Thomas has county's best interests in mind

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By Jennifer Garcia

Being responsible for a company’s asset sounds like a daunting task. After all, it’s a big job. But if you’re like Los Alamos County Risk Manager Joe Thomas, taking on that responsibility comes naturally after what seems like a lifetime of being in the insurance business.

Thomas has been the county’s risk manager for a little over a month. He came to Los Alamos from Louisiana, where he worked as a risk manager for an Isle of Capri Casino.

Thomas, an Arizona native, got his career started after he graduated from Northern Arizona University with a degree in business. Following graduation, he went to work for Hartford Insurance Company. Eventually, he left Hartford to become an independent agent.

“I’ve been involved in insurance, safety, risk management and loss control all my life,” Thomas said.

Thomas lived in Arizona most of his life, until he met and married his wife Julie. After their wedding, the couple relocated to the San Luis Valley in Colorado, where Thomas got involved in the potato brokerage business. Julie’s father owned some farmland in Colorado, but after his retirement, he sold the farms and the Thomas’s returned to Arizona.

Upon his return to the Grand Canyon State, Thomas went back to his first love, the insurance business. “We stayed there for about 10 years, but then we moved to Louisiana to be closer to family,” Thomas said.

It was in Louisiana that Thomas first became a risk manager for the Isle of Capri Casino. The Thomases spent about 10 years in Louisiana before they decided that they wanted to move to the Southwest.

“We were looking to move,” Thomas said. “We have a son who lives in Shreveport and a son and daughter who live in Phoenix.”

Thomas said that while searching the Internet for job opportunities, he came across an advertisement for a risk manager for the County of Los Alamos. He applied for the job, interviewed for it and the rest is history.

In his role as the county’s risk manager, Thomas is responsible for protecting the county’s assets, which include property, the county’s reputation, good will and cash flow.

“I look for ways to manage the risks or hazards that pose a risk or threat to the county,” Thomas said.

Some of the ways in which Thomas manages such risks include making sure that the fire department is properly trained and educating and training various employees in relation their work habits and conditions. Disaster preparedness is also part of Thomas’s responsibilities.

Though he’s been on the job a short time, Thomas is already setting goals and thinking of ways he can improve certain county functions. “My main goal and efforts are in compiling and evaluating insurance workers’ compensation and safety programs,” Thomas said.

It would seem that Thomas has his job duties as a risk manager nailed down, but there are a few differences between his job at the county and his job at the casino. He said that learning the protocols, policies and procedures of working for a public agency differs from those of a private agency.

“There are certain torn limitations regarding claims and lawsuits that aren’t prevalent in the private sector,” Thomas said. “Also there’s government verbiage regarding lawsuits that’s also different.”

Despite the private/public sector differences, Thomas feels that he’s adapting well to his new work environment. “I’m very pleased with the people I work with. They’re a good, solid core group of people who will help in any way they can,” he commented. “The cooperation and acceptance from my co-workers has made me feel like I belong here.”

When he’s not looking out for the county’s best interests, Thomas and Julie enjoy traveling. “We like to sample different types of local flavors,” he said. “We do a lot of outdoor family gatherings.” Thomas said that he and Julie both like Los Alamos. “It’s a smaller community,” he commented, “We like it here. We’re happy here and we plan to stay.”