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UNM has string of key positions to fill

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

University of New Mexico’s first-year President Garnett Stokes says she will select the institution’s next top attorney soon, the first in a series of hires necessary to rebuild the administration at the state’s largest university.

Stokes – who started March 1 – has found herself with several key vacancies to fill due to retirements and other departures. In addition to the chief legal counsel, which opened this summer with the retirement of Elsa Kircher Cole, UNM is slated to lose two of its three executive vice presidents. Stokes’ chief of staff is also leaving at month’s end.

The president expressed confidence that UNM could weather the near-simultaneous departures with existing employees while she found new people to fill the roles.

President Garnett Stokes

“While we will be losing some outstanding talent, I am looking forward to building an effective and dynamic team and hiring the right people for the job,” Stokes said in a written response to Journal questions. “While the positions will necessitate a search process, they are supported by outstanding staff and administrators who are committed to the success of their areas and the university.”

Stokes’ first order of business is picking a new chief legal counsel. Two candidates remain: Eric Bentley and Loretta Martinez.

Bentley has spent the past 14 years at the University of Houston system, where he is presently senior associate general counsel. He earned his law degree from the University of Houston Law Center in 2004, according to the UH website.

Martinez is one year into a job as general counsel and vice chancellor for legal affairs at the City University of New York. She held previous general counsel positions at Metropolitan State University of Denver and the Colorado State University system, and she graduated from Harvard Law School in 1991.

The two, who visited for on-campus forums in late July, were among 36 applicants for the job. UNM has not provided the Journal with a requested list of all applicants.

A search committee headed by UNM Regent President Rob Doughty whittled the field to three finalists. One of the three, retired University of Kansas general counsel James Pottorff Jr., withdrew from the search after getting another job at the University of Nebraska.

UNM’s chief legal counsel reports directly to Stokes and oversees an in-house team of approximately a dozen attorneys and any contract attorneys retained by the university, according to the job prospectus. The description did not stipulate a salary, though Cole earned $246,000 annually.

UNM’s legal office has found itself in the spotlight a few times in recent months, including this week when the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office determined UNM had violated the state’s Open Meetings Act by issuing a nonspecific agenda for the Board of Regents’ special meeting on July 19. It was at that meeting the regents approved a plan to eliminate four Lobo sports for budgetary and Title IX reasons.

Doughty said he believed UNM attorneys had approved the agenda as OMA-compliant, and UNM has disputed the AG’s Office findings.

But Doughty also blamed a then-UNM attorney for an Open Meetings Act violation earlier this year when the board voted in closed session on head football coach Bob Davie’s petition for an appeal of his 30-day suspension. The board subsequently redid the vote in an open meeting.

Stokes said she would make a determination on the attorney position “in the coming weeks.”

The president pledged some forthcoming movement in the searches to replace Chaouki Abdallah, provost and executive vice president of academic affairs, and David Harris, the executive vice president for administration/chief financial officer/chief operating officer. After 30 years at UNM, Abdallah is leaving this month for a new administrative position at Georgia Tech. Harris, who came to UNM in 2004, has announced his plans to retire by year’s end.

Stokes said she will name an interim provost this week and also announce a chair for the provost search committee. She said she aims to hire Abdallah’s permanent replacement by spring 2019.

The president also intends to announce who will chair the search committee for Harris’ job this week. She said she plans to fill the job by year’s end.

Policy dictates that UNM conduct national searches for executive vice presidents and that finalists must hold open forums on campus as part of the interview process. Stokes said UNM would hire an executive search firm to help fill both executive vice president openings.

She has not set a time line for replacing Libby Rodke Washburn, her chief of staff and UNM’s chief compliance officer. Washburn leaves later this month for Iowa, where her husband has assumed the deanship at University of Iowa’s College of Law.

Stokes has pieced together an interim team of three existing UNM administrators to share Washburn’s responsibilities.

“For the near future, I am confident the individuals I have appointed to interim positions will use their administrative talents to fully support my office,” she wrote.