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State Land Office official steps down after Journal story

Copyright © 2015 Albuquerque Journal

An assistant state land commissioner accused of sexual harassment in his previous job as head of the Game and Fish Department has again resigned from a high-ranking state government job.

LANE: Quit top job at Game and Fish in 2013

LANE: Quit top job at Game and Fish in 2013

Jim Lane, hired in March as assistant land commissioner for surface and special projects, resigned Monday – a day after the Journal reported he stepped down as director of Game and Fish in October 2013 after being accused of making repeated sexual overtures toward the agency’s director of human resources.

Laura Riley, deputy commissioner to Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn, said Tuesday that the Land Office had a background investigation of Lane conducted and examined his personnel file as part of his hiring but that neither turned up the sexual harassment allegations.

Riley said the office had just recently learned of the sexual harassment allegations against Lane and was trying to determine how to deal with them when the Journal story was published.

In a written statement, Dunn said he “unfortunately” had to ask for Lane’s resignation and said Lane had been “subjected to a game of dirty politics.” Dunn also thanked Lane for his work.

The Journal reported Sunday that Lane’s abrupt resignation from Game and Fish in 2013 came nine days after the office of Gov. Susana Martinez received a letter accusing him of sexually harassing HR Director Sonya Quintana, then retaliating against her after she rebuffed him. Among the cellphone texts allegedly sent by Lane to Quintana while the two were staying in the same hotel on a business trip: “I really want to wake up with you tomorrow.”

A commission appointed by the governor oversees Game and Fish, but the state land commissioner is elected separately and not under the governor’s authority. Lane’s annual pay at the Land Office was $92,000. He made $101,000 a year at Game and Fish.

The Journal obtained a copy of the letter to the Governor’s Office accusing Lane of misconduct, as well as copies of text messages purportedly sent by Lane to Quintana and a copy of an audio recording of a meeting between Lane and Quintana during which Lane said he was “trying to control his personal insane attraction” to Quintana. He said on the recording that he could groom Quintana for promotion at Game and Fish.

In his statement announcing Lane’s departure, Dunn said Lane would be unable to do his job effectively as a result of the public disclosure of private personnel information. The statement also said:

“Mr. Lane has now been subjected to a game of dirty politics more than two years after he had an agreement from the Martinez administration that his personnel records would not be disclosed, in what appears to be an unfortunate and possible attempt to interfere with the negotiations between the State Land Office and the Game Department.”

Dunn issued a news release last week saying he wanted the Game and Fish Department to pay more for hunter and angler access to state trust lands. The department paid $200,000 this year, the release said.

A spokesman for the governor said there was no agreement not to disclose Lane’s personnel files, saying confidentiality of personnel records is governed by state law.

Under state law, personnel files – with the exception of letters and memos that are matters of opinion – must be provided to the public when requested. Accusations of sexual harassment could be withheld under the exception.

Hushed settlement

In a settlement reached in February 2014, Game and Fish and the state Risk Management Division agreed to pay $65,000 to settle Quintana’s claims. She left the agency as part of the settlement and now works for Santa Fe County.

The Risk Management Division has repeatedly declined to release the settlement. The Journal obtained a copy elsewhere.

Under state law, such settlements are subject to public inspection 180 days after being reached, but there are exceptions. The Risk Management Division has refused to specify the exception or exceptions it is relying on in refusing to release the Quintana settlement and related documents.

Riley said the office learned of the sexual harassment accusations within the past two weeks when Game and Fish sent a copy of the letter that had gone from Quintana’s attorney to the Governor’s Office shortly before Lane’s resignation as director of the agency. The letter was sent to the Land Office so it could be included in Lane’s personnel file, she said.

“We were trying to determine internally how to deal with this when it came out in the newspaper,” she said.

Riley said Lane was asked to resign because “we cannot manage an agency with these types of issues.”

The letter to the Governor’s Office also accused Lane of misusing a state vehicle, interfering with equal employment opportunity complaints and committing other wrongdoing during his two years as director of the Game and Fish Department. Lane hasn’t responded to phone and email messages seeking comment.

Other departures

Lane is at least the third member of Dunn’s executive staff to leave the agency after only a few months on the job. Dunn took office Jan. 1.

Robert Ortega, hired by Dunn as his deputy, left in May. Jill McLaughlin, assistant commissioner for communications, left about the end of April. Dunn hasn’t disclosed the reasons behind the departures.

Rep. James R.J. Strickler, R-Farmington, chairman of the House Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee, said stability is good for government, but sometimes people don’t work out. “Turnover happens in business and industry and state government,” he said.

Strickler said the Land Office under Dunn has erased a backlog of permit applications, including those for rights of way, oil and gas drilling and other activities on state trust lands.

State Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, chairman of the Senate Conservation Committee, said, “It’s certainly concerning to have turnover in an agency of such importance to the state.”

Wirth said he also is concerned that Dunn has gotten away from the office’s mission of managing state trust lands and has moved into wildlife management.

The senator cited Dunn’s demand that the Game and Fish Department pay more money for hunter and angler access to trust lands, as well as Dunn’s request that Game and Fish allow hunters to use traps or foot snares to capture cougars on about 9 million acres of trust land. The Game Commission is expected to vote this month on Dunn’s request.

Lane, before being hired by the Land Office, was at the forefront of an unsuccessful effort in the Legislature this year to allow unregulated cougar hunting.

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