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Ethics Commission takes shape, seeks director

SANTA FE – New Mexico’s new Ethics Commission is now in place and preparing to make its first big decision – the hiring of an executive director.

The group is seeking a licensed attorney who will help the commission carry out its work and oversee the hiring of other staff members, including a general counsel.

The push to hire an executive director comes after the Ethics Commission this month welcomed its final two appointees – attorney Jeffrey Baker and business owner Ron Solimon.

Solimon is a Republican from Laguna Pueblo and a former president and CEO of the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center.

Baker is an independent who has worked for local governments in Albuquerque and served on the Supreme Court’s Code of Professional Conduct Committee.

Their appointments bring the Ethics Commission up to its full complement of seven members for the first time. Baker and Solimon were selected by the four members of the commission who were appointed by legislators.

“They both share what I think all the commissioners share, which is a commitment to public service and to trying to help serve New Mexico any way we can,” said Stuart Bluestone, a Santa Fe attorney and member of the commission.

New Mexico voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2018 creating the commission, and lawmakers this year – in the final hours of the session – approved legislation outlining the commission’s powers and procedures.

The commission will start receiving and investigating ethics complaints at the beginning of next year. It will handle allegations of wrongdoing against legislators, lobbyists, elected officials and government contractors.

But the immediate priorities include hiring an executive director, crafting rules and regulations, and drafting joint-powers agreements with agencies that share jurisdiction with the Ethics Commission.

“It’s essentially a state agency that’s being built from scratch,” Baker said.

Baker said that as a lawyer who’s worked with local governments, he’s seen firsthand “how government officials get into trouble and the kinds of mistakes they make.”

It’ll be important for the new commission, Baker said, to help educate public officials about what the rules are and ensure the public knows how to file a complaint.

The hiring of an executive director will require support from at least five of the seven commissioners. State law directs the commission to make a hiring decision based on merit without regard to party affiliation.

The person will have to reapply for the job after six years and can serve only up to 12 years altogether.

The deadline to apply is Sept. 1, and the commission is tentatively planning to interview candidates later that month.