SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – Two former high-ranking CYFD employees have filed a whistleblower lawsuit against the agency. They said they were fired after raising concerns over several ethical issues including the controversial use of the department’s message-disappearing app.

Cliff and Debra Gilmore, who both have long careers in public relations and child advocacy, were recruited to come here last year to move the department forward. They said when they pointed to things that could be fixed, they were retaliated against. “The things we saw happening inside of the organization when it comes right down to it, they make things harder for kids rather than helping them,” Cliff Gilmore said.

The Gilmores described the culture at the state agency as toxic. “There is gaslighting,” Cliff said. “There is passive aggression. There are moving goalposts.”

The couple was recruited here from Washington state in late 2020. Cliff was the agency’s spokesman, and Debra Gilmore was hired as the agency’s director of the Office of Children’s Rights. They were fired in May on the same day at the same time. They said it was in retaliation for blowing the whistle on issues at CYFD. “I am overall disappointed that this is what we uprooted our lives to experience,” Debra said.

A lawsuit filed Thursday alleges they were unlawfully terminated after raising ethical concerns about CYFD’s use of Signal, an app used for official department communication with many discussions set to auto-delete after 24 hours. CYFD secretary Brian Blalock told KRQE News 13 in April that no communications were deleted that would be subject to New Mexico’s IPRA statute. Cliff doesn’t believe that. “There were entire conversations under threads about legislative strategy and work that are now gone,” Cliff said. “They were conversations that we both participated in.”

The couple said Signal was how the department did most of their communication. Cliff also said there was no training he knew of for CYFD employees to even know what kind of messages would be subject to open records law, and messages weren’t reviewed by a professional before deletion. “We were told to set it to 24-hour auto-delete because if and when we get an IPRA request, we will have to stop deleting those things and start providing those materials,” Cliff said.

They said their concerns about transparency and public trust were dismissed. “When we brought some of those things up, we got push back,” Cliff said. “They said that I didn’t understand New Mexico or the systems.”

The Gilmores said they are speaking out to shine a light on what is happening at CYFD. “We are professionally mature enough and stable enough to be able to take a stand on this,” Cliff said. “We know we have colleagues experiencing very similar things.”

They said who is hurt the most are children and families of New Mexico. “The way a leader treats their subordinates becomes the way those subordinates treat the people they serve,” Cliff said.

The Gilmore’s lawsuit also stated the couple questioned whether CYFD followed state laws when giving a multi-million dollar contract to a company without putting it up for bid. Cliff was also concerned that top officials violated fair hiring laws after pressuring him to move a certain candidate forward in the hiring process. A statement from CYFD can be found below.

While CYFD appreciates the opportunity to clarify misinformation, CYFD cannot discuss personal personnel matters or threatened litigation.

Charlie Pabst, CYFD spokesperson