
"That's set by the (human-resources) director in the governor's office," he told News 13.
So why would legislators fund a museum director's job for a nonexistent museum? Well, they didn't.
The Legislature decided not to fund the position, but the executive branch decided to do it anyway.
"That's right," Ashman said.
And that money shuffle doesn't sit well with the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.
"The resources that are being used by the Office of Cultural Affairs need to be dedicated to the museums," Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, said. "They don't need to be dedicated to this unauthorized position that absolutely has no facility."
Last month Ashman cut Maloof's salary to $55,000.
It took a bit of hocus-pocus for governor's aide Pahl Shipley to land a high-paying state job that didn't previously exist in the Economic Development Department. In June the governor transferred Shipley to the New Mexico Film Office to do public relations at $95,000 a year, which is more than taxpayers pay the state treasurer.
"We didn't actively recruit Pahl," Economic Development Deputy Secretary Toni Balzano said adding she believes Shipley's salary was set by the governor's office.
Yet while Balzano conceded the Legislature had not authorized a Head of Publicity and Media Relations specifically for the film office, that didn't keep Shipley from working there. They simply gave him a fancy title--divisio--director perhaps thinking nobody would notice.
Asked if Shipley was a division director, Balzano replied, "No, absolutely not." Asked further if it was just a title, a slot to put him in, she answered, "Absolutely."
The conclusion, according to the Senate's top money man, is clear.
"That's obviously a deception in my opinion," Smith said. "These people are sent over to different agencies, and those agencies have to rob their budgets to make those salaries available to them.
"It distracts from the mission of those agencies."
It also comes at a tough financial time for the state as the Legislature tries to resolve a budget hundreds of millions of dollars out of balance.
"The bottom line is it's pretty dad gum frustrating to me to come up here and say I want to be fair to everyone when you see on a daily basis abuses are happening where the public's dollar is not being disbursed in an efficient economical fashion and there's a few that's benefiting more than others," Smith said.
Shipley's job is not the only deception. Last year Richardson moved S.U. Mahesh to the Taxation and Revenue Department where he's the director of policy administration.
That job title is pure fiction. Actually he's the department's public-information officer with a salary of $87,000 a year. His job is to churn out press releases and handle media inquiries.
In November 2008 Richardson, in response to the burgeoning decline in state revenue, ordered a statewide freeze on hiring and pay raises. There would be few exceptions.
But a News 13 investigation found the governor has hired, transferred or given pay raises to some 150 of his own exempt employees after the hiring freeze took effect.
Hatch, Maloof, Mahesh and Shipley were all placed in their new positions by the governor after the hiring freeze.
"What's good for the goose ought to be good for the gander," Ryan said. "Especially if it's a directive coming from the governor, I would think he would want to make sure that he is doing in his own house what he's asking everybody else to do."
In December the governor pledged to trim the number of political jobs under his control saying 59 high-paid exempt positions would be eliminated. That too appears to be an illusion in some cases.
For example, to cut costs the governor eliminated Noah Trujillo's exempt position as the No. 2 guy at the New Mexico Sports Authority. Trujillo wasn't fired, though. He was simply "re-classified."
While it's true Trujillo's exempt job was eliminated, he's still on the state payroll at the sports authority. Trujillo's job was simply switched to a classified position, which means he can't be fired except for cause.
The governor did the same paper shuffle for Patricia Durán, an administrative assistant at the sports authority. One day she was exempt, and the next, like magic, she became classified with a job protected by state personnel rules.
While political appointments are something all New Mexico governors have done, former Gov. Gary Johnson, a Republican who left office in 2002, said his successor has gone well beyond tradition.
"This is an abuse of power," Johnson said. "The current governor has taken this to a new art form in New Mexico.
"Clearly this has been political payback. It's not about efficiency. It's not about citizens of New Mexico. It's about hiring individuals for jobs on a political allegiance basis."
So how does the governor defend his own hiring practices? He doesn't.
Richardson refused to be interviewed and would not allow any of his staff to comment.
Instead a spokesman told News 13 the governor feels he's going to be "screwed" on this story and doesn't want anything to do with it.