Editorial: NM state paid leave is a different world

A top education staffer to state lawmakers has stepped down over unreleased remarks about Native Americans, but Rachel Gudgel won’t have to scramble for a new job, thanks to months of paid leave few nongovernment employees would have been able to accrue.

Gudgel submitted her resignation as director of the Legislative Education Study Committee Sept. 1. She was reprimanded last year and put on probation after allegations that she made disparaging comments about Native Americans.

Gudgel says she loved her job as the top adviser to lawmakers on education policy and budgeting but that the harsh criticism she faced from Native American leaders and others in recent months became “too challenging.” She had apologized for what she described as her “isolated, insensitive comments,” but legislative staff won’t release findings of a personnel investigation, making it unclear exactly what she is accused of saying.

Pueblo governors have called for the investigative report to be released; a Journal request for the report under the Inspection of Public Records Act last year was denied, with the Legislature citing the exemption for “matters of opinion in a personnel file.”

She said whatever she said – or she didn’t; there’s no “matter of opinion.”

That decision was as ridiculous as the 5½ months of paid leave Gudgel was allowed to accumulate as a legislative staffer since 2005. This is not unusual – benefits for public employees often far exceed what is available for private employees.

In the private world, paid leave is typically capped at a matter of weeks and it’s “use it or lose it.” The fact that Gudgel and many public employees are able to accumulate nearly half a year of paid leave shows it’s a very different world for government employees – with that additional expense paid for with tax dollars.

At maximum the state should take a close look at the benefits it makes taxpayers fund. At minimum, legislative leaders should release the investigative report so taxpayers know what Gudgel said that sparked all this in the first place.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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