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          Front Page  upfront

Gov.'s Staffers Find Jobs Despite Hiring Freeze

FOR THE RECORD: This column incorrectly reported that Sharon Maloof had been appointed to a new position in the administration of Gov. Bill Richardson. Maloof remains executive director of the state Film Museum.

By Thomas J. Cole
Journal Staff Writer
          Since the imposition of the state "hiring freeze" in November 2008, at least seven workers in the Governor's Office have moved to jobs elsewhere in government.
        All but one of them has been given exempt, or political appointee, positions, earning just about the same amount of money they did in the Governor's Office.
        Under the hiring freeze imposed by Gov. Bill Richardson to help ease the state budget crunch, an exempt position can be filled only if the hiring is necessary and critical to an agency's mission.
        Those who have moved from jobs in the Governor's Office to elsewhere in government include:
        • Teresa Casados, who was deputy chief of staff in the Governor's Office, is now deputy secretary of the Department of Workforce Solutions and earns $99,000 a year.
        • Pahl Shipley, was deputy director of communications, now head of publicity and media relations for the Film Office, $95,000.
        • Allan Oliver, was director of Cabinet Affairs, now deputy secretary with the Economic Development Department, $92,001.
        • Andrew Moralez, was southern New Mexico representative, now director of the Border Development Authority, $80,361.
        • Tammi Lambert, was director of victims advocacy, now general counsel at the Department of Indian Affairs, $76,548.
        A sixth former staffer in the Governor's Office is now in an exempt job with the state Treasurer's Office and another is in a classified, or civil service, job with the Department of Children, Youth and Families.
        Casados' rise through the ranks of the administration has been a remarkable one.
        A former legal assistant and paralegal, she went to work in 2004 as an assistant to Richardson's chief of staff, handling correspondence, coordinating meetings and arranging travel.
        She later became director of operations and human resources in the Governor's Office, then deputy chief of staff, working with Richardson and Cabinet secretaries to place political appointees throughout government.
        Casados, 46, earned a bachelor's degree in business/administration from the University of Phoenix while working in the Governor's Office.
        Her pay as deputy secretary of the Department of Workforce Solutions is about double what she earned when she joined the administration less than six years ago.
        One former administration official said Casados' deputy Cabinet post is largely a reward from Richardson for her loyalty.
        Casados countered: "I don't think it's so much as loyalty as hard work. He (Richardson) cherishes hard work."
        She declined to talk in detail about her work in placing political appointees or to discuss any of the controversies surrounding Richardson's hiring and pay practices.
        Casados said she approached the governor about the job of deputy secretary of Workforce Solutions, which has had difficulty in serving the swelling ranks of the unemployed.
        "It sounded challenging, and I could go down there and make a difference," she said, adding that much of her recent work has focused on working with businesses to learn what skills they are looking for in workers.
        While the administration uses the term "hiring freeze" to describe the employment restrictions put in place in November 2008, it would be more accurate to call it "hiring curtailment" since jobs can be filled under certain circumstances. Jobs that are essential to health and safety, for example, can be filled.
        Before filling an exempt job, an agency is required to file with the administration a detailed statement on why the hiring is necessary and critical.
        The statement on Casados' hiring was less than detailed, and there was no explanation for why filling the job was essential. The statement listed her supervisory responsibilities at Workforce Solutions and said she had been appointed by the governor.
        By August 2006, a few months before Richardson's re-election, the number of staffers in the Governor's Office had swelled to 47, about 20 more than under the previous governor, Gary Johnson.
        Shortly before imposition of the hiring freeze, the Governor's Office had 43 budgeted staff jobs, but 10 were vacant. It had 41 budgeted slots and 12 vacancies as of March 1.
        There has also been a decline in the number of employees in so-called unauthorized exempt jobs — political appointee positions that haven't been funded by the Legislature. To pay the salaries, agencies have to find money elsewhere in their budgets.
        The ranks of these political appointees has declined from 36 before the hiring freeze to 20 as of March 1.
        At least nine of the unauthorized exempt employees are Richardson appointees.
        Those appointees include Sharon Maloof, executive director of El Camino Real Heritage Center in southern New Mexico. Maloof earns $54,995 a year in the job. She is a former head of the planned state Film Museum. (see correction above)
        Another Richardson unauthorized exempt employee is former Lt. Gov. Roberto Mondragon, who earns $84,427 a year as the acequia association liaison for the State Engineer's Office.
        Other unauthorized appointees of the governor:
        • The Governor's Mansion maid, who earns $46,315 annually.
        • A public information officer for the Department of Regulation and Licensing, $70,246.
        • General counsel for the Department of Public Safety, $99,048.
        • Project coordinators for the departments of Public Education, Cultural Affairs and Economic Development, with pay as high as $93,893.
        Attorney General Gary King has at least eight unauthorized exempt employees in his office, including three law clerks, three administrative assistants, a receptionist and a financial auditor.
        UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Thom Cole can be reached in Santa Fe at (505) 992-6280 or at tcole@abqjournal.com.

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