Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal
A net cast nationally caught only local fish.
The University of New Mexico recently hired Korn Ferry for $65,000 to do a national search to find candidates to be the university’s chief government relations officer, essentially the school’s top lobbyist.
The firm found six people who were interested in the position. Nearly all of them work within a couple miles of UNM and they all had strong ties to the university or Albuquerque.
Ultimately, UNM president Garnett Stokes tapped Michael Puelle for the position, which comes with a $192,000 base salary. Puelle had been working just down the road from UNM as Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller’s chief of staff. Puelle will start in his new role on Oct. 10. Puelle, who earned degrees from the University of Maryland and Connecticut, has worked in Albuquerque for more than 20 years.
In addition to Puelle, all the other candidates had strong local ties. The Journal obtained their applications through an Inspection of Public Records Act request. They were:
• Conrad James, a manager at Sandia National Laboratories and a former UNM regent and New Mexico state representative.
• Nathan Bush, the interim chief government relations officer at UNM.
• Damon Martinez, a senior policy adviser for the Albuquerque Police Department and New Mexico’s former U.S. Attorney. He has earned four degrees from UNM.
• Vincente Vargas, the executive director of the New Mexico Health Care Association. He has worked in UNM’s government relations office and earned his bachelor’s and law degrees from UNM.
• Ann Chavéz for the last two years has worked for the Entertainment Software Association in Washington, D.C., but prior to that she worked at Sandia and for former New Mexico Sen. Jeff Bingaman. She earned her bachelor’s and law degrees from UNM and also previously worked as an Albuquerque Public Schools teacher.
Cinnamon Blair, a spokeswoman for the university, said UNM asked Korn Ferry to do a national search because the school has an obligation to seek out the most qualified people for leadership positions. She said it’s not surprising all the candidates had strong local ties because the position requires developing connections with local lawmakers.
“There is no question that local knowledge and networks could enhance a profile, so it is not extraordinary that all of the applicants had local connections,” she said.
In 2019, UNM opened a search for a new chief government relations officer and received a flurry of interest. UNM had applications from 25 people before it ended the search ahead of schedule. As was the case this year, in 2019 the university received interest from top officials in key government positions.
The university often hires search firms to help them find candidates for key positions, Blair said.