Republicans seek investigation into ‘temporary’ hires

Staff and Wire Reports

SANTA FE — Republican lawmakers have asked the state attorney general’s office to investigate the Richardson administration’s practice of hiring temporary exempt employees.

A March 18 letter from Sen. Kent Cravens, R-Albuquerque, signed by two dozen other GOP lawmakers, said Gov. Bill Richardson’s practices have resulted in “numerous unauthorized hirings.”

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have raised questions about the hirings. According to a list in late October, more than 55 temporary exempt employees were costing the state more than $3 million annually in salaries. Many of the workers, called Gov-Ex Temp workers, are making annual salaries in the $50,000 to $70,000 range.

A spokeswoman for Attorney General Patricia Madrid said the office had received Cravens’ letter, but would not comment further.

A spokesman for the governor, Gilbert Gallegos, said the call for an investigation was political.

“Sadly, these Republican legislators have no ideas, and they resort to cheap political shenanigans in an election year,” Gallegos said. “The fact is that the governor is following the same discretionary hiring practices that previous governors, Democrats and Republicans, have used to implement policies and support their initiatives.”

At least two local lawmakers said they are concerned by the volume of temporary exempt employees hired by Richardson.

Sen. Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, said Richardson has “probably hired more” temporary exempt employees than any other governor he has served with, although he also added, “in certain cases, they may be needed.”

Rep. Anna Crook, R-Clovis, said indiscrimminate hiring in any state office, “is a burden on the taxpayers of New Mexico.”

She said anyone hired to work for the state should be well qualified. “People should have qualifications. They shouldn’t just be given a job,” she said.

Both she and Ingle said they had neither signed nor seen the letter drafted by Cravens.

Former Gov. Gary Johnson, a Republican who preceded Richardson, has said he rarely created temporary exempt jobs.

State policy allows departments to hire temporary exempt employees for no more than three months, with salaries coming from the particular agency’s budget. The governor must approve any extension of the jobs, which — unlike permanent positions — are not approved by the Legislature.

Those hired under the practice include former state Rep. Bennie Aragon — uncle of former state Sen. Manny Aragon — as special projects coordinator for the state fairgrounds, Expo New Mexico; Ed Stapleton, husband of House Majority Whip Sheryl Williams Stapleton, D-Albuquerque, as a racing clerk at the state Racing Commission; Randy Romero, brother of former ambassador Ed Romero, with the Labor Department; and Democratic political consultant Harry Pavlides, with Expo New Mexico.

Lawmakers complained earlier this month about jobs created outside the state’s normal hiring practices.

Sen. Leonard Lee Rawson, R-Las Cruces, said they’re “clearly political appointments,” while Sen. Cisco McSorley, D-Albuquerque, said agencies are hiring people who aren’t needed in positions that departments didn’t ask for in their budgets.