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          Front Page


January 30, 2003

Senate Confirms Governor's Highway, Corrections Leaders

By Deborah Baker
The Associated Press
SANTA FE   —   The Senate unanimously confirmed on Thursday the first female to run the state's highway agency and a veteran prison warden to head the Corrections Department.
    Senators also approved Gov. Bill Richardson's appointees to head the Tourism Department and Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department.
    Nearly all the new governor's appointees to head agencies require Senate confirmation, and Richardson has asked lawmakers to do it quickly so they can focus on their new jobs.
    Rhonda Faught, a civil engineer who grew up in Deming, has been at the Highway and Transportation Department since 1988 and had been its adjutant secretary   —   second in command   —   since 2000.
    "This appointment is not based on the fact that Rhonda is the first female" nominated as highway secretary, said Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming. "This appointment is based on the fact that she is the most qualified."
    Joe Williams, who grew up in Albuquerque, is heading the Corrections Department.
    Lawmakers praised his work as a warden of state-owned as well as privately operated prisons in New Mexico.
    Sen. Carroll Leavell, R-Jal, said a privately operated prison at Hobbs ran flawlessly after Williams took over as warden.
    "He left good management behind. We are going to miss you back in Hobbs," said Leavell.
    Williams started his career as a correctional officer in 1982 and moved up through the ranks, eventually becoming warden of the Central New Mexico Correctional Facility in Los Lunas.
    In 1999, he left there to become warden of the 1,200-bed Lea County Correctional Facility, which is owned and operated by Wackenhut Corrections Corp.
    At a Senate Rules Committee confirmation hearing on Wednesday, Williams told lawmakers that his career had included a couple of prison riots.
    "I've seen it all," Williams said. "I've seen the blood, I've seen the death, I've seen the escapes."
    He said his corrections philosophy is to have "a kind heart and a quick left"   —   to treat inmates with dignity but be prepared for any eventuality.
    The state is nearly $1 billion in debt from an ambitious road-building program under former Gov. Gary Johnson, and Faught told lawmakers on Wednesday that refinancing that to try to free up more money for additional projects is among the department's priorities.
    Also confirmed by the Senate were:
      —  Joanna Prukop, a fish and wildlife specialist who formerly worked for the Department of Game and Fish, as secretary of Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources.
      —  Fred Peralta, a former Taos mayor and state legislator, as tourism secretary.