Considering the checkered history of the state Public Regulation Commission – felony convictions, open meetings violations, the hiring of a convicted embezzler, a heavy redaction of a performance survey, a beating with a rock and drug paraphernalia in a suitcase – it might be understandable the chief of staff would want to bar the five duly elected commissioners from helping regulate day-to-day operations of their agency.
According to Vincent Martinez, chief of staff of the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission, his five bosses don’t need to have a say in how the agency runs. He wants to update a 2004 resolution to make it clear commissioners cannot interfere with the work of rank-and-file agency workers or admonish — either publicly or privately — any such employee for “perceived improper conduct.” Instead, they would have to take their concerns to Martinez, who would determine and then take any appropriate action.
And while a clear chain of command and professional protocols should be observed when problems arise – and serving five masters is a daunting if not impossible task – Martinez’s move is still troubling.
Because commissioners depend on the staff for information on complex regulatory issues and have to be able to communicate with them.
And this is the same staff that had a four-month backlog on corporation registrations despite $3.8 million in funding. When the responsibility was moved last year to the Secretary of State’s Office, the wait time was slashed to three days on a budget less than a third the size.
It’s the same staff that failed to keep records of its commissioners’ and employees’ use of state vehicles and credit cards, resulting in $32,259 in potentially unauthorized purchases.
It’s the same staff that, when surveyed, had 100 workers say they had observed “ethical issues/violations” within the past year, and 51 say they had been asked by a manager to do something unethical.
Martinez’s move is all the more troubling considering that he recently lost his state vehicle privileges for telling a PRC employee to use a state vehicle to run a personal errand.
Commissioner Valerie Espinoza, D-Santa Fe, is calling the proposal a “gag order” and asks “how are we going to avoid the favoritism and cronyism if we’re not allowed to do anything around here?” Commissioner Ben Hall, R-Ruidoso, says it’s a move to keep PRC members from asking questions of Martinez.
According to the PRC’s website, “the chief of staff is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the commission staff under the direction of the commission and serves at the pleasure of the commission.”
Voters have overwhelmingly demanded new commissioners have a level of professional and educational background. Commissioners, their chief of staff and the rank and file need to work together if the PRC is ever going to be more than a punchline in bureaucratic jokes.
If the 2004 resolution needs revising, and it well might, then those revisions should hew as closely as possible to the “P is for Public” in the agency’s name, and have transparency and accountability as their bottom line.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.