Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s administration is moving to unwind former Gov. Susana Martinez’s order that consolidated all human resources functions within New Mexico executive branch agencies into a single agency.
The move had been touted as a cost-saving measure by Martinez, but top Lujan Grisham administration officials say it was poorly executed – partly due to a lack of communication – and caused hundreds of employees to leave state government.
“It wasn’t a success as a consolidated model,” said State Personnel Director Pam Coleman, a Lujan Grisham appointee. “People had anxiety about what was going to happen next.”
However, Coleman said, the Lujan Grisham administration plans to take a methodical approach to undoing the consolidation order.
Human resources employees for the Children, Youth and Families Department will be returned to the agency – at offices in both Santa Fe and Albuquerque – this month, and other departments are likely to follow, depending on the availability of office space and how the initial effort goes.
Eventually, more human resources employees could also be hired or shifted back into their old jobs, Coleman said. There are currently fewer than 200 human resources employees across state government – down from more than 400 several years ago.
“The agencies are so excited and keenly happy to get their human resources employees back,” she told the Journal.
The recent developments mark a full retreat from the February 2017 executive order signed by Martinez that was touted as a way to centralize a disjointed human resources system and save millions of dollars.
The state has 23 Cabinet-level departments and more than 40 administrative agencies. Until the 2017 order, many of them had their own human resources offices to handle internal policies, rules and personnel directives, among other duties.
Under Martinez’s order, all personnel functions for state-funded agencies were shifted to the State Personnel Office, which also oversees hiring and disciplinary matters for the roughly 18,000 rank-and-file state employees.
“I’ve made my commitment clear: It’s up to state government to tighten our belts, not our families,” Martinez, a Republican who was governor from 2011 through last year, said in 2017 after issuing the executive order.
Her administration also claimed the order had generated cost savings of roughly $10 million as of last November, just before Martinez left office.
But the consolidation order worried some legislators and labor union officials, who immediately raised questions about whether it could lead to more employee grievances being filed.
It also stoked concern about possible layoffs of state human resources employees, although the state personnel director under Martinez vowed that layoffs would be a last resort.
During a Legislative Finance Committee hearing last week, some lawmakers expressed concern that the consolidation had left the state’s human resources ranks in tatters.
“We need to focus on filling positions and making sure we’re competitive with salaries,” said Sen. Carlos Cisneros, D-Questa.
Current state personnel boss Coleman, who also served on a Lujan Grisham transition team before being appointed to head the State Personnel Office by the Democratic governor in January, said she interviewed many state employees and ex-employees before deciding to undo the consolidation order.
“What I found out pretty early on is that the human resources plan hadn’t hit the mark,” she told the Journal. “Consolidation did not treat people with the kindness they deserve to be treated with.”
Meanwhile, another Cabinet member in Lujan Grisham’s administration, Finance and Administration Secretary Olivia Padilla-Jackson, told lawmakers that most state agencies would get back their human resources positions – and staffers – by as early as June.
It’s unclear how much the move to unravel the consolidation order – and subsequently hire additional human resources officials – will cost the state, but Coleman suggested that it will make state government more functional and boost morale.
“They’re going to go back home,” Coleman said.