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Gov.-elect wants resignations from exempt workers

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By Barry Massey

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Gov.-elect Susana Martinez wants resignations from political appointees in Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson's administration unless they are asked to stay on when the Republican governor takes office in January.

Martinez transition team leader Heather Wilson notified so-called exempt workers Friday that they should submit resignations effective Dec. 31, the last day of Richardson's term.

Richardson Chief of Staff Brian Condit later sent a note to workers cautioning that "providing a letter of resignation without a specific request or demand for your resignation, may jeopardize your continuation of health benefits for you and your family, as well as your eligibility for unemployment benefits."

Wilson said incoming cabinet secretaries may ask some Richardson political appointees to temporarily remain in their jobs to help the new administration as it takes control of state government.

"These exceptions must be approved in writing and are generally for an agreed upon time," Wilson said in an e-mail to exempt workers, a copy of which was provided to The Associated Press.

There were about 300 appointees in jobs under the control of the governor in September, according to a report by the Legislative Finance Committee. Those appointees typically can be fired for any reason. The number of exempt positions has dropped from about 500 in the 2009 budget year.

Wilson said exempt workers wanting a permanent job in the Martinez administration should apply and submit a resume through the transition office's website.

Martinez "is looking for highly qualified people of character who share her vision for the state of New Mexico," Wilson said.

Any appointees asked to stay on permanently in the Martinez administration "will have to be vetted and go through the background check established by the transition for all incoming Martinez appointees," Wilson said.

She also reiterated that appointees who shifted to classified jobs with civil service protections after Nov. 3 — the day after the general election — will be fired Jan. 1 unless the move has been approved by the Martinez administration.

New hires in a classified job serve a one-year probation and they can be fired immediately for disciplinary reasons or with a 24-hour notice for another reason, according to State Personnel Director Sandra Perez.

Earlier this month, Richardson announced that his agencies would no longer be able to hire new employees.

However, Wilson had wanted the Richardson administration to consult with the Martinez transition team on any pending personnel moves that would still allow an exempt worker to take a classified job.

Because that hasn't happened, Wilson said, workers making such a move "into a job for which you are qualified and appropriately paid" should contact the Martinez transition team to ask to keep their new positions.

Overall, there were about 23,700 employees in state government in September, including temporary and permanent workers, according to the Legislative Finance Committee. That covers appointees and classified workers with civil service protections.

For an exempt employee to move into a classified job, they would apply for a position that's open to recruitment. The agency would interview the applicant and make the hiring decision, according to Perez.

Condit told exempt workers that the administration will hold workshops for those who expect to leave their government jobs. The sessions will offer provide information on insurance, retirement and unemployment benefits.

When Richardson and former Republican Gov. Gary Johnson took office, they ousted appointees from the previous administration. Richardson issued a memorandum on Nov. 20, 2002 asking exempt workers in the Johnson administration to submit resignation letters.