NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham is appointing a new CYFD secretary, former New Mexico Supreme Court Justice Barbara Vigil. Vigil is expected to replace Secretary Brian Blalock, who is stepping down in August. According to the Governor’s Office, Blalock is resigning to “support his wife’s pursuit of new work opportunities in California.”
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Vigil, who retired from the state’s high court in July after eight years on the bench, is expected to begin leading CYFD as secretary-designee on October 1, 2021. Until then, the director of the state’s Children’s Cabinet, Mariana Padilla will serve as interim CYFD secretary.
The Governor championed Vigil at a news conference Tuesday as a “homegrown, incredible native New Mexican,” with three decades of experience in child advocacy on the bench. As a district court judge, Vigil handled over 16,000 cases and at one point oversaw the children’s court in the First Judicial District, covering Santa Fe, Rio Arriba and Los Alamos counties.
When asked about what her first priority would be for CYFD, Vigil said she plans to “understand the challenges the department is facing” by visiting with various CYFD offices. Vigil says she’ll then present a plan to the governor on what’s next for the department.
Vigil’s appointment comes following several recent headlines related to record keeping. In April 2021, a story published by Searchlight New Mexico revealed CYFD employees used an encrypted mobile app in violation of public transparency laws. A month later, two CYFD employees were fired after raising concerns about the app. Those two employees have since filed a whistleblower lawsuit against the state.
During Tuesday’s news conference, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham said the lawsuit doesn’t have a bearing on Blalock’s replacement. However, the Governor said the lawsuit was an “important issue,” and that she was “leaning in to that aspect” in moving forward with a change in CYFD’s leadership.
“I was concerned about a number of administrative missteps including the department using Signal, which I don’t believe at all intended to be non-transparent or to alleviate our responsibility to have public records available to anyone who requests them,” Governor Lujan Grisham said. “I also want to say … this department is making incredible strides.”
The Governor reaffirmed Tuesday Blalock is stepping down because his wife has another job opportunity in another state, but called it a “mutually agreed upon decision.” She also said she believes the whistleblower lawsuit is likely to indicate that the state “did nothing wrong in the procurement,” but that management of related issues “could have been better,” in her view.
Blalock was not at Tuesday’s news conference. The Governor said it was because he was “on vacation.”
In response to questions of transparency, Vigil said, “It is certainly our responsibility to be accountable in the processes and procedures that are implemented in doing this work with the utmost goal of protecting children and keeping them safe.” She added, “there’s a layer of confidentiality that must go along with protecting those children who are vulnerable.”
Vigil’s appointment marks the third cabinet secretary change in Governor Lujan Grisham’s administration over the last two weeks. On July 29, the governor appointed new secretaries to lead the Public Education and Public Safety departments.
PED Secretary Ryan Stewart announced his resignation to tend to family mattters. He will be replaced by former Los Alamos Public Schools Superintendent Kurt Steinhaus. The Department of Public Safety is now being lead by Jason Bowie, a former deputy chief for Rio Rancho Police. He replaces interim secretary Tim Johnson, who is going back to his previous role as Chief of the New Mexico State Police.