LOS LUNAS – After a little more than a year of heading up the county administration, Valencia County Manager Bruce Swingle has announced his resignation. His last official day will be Friday, Sept. 13.
Swingle is taking the county manager position in McKinley County.
In June of last year, Swingle stepped into the position of county manager in Valencia County and began an aggressive campaign of professionalism and efficiency.
He made no apologies for expecting the best from everyone who worked for the county, and had no problem urging those not up for change to find a position elsewhere.
But for the last few months, Swingle said he has not been comfortable with the direction the county has taken.
“I no longer feel comfortable that I am contributing to the betterment of the community,” Swingle said Tuesday, the day he notified county commissioners of his resignation.
During his tenure, Swingle says a lot has been accomplished, but there is still an awful lot to be done.
“To improve the organization, I am not comfortable or confident that the county can move in that direction,” he said. “To improve services, improve the quality of life to what they can be.”
When asked why he felt he couldn’t stay and continue to make those improvements, Swingle pointed to the conflicts between the commissioners.
“They are polarized. It doesn’t appear that the best interest of Valencia County is at hand right now,” he said. “I hope they can work together in the best interest of the citizens.”
Despite the challenges, Swingle is proud of a number of accomplishments under his watch. First and foremost is the current administrative staff.
“We have assembled one of the finest leadership teams ever, right here in this county,” Swingle said. “Every one of them is a very accomplished professional and that doesn’t just happen. It takes work. They have the integrity, as well as the technical experience.
“Every one of them is dedicated to moving Valencia County forward and to public service. I am very proud of this team. That is Valencia County’s greatest accomplishment.”
Swingle said he was also very proud of the tremendous effort put forth by everyone — elected officials, department directors and staff — in the completion of the county’s software conversion.
“At a time when the county was a in turmoil and the budget an absolute mess, a conversion is not the best idea,” he said. “But we had a short window (of opportunity) and had to get it accomplished or we would have compromised the county budget further.”
Another long-standing challenge was the county’s continued troubles with its audit. Getting the commissioners to focus on the audit findings and address them was huge, Swingle said.
“Some of the findings are going back to 1999. The commissioners were willing to dedicate resources, significant, long-term resources, to correct,” he said. “And you have to do that. You can’t take decades of neglect to financial controls and expect it to be fixed overnight.”
The fact that the announcement of his departure coincided with the governor’s appointment of a new commissioner was not lost on Swingle. On Monday, Republican Jhonathan Aragon was appointed to fill the District 5 vacated by Democrat Donald Holliday at the end of July.
“It’s unfortunate timing. I don’t know him and he doesn’t know me,” Swingle said.
He said the timing was a matter of his new employer’s hiring process and contract negotiations.
“This was bad timing,” he said. “It’s no reflection of him.”
While his time in Valencia County is coming to an end before he moves to Gallup, Swingle said he has enjoyed serving the community.
“This is a community that is in need of efficient services. They deserve it,” he said. “I hope they will have a growing expectation of the county and their leaders.”
Swingle said it is up to the commissioners to appoint an interim county manager.
Commission Chairman Charles Eaton said Swingle had told him that he interviewed for the McKinley County position.
“I kind of anticipated he would be leaving us,” Eaton said. “I personally think he saw some decisions made by the commission in terms of policy that factored into his management style. I think he felt it was probably best to seek an alternate direction.”
Eaton said during Swingle’s time with the county, he has brought in a high level of administrative oversight that Valencia County lacked for many years.
“He established a strong, united directorship within the county administration and made clear what his expectations were as chief administrative officer,” the chairman said. “Consistency was established and we are starting to see that.”
Going forward from the county manager’s departure, Eaton said he is hopeful that the county can maintain a positive direction with some goals and objectives Swingle established.
“Unfortunately, there were some personality differences within board that we just couldn’t overcome in terms of Mr. Swingle’s administrative style,” he said. “I was totally, 100 percent in favor of him. I think this is a big step backward for Valencia County.”