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Legislative panel meets privately to discuss staffer

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE — Ten state lawmakers met behind closed doors for about 3½ hours Tuesday as they heard from an attorney who investigated allegations that a top legislative staff member, Rachel Gudgel, made disparaging remarks about Native Americans.

They also heard a report from a management consultant hired to work with Gudgel.

During the closed meeting, a state official said, a motion to fire Gudgel failed on a 5-5 vote.

Lawmakers closed the meeting to the public, citing the discussion of “personnel matters.”

A complaint against Gudgel triggered an investigation last year, although it isn’t clear whether any allegations against her were substantiated. The Legislative Council Service denied a public records request by the Journal for the investigator’s report.

Most members of the Legislative Education Study Committee declined to comment after Tuesday’s meeting.

In a brief interview, Sen. William Soules, a Las Cruces Democrat and chairman of the committee, said he expects the panel to schedule another meeting on the matter.

“There’s lots of repair that needs to be done,” Soules said.

He added that the committee “takes all the allegations and things very seriously.”

“We are looking at ways of moving forward,” he said.

Present for Tuesday’s meeting were an attorney hired to examine the allegations against Gudgel and a management specialist who has worked with Gudgel. Gudgel herself wasn’t there.

House Majority Leader Sheryl Williams Stapleton, D-Albuquerque, said “no resolution” was reached during the meeting.

Soules said he believes the Legislature needs a formal system for reviewing the job performance of top staff members who report directly to legislators, such as Gudgel, who as director of the Legislative Education Study Committee oversees policy analysts who assist lawmakers.

Pueblo governors, the Albuquerque NAACP and the president and vice president of the Navajo Nation have called for Gudgel’s removal. The Santa Fe New Mexican reported last month that the investigation examined complaints about Gudgel’s management style, as well as allegations that she had made disparaging remarks about Native Americans.

In a statement to the Journal, Gudgel apologized for “isolated, insensitive comments” and said she has worked for the success of all students, specifically Native American students, throughout her career.

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