Inside the Capitol

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

2-21 Below the Surface

MON, 2-21-11

SANTA FE - What happened? On opening day of the Legislature, I predicted a stormy session. Republicans are taking over the executive branch from Democrats. And legislative numbers, although controlled by Democrats, are nearly equal for a change.
House Speaker Ben Lujan, a Democrat, narrowly retained his post but the House Republican leader, Rep. Tom Taylor, said that was only because it would make Democrats easier to beat next year - or something like that.
It sounded rather reasonable the way things go around here. But Republicans, including Taylor, immediately started backtracking. Rep. Taylor was misquoted, misunderstood, misinterpreted or whatever.
Anyway, the fireworks never exploded. We know we have a bunch of new people in the executive and legislative branches of government who don't agree with each other. So far, they're not being disagreeable. But maybe they're being surreptitious.
Maybe all those unnecessary regulations that are so anti-business are being quietly rescinded - or ignored. Maybe hot button social issues that new Republicans would like to fight about are being throttled by Republican or Democrat leaders.
Whatever it is, it hasn't been particularly interesting to those of us covering it. Blogger Joe Monahan describes it as a baked potato with nothing on it. I've compared it to two heavyweights feeling each other out.
At least my analogy allows for a final round in which fists fly. But maybe it won't Maybe it is all happening under the surface. But we were promised open government. Where did it go?
I understand that over a week before this was written Gene Moser, the new director of the State Personnel Office was hired - but not announced. And a week later assistant director Nivea Thames became assistant director without announcement.
The Personnel Office is not a cabinet level department so that may be why the appointments were not announced. Personnel offices usually are a thorn in the side of any administration because they have rules about eployee qualifications that prevent employers from hiring anyone they want.
Personnel offices also have rules about procedures that have to be followed before people are fired. You will recall that the Administrative Office of District Attorneys was the agency that allowed problem employees about to retire up to a year of paid leave because it was easier than following the firing process. When the word got around, other employees about to retire started taking advantage of the situation.
There also seems to be a way personnel offices can waive rules on hirings and firings. Legislators have been known to want to reorganize the personnel office so it can't be a tool of the governor to ignore rules.
Transition Team head Heather Wilson evidently had some rather negative feelings about the personnel office back when she was secretary of the Department of Children, Youth and Families.
As an April fool's joke, her communications director wrote a fake press release announcing that Wilson had taken over the government and her first action was to bomb the Personnel Office. It got leaked to the press and the guy got fired.
So what could be happening with the State Personnel Office at this point? The State Personnel Board has all been dismissed and no board has been announced to replace it. If there is any action from these years Legislature, it could involve a transfer of authority over the State Personnel Office.
Gov. Bill Richardson did his own hiring and firing of political appointees through the Department of Finance and Administration. Will that change? At one time, before financial difficulties hit, Gov. Richardson had over 500 political appointees.
Legislation has been introduced to reduce that ceiling but Gov. Susana Martinez has low-balled that with an announcement of a 350 maximum. Even at 350, that is quite a lot of people. Martinez's statements during her gubernatorial campaign indicated she was going to cut quite a few more.



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