Friday, December 4, 2009

Wilson questions hirings at NM Health Department

A day after the governor's office announced the layoff of 59 political appointees, a Republican senator is asking questions about "emergency hires" at the New Mexico Health Department.

State Sen. Sue Wilson Beffort (R-Sandia Park) is questioning the DOH's hiring of 90 employees, some of whom she claims are family members of senior department employees, at the same time the administration has a hiring freeze and the state faces budget deficits.

“The magnitude of hires after the freeze of unqualified people who are fast-tracked into training for financial positions is problematic and is creating morale issues,” Beffort said at the Legislative Finance Committee in Santa Fe today.

The senator said she's been told the apparent nepotism is causing morale problems, and that some of the new hires are being trained for permanent, higher level positions ahead of other employees at the department.

“There is dissatisfaction among current, qualified employees who have been waiting for that training so they can improve their careers, instead these new hires who were brought into the Department of Health after the hiring freeze are receiving it,” Beffort said.

A spokesperson for Secretary of Health Alfredo Vigil told us this afternoon:
We have hired critical positions that include individuals who provide direct clinical care, which is an exemption to the hiring freeze. All of our hires have been approved by the State Personnel Office as being critical positions.

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Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Chavez criticized for "last day" speed limit increase

Updated: 8am

Photo: MG Bralley
Former Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez is being criticized for another last minute decision -- to increase the speed limit for motorists commuting on a small portion of Montano that runs through Los Ranchos de Albuquerque.

Daily commuters are probably wondering what's going.

On Monday, city crews -- at the direction of Chavez -- were increasing the speed limit from 40 to 45. Now it's headed back down to 40 on the orders of new Mayor Richard Berry and Public Safety Director Darren White.

While in office, Chavez had several high-profile disputes over the construction of the Montano Bridge with Los Ranchos de Albuquerque Mayor Larry Abraham, who says the speed increase was a "parting shot [by Chavez] to those of us in the North Valley."

"He doesn't play well with others," Abraham told 770KKOB. "Marty wanted to get one in before he left office."

But Chavez' former public information officer Deborah James said the mayor didn't wait until his last day in office to make the decision.

"This was planned well before," James said. "It was based on numerous requests from West Side residents."

But Abraham doesn't buy that reasoning. He said there has been an agreement between the two cities regarding speeds on Montano since the new bridge was built and increasing the speed limit on Chavez' last day violated the agreement.

"I think his true colors are coming out," Abraham said. "This will show the public what we've had to deal with -- as elected officials with Marty Chavez in office -- and it's never been fun."

After being defeated for a third-straight term, Chavez, who was boarding an airplane at the Sunport when we tried to get direct input from him, made several decisions that are binding, including a memo of understanding with the Albuquerque Area Firefighters and AFSCME.

The first allows fire crews arrested for non-aggravated DWI to remain on the job. Chavez' agreement with AFSCME allows the union to participate in binding arbitration for some disputes with the City.


The Acting Director of Municipal Developement for the City of Albuquerque Michael Riordan said the city has been collecting speed data from the area for the past three years and has been working on a memo of understanding with the Corp of Engineers.

He said the city has jursidiction and that 14 signs were changed and then changed again after calls to Mayor Berry's office on Tuesday.

"Because of the geometry of Montanto -- it's a long straight shot -- with astetics and everything you don't want to set the speed limit to low," Riordan said. "The typical driver is traveling about 35 miles an hour."

Riordan confirmed the order to make the speed limit change came from Chavez office on Monday -- the last day of his administration -- although the data for the basis of the decision had been known for quite a while.

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Santa Fe Sierra Club Chair Joins Copenhagen Delegation

From a News Release

Sierra Club Rio Grande Chapter Conservation Chair Ken Hughes of Santa Fe is one of 29 U.S. Sierra Club members who will be joining President Obama and other world leaders at the international Climate Conference in Copenhagen starting Dec. 7.

Ken and the Sierra Club team will be urging the U.S. negotiations team to achieve a strong U.S. plan to address climate change. They will also be pushing for funding of clean energy projects so that developing countries can leapfrog the polluting phase of development and go straight to a low carbon future. Ken will also learn about successful programs in other countries that could be applied here.

Ken, who will attend the conference from December 7-13, will give presentations about his experience to each of the Rio Grande chapter’s groups after his return, including Albuquerque on January 18 and Santa Fe on January 19.

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Monday, November 30, 2009

Gonzales picked to be new sheriff

Judge Ted Baca swears in Manuel Gonzales, III as Sheriff. His wife Elaine held the bible while sons Daniel and Isaiah and Commissioners Alan Armijo and Mary Hart-Stebbins looked on. Not pictured is Gonzales' daughter Sophie who also attended the meeting (Photo: Peter St. Cyr)

On Monday night, Bernalillo County Commissioners unanimously voted (5-0) to appoint 46-year-old Sheriff’s Captain Manuel "Manny" Gonzales, III to replace Republican Sheriff Darren White, who resigned to become public safety director in Albuquerque Mayor-elect Richard Berry’s administration.

Gonzales’ new post expires next November, but he told us he intends to campaign for the job, and run as the incumbent in next June’s Democratic primary. It will be his first political campaign.

Party insiders had urged the three Democratic commissioners to pick a strong candidate who can win the general election next Fall. Others wanted the group, with two Republicans, to pick a place holder for the next 12 months. They said that would level the playing field in the upcoming primary.

“We’re very pleased with the new appointment of Sheriff Gonzales,” Bernalillo County First Vice-Chairman Victor Raigoza said. “He has been a good example of a person who is serving their community. I wish more people would follow his example.”

At least 21 people interviewed for the post in the last few weeks, but only three names were nominated on Monday night. Democrat Commissioner Maggie Hart-Stebbins had nominated Retired APD Commander Marie Sisi Miranda and Republicans Michael Brasher and Michael Weiner (who attended the meeting via a teleconference call) nominated William Kurth.

Two names that had been bantered around by pundits in recent weeks, Albuquerque Police Commander Conrad Candelaria and Under-sheriff Sal Baragiola did not make the final cut. Candelaria has been considering a primary campaign, but left the meeting before commenting on Gonzales appointment.

Gonzales says he’s already been focused on the department’s budget and will work with the upper command to deal with shrinking budgets. He told reporters after the meeting he’ll take proactive approach to policing.

Gonzales plans to work closely with Albuquerque Police

Outgoing Sheriff White had planned to resign at 5pm, but after the special meeting began late Republican Commissioner Michael Brasher asked him to delay it for thirty minutes.

White told commissioners that in his new role with the City of Albuquerque that he wanted to “continue the positive work that we do together, to improve the quality of life for people living in and around Albuquerque.”

After winning the vote Gonzales was immediately sworn in by District Court Judge Ted Baca and received his uniform’s five stars from White.

Before voting Commissioner Art De La Cruz said he had been impressed with every candidates qualification.

“I appreciate you putting your hat into the ring,” De La Cruz said. “It’s not an easy thing to do.”

Hart-Stebbins said, “It’s a pity we can only choose one of you.”

And Commission Chairman Alan Armijo, who nominated Gonzales, said he was reminded of something Bruce King had told him.

“All of my friends are running for sheriff, and I support my friends.”

In the end, Gonzales' experience managing the department’s budget swayed the commissioners. He told us he expects a very short tranition period, but that he’ll consult with both White and his command staff before making any “huge” decisions.

The ABQ Journal has more on Gonzales' history with the Sheriff's office.

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Senator wants to reshape state investment council

Sen. Tim Keller (D-ABQ)

On Monday, lawmakers on the Investment Oversight Committee will meet for the last time this before the start of next January’s 30-day session to consider three bills crafted by freshman Sen. Tim Keller (D-Albuquerque) that could dramatically reform the make up and structure of the New Mexico State Investment Council (SIC) and other state money funds, which have been heavily scrutinized after losing millions of dollars.

“These funds, the ERB [the New Mexico Education Retirement Board], PERA [Public Employees Retirement Association], and SIC collectively manage tens of billions of dollars in tax payer money and have been involved in federal investigations regarding third party marketers, pay to play, financial fraud and under performance issues,” Keller said. “My intention working on many of these bills is to address the glaring structural problems relating to oversight, accountability and expertise in fund operation.”

Keller spoke out after a recent Revenue Stabilization meeting in Albuquerque. He said his bills “are critical to restoring the investment community’s faith in our state, assuring them that we have reasonable controls and qualified governing bodies.”

“After a long difficult interim with respect to the problems and performance of our state investment funds, I’m pleased the Investment Oversight Committee will be considering several proposals to help address the lack of confidence in the governance of our state investment funds,” Sen. Tim Keller said. “These bills basically say that if we are going to invest billions of tax money in ‘alternative investments’ we have to have some expertise on board to oversee the transactions and third parties.”

State's investments put under the microscope

The state investment process is under scrutiny because of a third-party marketer scandal that started in New York and has spread to at least 30 other states, most notably New Mexico.

The first of Keller’s bills, which is similar to last years SB460, would add council seats appointed by lawmakers — not by Gov. Bill Richardson which chairs the council.

Keller also hopes to address structural concerns regarding alternative investments, reporting relationship inside the chief investment office (CIO), and the hiring and firing of 3rd parties responsibilities. Keller believes it is time for legislators to providing adequate oversight for CIO hirings and the appointment of advisory committee members now controlled by the governor.

Currently in New Mexico any fund that intends to invest more than 10% in an “alternative investment” are required to create an advisory committee that then reviews all the funds transactions.

“The idea here,” Keller said, “is to ensure that there is someone in the room with relevant asset class experience to provide oversight to the hiring of third parties and investments in alternative investments.”

Bills will give Attorney General more investigative power

He wants anyone appointed to a fund review committee to have at least 10 years experience in that particular asset class. Keller said his bill would dissolve a committee if an funds investment allocation drops below 5%.

Keller’s third bill will authorize the state attorney general’s office to investigate financial fraud and changes the definition of fraud to include financial related activities.

In June, Keller released a policy memo, comparative analysis chart and another analysis document related to his proposal.

He told us that the governor’s office has assured him that they also want to consider measure that will provide additional oversight on the state’s investments.

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