Inside the Capitol

Sunday, August 29, 2004

NM Economic Development Dept. Exodus Continues

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE – What would happen if Gov. Bill Richardson ran the Economic Development Department? Steve Lawrence, editor of Crosswinds Weekly in Albuquerque, suggests that he is -- and it isn’t working.
Economic development has been Richardson’s top priority ever since he took office 20 months ago. So it was important to him that the department be run the way he would run it. That meant big ideas, accomplished with a flourish, everyone pulling hard in the same direction, with no slacking and no complaining.
That’s the way Richardson always has run his staff since he was a rookie member of Congress 21 years ago. So the governor needed a cabinet secretary who understood his style and was willing to run the department with the same bluster and swagger.
That person turned out to be Rick Homans, who had gotten close to Richardson as his top issues advisor during the gubernatorial campaign. Homans had just finished an unsuccessful campaign for mayor of Albuquerque, raising the most money of any candidate and running a barrage of TV ads, with some innovative ideas about how to improve the city.
Except for having lost the race, Homans appealed to Richardson. He had big ideas and could raise big money from the business community. As the former owner of the New Mexico Business Weekly newspaper, he had a standing among businesspeople, not only in Albuquerque, but throughout much of the state.
So Richardson put him on his campaign staff and the two hit it off. When Richardson won, Homans got the top job at Economic Development. The two immediately began traveling together to national and international meetings and conferences.
Homans served as a great cheerleader, gushing about how the most powerful people in the world beat a path to Richardson’s door seeking counsel and advice. And as part of their audience with him, Richardson required that they listen to his sales pitch on doing business in New Mexico.
It was a great start. But Homans seemed to have trouble getting a handle on his department. Soon there was behind-the-scenes staff grumbling, then resignations began. The complaints were that Homans didn’t have a clue about how to implement his grand schemes and that he was demanding, abrasive and impossible to work for.
This column was one of the first to reveal the problems over a year ago. I got my tips mainly from local economic developers who were concerned about the turmoil and turnover among the department staff with whom they worked.
After making these revelations, I was told by Homans and others in the administration that the problem was with holdover staffers who weren’t willing to get with the new program and that as soon as all the deadwood was cleared out, the department would run smoothly.
But it wasn’t long before those leaving included people who had joined the department under the Richardson administration. As of early summer, 27 employees had left the staff, nearly half the department. This included the deputy secretary and some division directors.
Now comes word that another big defection is on the way that also will include some top hands. How much more deadwood can there be to clean out? It seems close to the situation of “firings will continue until morale increases.”
To be fair to Homans, I must say that my contacts with him have been positive and enjoyable. When he owned the Business Weekly, he carried this column.
When he had to stand in for Richardson at the Governors Summit on Economic Development, which the governor had firmly committed to attend, Homans handled the situation much like his boss handles a crowd. He was sufficiently humorous, intelligent and self-deprecating that local economic developers left feeling they had received their money’s worth.
That Rick Homans would have been a successful cabinet secretary. But the Bill Richardson style of management won’t work for everyone. Nor should it.


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