Inside the Capitol

Sunday, December 21, 2008

12-26 Year's Pay For No Work

Syndicated Columnist

SANTA FE -- Untrained state government managers are costing New Mexico's taxpayers big bucks. And it's about to get bigger.
KRQE News 13, in Albuquerque, reports that the Administrative Office of the District Attorneys is paying a soon-to-retire state employee a year's wages to stay home rather than going to the trouble of firing her for being disrespectful and lying about her work duties.
The agency director Randy Saavedra says, "It's either that or be tied up in court or whatever the process is with the review board."
Saavedra says he was told by the state Risk Management Division that the cost of a lawyer, possible appeals and punitive damages could cost the state thousands of dollars.
That means the prudent thing to do with taxpayer money is to pay almost all this employee's $54,000 annual salary rather than paying thousands of dollars for lawyers, appeals and punitive damages?
The simple answer is management training for all employees hired or moving up to a supervisory level. It would save the cost of lawyers, appeals and punitive damages.
The state of New Mexico has a Personnel Act that covers the hiring and firing of employees. The reason for the act is that when Gov. Jack Campbell took office in January 1963, he was surprised to find that nobody showed up to work that day.
He was told it was customary for the new governor to fire everyone and hire his friends. Campbell didn't think that was the way to run a state so he called in his friend Ray Powell from Sandia Corporation to help him get a personnel law in place.
Among many items in the law is a section governing the discharge of employees. By following the procedure and using progressive discipline, employees can be fired for cause.
It should be part of every new manager's training. But it seems there is no training for new management personnel. And then they receive bad advice from the lawyers at the state Risk Management Division.
If supervisors do their jobs correctly, an administrative review of a discharge is likely the most that will ever happen. Most lawyers wouldn't want to take a case on to court because of the small chance of winning. And punitive damages would be out of the question.
It is especially disturbing that the Administrative Office of the District Attorneys is making this blunder. Attorneys should know better. Of course, district attorneys deal with criminal offenses, not civil. And as one of them is quoted by KRQE, if this employee had committed a criminal offense, firing would be justified.
Well, yes, it would. But most employees don't commit criminal offenses on the job.
To make matters even worse, KRQE learned that in the past few years, at least two other employees in the Administrative Office of the District Attorneys have been put on paid leave for months instead of being fired.
Aha, more employees are catching on. The word is getting around. When you are nearing retirement, start misbehaving on the job and get your last year's pay with no work.
What's more, the state Risk Management Division advises all agencies of state government. It wouldn't be giving this advice only to one small agency. Any employee in state government is eligible for the gravy train.
My advice to state government is immediate management training going for all supervisors. There are plenty of good trainers around who can provide it. It also can be done through college courses. And don't worry about the cost. The state will save money by not paying annual salaries to problem employees on leave.
Look at what other states around us are doing. Gov. Janet Napolitano, in Arizona, has instituted an outstanding program.
Also look at training programs for new state employees. They need to be taught the rules and regulations and not just hope to pick it up from co-workers.
FRI, 12-26-08

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



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