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Search For New Treasurer Begins

By Trip Jennings
Journal Capitol Bureau
    SANTA FE— The search to replace former State Treasurer Robert Vigil began Thursday, and New Mexico lawmakers canceled their planned impeachment session.
    Vigil, who has pleaded not guilty to federal extortion charges, resigned Wednesday afternoon as a special legislative subcommittee wrapped up its first day of reviewing possible impeachment evidence.
    Gov. Bill Richardson said Thursday was a day to "clean up the mess" after the sudden announcement by Vigil, who had resisted calls for his departure since his arrest Sept. 16.
    Names mentioned around the Capitol as possible replacements for Vigil included Jan Goodwin, Richardson's secretary of Taxation and Revenue, and James Lewis, a former state treasurer who is now chief administrative officer for Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chávez.
    Richardson announced a series of steps to repair the turmoil in the Treasurer's Office:
  • A search committee of lawmakers and financial experts named by the governor will recommend three possible replacements for Vigil by next week.
  • The same committee will recommend whether to abolish the elected position of state treasurer and have the treasurer appointed by the governor. That move would require a constitutional amendment.
  • A private investment firm will be chosen by the Treasurer's Office in consultation with the Department of Finance and Administration and the state Board of Finance to manage investments until a new treasurer takes over.
        Members of the search committee and the selection of the investment firm had not been announced by Richardson's office by Thursday night.
        Goodwin, now a member of Richardson's Cabinet, lost the Democratic nomination for state treasurer to Vigil in 2002.
        "I will serve in any capacity the governor asks me to," Goodwin said Thursday. "I love my job now," she added.
        Lewis said legislators have told him that he has been recommended to Richardson as an interim replacement for Vigil.
        "I'm vetting this in-house with my family," Lewis said. "I'm just honored that my name would be mentioned."
        Elaine Olah, the deputy treasurer who has run day-to-day operations of the Treasurer's Office since Vigil's arrest, said Thursday she wasn't interested in the treasurer's job.
        Lewis, who served as state treasurer from December 1985 through January 1990, said many challenges will confront whomever Richardson chooses.
        Not only must Vigil's replacement work to restore confidence in the office, but he or she might have to prepare a political campaign if that person chooses to seek a four-year term in 2006, Lewis said. The interim appointee would serve only until the next elected treasurer takes office.
        Richardson said there is already debate about whether the interim treasurer should be a caretaker and promise not to seek the elective office in 2006, or whether that person could be a candidate.
        "Financial and technical expertise," more than political ability, is what Richardson said he wanted to see in the three nominees the search committee is to recommend to him.
        The governor said he had no preference on the future of the Treasurer's Office as an elective or appointive post, which represented a change in his position.
        Richardson earlier came out in support of a constitutional amendment to abolish the Treasurer's Office and make it an appointed, rather than elected, office. Now, he said, he's open to alternatives.
        "I don't want this to be viewed as a political decision," Richardson said, explaining his change of mind.
        The House subcommittee that began to review possible impeachment evidence against Vigil on Wednesday will prepare a final report, but it will contain no recommendations, said the co-chairmen, Reps. W. Ken Martinez, D-Grants, and Eric Youngberg, R-Albuquerque.
        The subcommittee on Thursday discussed whether to proceed with the impeachment proceedings despite Vigil's resignation. But Special Counsel Paul Kennedy told the 10 members that panels charged with similar missions in other states generally ended their investigations after the resignation of the official in question.
        While the Legislature set aside $500,000 during an early October special legislative session, there were no estimates of how much the House subcommittee's three-week investigation would cost.
        Kennedy did say he and his law partner dedicated hundreds of hours at $150 an hour each to meeting the panel's expedited timeline.
        Vigil faces federal extortion charges related to an alleged kickback scheme.
        He had refused to resign for weeks, worrying some state officials that the scandal was giving New Mexico a black eye, particularly in the financial markets.
        The 112-member Legislature had scheduled what is called an extraordinary session to consider a possible impeachment recommendation from the House committee reviewing Vigil's actions.
        By resigning Wednesday, Vigil gave up his $85,000 salary. However, he will keep the $49,000 pension he draws as a retired state employee.
        Vigil, who turned 52 on the day of his resignation, put in 25 years of state service before becoming treasurer after the 2002 election.

    E-MAIL writer Trip Jennings