BERNALILLO — Sandoval County Commissioners decided on Thursday night in a 3-2 vote to request that County Assessor Linda Gallegos remove her first cousin, Richard Shanks, as deputy assessor.
Gallegos presented the board with 27 letters of recommendation for her cousin that were gathered within 24 hours.
“Please let him get back to his job,” she said.
Shanks also went before the board and explained his qualifications and community service.
“I left my secure position as an educator with less than two years until my retirement to serve in something I believe in, and to work for someone who believes in me,” he said.
According to Shanks, he was approached with the position under the assertion that there would be full disclosure, transparency and a legal review.
Whether the commission has the right to intervene in the hiring and management of employees of other elected officials was called into question, as was the ethics of hiring relatives.
County Attorney Robin Hammer said that according to state law, Gallegos’s actions were legal, and that the rules and personnel regulations of the county do not apply to elected officials.
“I, as a county employee, could not hire my first cousin, but one of the five elected officials could hire a first cousin as their deputy,” she said.
Article 38, section 4-38-18 of New Mexico law states that the commission is not charged with managing any other elected county office, according to Commissioner Katherine A. Bruch, who voted against the request to remove Shanks.
Commissioner Kenneth Eichwald showed support for Gallegos’s authority to hire whom she sees fit.
“She has the authority to do what she feels is necessary,” he said. “I’ve been on this board for three years. In these three years, we have had elected officials that wouldn’t show up to work… We had a sheriff that was never at work; we had a probate judge that was never at work.”
Alexandria Piland, an instructor at Central New Mexico Community College, said partisan politics were at work.
“They routinely support ordinances, resolutions and now this that are in line with their party’s platform,” she said, later adding that the majority of the commissioners are Republican.
Commissioner Jay Block said nepotism is the issue rather than partisan politics.
“This is really simple. You don’t hire family members in politics,” he said. “When the public sees you do that, they lose trust.”
In response to the question of violating personnel regulations set in place before Gallegos made the hire, Block said he disagreed with the county attorney and wanted a second opinion.
Former Sandoval County Planning and Zoning Commission member Todd Hawthorne said the disappointment should be in the county’s attorney. He said the attorney should have brought before to the board any questions about past regulations before hiring a family member.
“She has circumvented your authority here,” he said.
Also at the meeting, the board unanimously voted to allow a reduction in the number of federal detainees housed at Sandoval County Detention Center due to the renovations at the 31-year-old jail to resolve safety concerns and other issues.