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Official collected commuting expenses

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — When Brad McGrath was promoted to chief deputy secretary for the state Health Department, he started spending most of his workdays at department headquarters in Santa Fe.

McGrath, who headed the department’s rehabilitation center in Roswell, also received an $11,000 annual raise, to $115,000, as a result of the promotion in May 2012.

Those things are to be expected. Here’s the unexpected:

McGrath’s post of duty wasn’t changed to Health Department headquarters, which has allowed him to collect a $135 expense allowance for each day spent in Santa Fe while commuting to work from his home in Roswell.

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Here’s the explanation:

The Health Department in October 2011 hired McGrath as the administrator for its New Mexico Rehabilitation Center in Roswell and as the department’s chief facilities officer, responsible for the center and the department’s other five facilities statewide.

But when McGrath was promoted to the Health Department’s No. 2 position last year, he kept his previous jobs and his official post of duty remained the rehab center in Roswell – even though he generally reported to work in Santa Fe.

Since October 2011, McGrath has collected nearly $34,000 in travel reimbursements, most of that in the form of daily expense allowances for being in Santa Fe after being named chief deputy secretary, according to the department.

The Health Department has defended the setup by noting that it saved money by not hiring a new administrator for the rehab center or a new chief facilities officer to replace McGrath.

But Health Secretary Retta Ward said in an interview last week that McGrath voluntarily gave up the daily expense allowance as of June 17.

McGrath had done nothing wrong but “thought it was the right thing to do,” she said.

The office of state Auditor Hector Balderas has directed the audit firm for the Health Department to examine the expense payments, which were first reported last month by the Santa Fe Reporter.

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Rules for the state Per Diem and Mileage Act say that “except in extraordinary circumstances,” the place where an employee is assigned for more than 30 days becomes the employee’s post of duty.

Ward said the Health Department hired a new administrator for its rehab center in Roswell in April and that a new chief facilities officer also will be hired.

That will leave McGrath with only one job – chief deputy secretary – and his post of duty will be changed to Santa Fe, Ward said.

“It’s not reasonable to expect people can do two full-time jobs,” the secretary said.

McGrath, an appointee of Gov. Susana Martinez, also served a stint as interim secretary of the Health Department after the resignation of Catherine Torres in October 2012 and before Ward’s appointment by Martinez.

McGrath wasn’t the only Health Department manager routinely collecting a daily expense allowance while commuting to work in Santa Fe, according to the Santa Fe Reporter.

When Dr. Richard Adams was hired in March 2012 as chief medical officer for the department’s facilities, his post of duty was Ruidoso, even though the department doesn’t have a facility there.

Adams, who also has been serving as interim medical director for the medical marijuana program, has routinely reported for work in Santa Fe and has collected nearly $23,000 in expense payments since being hired, according to the Health Department. His annual pay is just under $170,000.

Ward said she didn’t know why Ruidoso was made Adams’ post of duty when he was hired but that his post of duty was changed to Santa Fe on June 17.

The secretary said hiring a new chief facilities officer to relieve McGrath of that job and changing his and Adams’ posts of duty to Santa Fe will make the department more operationally efficient and more fiscally responsible.

UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Thom Cole at tcole@abqjournal.com or 505-992-6280 in Santa Fe. Go to ABQjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.

 

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