Employment issues, county manager’s sign-off authority subjects of Colfax County Commission meeting

by Sharon Niederman


RATON — Following the canvass of the primary election recount for District 3 Republican county commission nomination that certified Bert Wier as winner, the Colfax County Commission met in regular session on July 13, 2020.

After hearing annual updates from Remy Garcia, director of Colfax County Senior Companion Program/Foster Grandparent Program, and Assistant director Mona Martinez of Citizens for the Developmentally Disabled regarding the delivery and scope of their programs, the commission approved a bid from Perovich Properties, Inc. of Taos to provide gravel for Moreno Valley road repair from local government road fund. This was the only bid received.

The commission then approved the construction and maintenance agreement between BNSF Railway and Colfax County for the TIGER IX grant for railroad repair.

Commissioners then engaged in a substantial discussion regarding a request from Colfax County Assessor Kristi Graham to fill a deputy clerk position. Due to the hiring freeze now in effect, Graham had neither advertised nor posted the job as to fill a retirement, which she believed was the correct policy. Instead, she proposed moving an employee from the county manager’s office to the assessor’s office directly into the job, which pays $13.91 per hour and would not involve any pay change. A vacancy would be created by the move.

Commissioner Roy Fernandez questioned whether this action “was legal” as HR was not involved, and the position was not advertised internally or externally, while expressing concerns this action might violate personnel policy and could potentially trigger an EEOC action.

Commission Chairman Bobby LeDoux voiced his concerns that the commission did not have authority for hiring and firing over elected officials, who rightfully run their own departments.

Ultimately, Graham was ordered not to proceed with filling the position until a legal opinion was obtained and the matter was tabled until the next meeting. Meanwhile, Graham posted an advertisement for the postion in house for a week.

In another personnel matter, county treasurer Kathy Trujillo informed the commission she wished to hire the number two person for a deputy clerk position, as the person originally hired did not satisfactorily complete probation. This position was originally advertised in February before the hiring freeze went into effect. This issue was also referred for a legal opinion.

Commissioner LeDoux then moved to revise policy and personnel procedures to reduce the authority of city manager Mary Lou Kern from signing off on contracts up to $60,000 that had already been approved by the commission to a $5,000 limit. Commissioner Landon Newton countered that much time and effort had gone into the design of this means of administration, which had been in effect since 2016, and this proposed change would result in inefficiency. “Checks and balances are spelled out, and this is a good policy,” he said.

‘I’m not talking about what’s been approved,” countered LeDoux. “I’m talking about things not in the budget that come up, such as a purchase of a piece of equipment.” He also stated that the lower ceiling would keep the commission more in touch with day-to-day operations.

“Did we give too much authority to the county manager?” Commissioner Roy Fernandez asked before the motion passed 2-1, with LeDoux and Fernandez voting for, Newton against.

Colfax County Sheriff Leonard Baca then presented his concern about the impact of Senate Bill 8 signed July 7, 2020 by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham requiring all NM law enforcement officers to wear body cameras, including city police, county sheriff’s agencies as well as state police and Department of Public Safety. Aside from the need of his 13 member force for new cameras at a cost of $699 each, the key issue was storage of data for the required 120 days, at a first year cost of $29,000 and $16,000 in subsequent years. In addition, cameras must be replaced every two years. “Another unfunded mandate,” said LeDoux.

Baca would have to look for the money in his budget, LeDoux said. Baca says in addition he will request funds be found in the county budget. He is also searching for grants.

“We need to be in compliance 90 days from the date the bill was signed,” Baca says.

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