New state ethics panel selects first executive director

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Jeremy Farris, attorney for Department of Finance and Administration

Jeremy Farris, a Rhodes scholar and chief legal counsel for the state Department of Finance and Administration, has been chosen to be the first executive director of New Mexico’s new ethics agency.

The state Ethics Commission on Friday voted unanimously to offer him the job, after hours of interviews with seven candidates during a meeting in Albuquerque.

Farris has worked as a clerk for two federal judges and state Supreme Court Justice Judith Nakamura. He has degrees from Harvard, the University of Oxford and the Georgia Institute of Technology.

If he accepts the job, he will play a key role in shaping the establishment of New Mexico’s new ethics agency, which will handle allegations of wrongdoing against legislators, lobbyists and others.

Farris told members of the Ethics Commission on Friday that he would bring energy, strong communication skills and a commitment to public service to the job.

“It is a rare opportunity to lead what’s effectively a startup that’s funded by the state to do something of real importance for the state,” he said during his interview with the commission.

The Ethics Commission is headed into a critical period. It will begin receiving and investigating ethics complaints Jan. 1, just months after its final members were appointed.

Voters in 2018 overwhelming approved a constitutional amendment establishing the agency, and state lawmakers approved the law that will guide its operations on the final night of this year’s legislative session, in March.

The new executive director will have to hire a general counsel for the Ethics Commission and handle other work setting up the new agency.

Farris emerged out of an initial applicant pool of about two dozen lawyers. The commission interviewed seven executive director candidates – for about 40 minutes each – during a public meeting at Albuquerque City Hall.

The applicants faced questions about the difficulty of starting a new state agency, the importance of maintaining public confidence in the commission’s work and detailed legal questions about how to handle ethics complaints and investigations.

Retired Judge William Lang is chairman of the seven-member commission.

Farris has worked for the state Department of Finance and Administration since January. Before that, he worked at the Albuquerque law firm Freedman, Boyd, Hollander, Goldberg, Urias and Ward PC.

He and presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg were in the same Rhodes scholarship class about 10 years ago and were roommates their second year at Oxford.

The salary range for the new executive director is $125,000 to $146,000 a year.

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