Appointees skate on thin ice

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By Jay Miller

Being a state employee at a time like this is no fun. The vast majority of state payrollers are protected by the state Personnel Act, which prevents new administrations from firing everyone as was the case before 1961.
Although classified employees know they can’t be fired without cause, they still are very uneasy during a change in administration. It’s especially stressful when it involves a change in political party as it has during the last five gubernatorial elections.
Who will be the new bosses? What will they be like? Will they know anything about their jobs or will we have to train them? Or will they want to change the way we do everything around here?
Employees appointed by the governor are exempt from the personnel act’s requirements and protections. Their only question is where they will find their next job.
Both candidates said they would fire all political appointees. That’s one of the easier promises to keep. Most governors do clean house and start with their own executive team.
Two years ago, when it appeared Gov. Bill Richardson would be headed to Washington, Lt. Gov. Diane Denish sent a short, courteous form letter to all of Richardson’s appointees thanking them for their service and wishing them well in whatever future endeavors they might pursue.     The letter produced a flurry of responses requesting a place in the Denish administration. At that time, there was no stigma attached to the Richardson administration, so some of his appointees might have been able to stick around.
Had Denish won the recent election she likely wouldn’t have kept any more of Richardson’s appointees than Martinez will.
One encouraging word for Richardson appointees is a Martinez statement that they are welcome to apply for jobs because she wants the best and brightest employees.
Martinez’s transition chairman Heather Wilson has taken some criticism for a warning that any Richardson appointees transferred to jobs under the personnel act before Martinez takes office will be fired.
That is nothing new either. The personnel act has a probationary period of one year before job protections kick in.
Anybody transferred in the past year still can be dismissed without cause.
Reportedly, such transfers still are occurring. The only trick for the new administration is to identify those transfers.
The transition team has asked for a list. The governor’s office is about as likely to release that list as it was to release the list of 59 appointees the governor claimed he terminated earlier this year.
The only way for a political appointee to play the game safely is to transfer into a classified job over a year before a change in administrations.
At this time last year, Lt. Gov. Diane Denish and her $2 million war chest had scared all Democrats and all the stronger Republicans out of the gubernatorial race.
It appeared safe to just schmooze Lt. Gov. Denish and not worry about moving down to a classified job.  
But a few state employees took no chances and transferred a year ago. They are safe.
The others will sweat it out for the next year, hoping they can please the new bosses enough in order to stay.
Those who say goodbye to state government on Dec. 31, will find jobs in sales, consulting, working with the family business or any of many other jobs and start looking for a possible 2014 gubernatorial candidate to support.
That’s what many Republicans have been doing since 2002.
There also is another avenue. The state Land Office turns over from a Republican to a Democrat.
Those employees aren’t under the Personnel Act. There will be some safe landing spots there for Democrats.
And Republicans can have their shot at the many positions in the Secretary of State’s office where many employees were caught by complete surprise when the boss lost big.

Jay Miller