Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Roundhouse Roundup:History of Staff Problems at SOS

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
September 8, 2010

Secretary of State Mary Herrera's problems with her staff in the last few months have been well documented. But these problems didn't happen all at once.

In fact, some say her staff problems have been brewing from the beginning of her term. That view is bolstered by a letter of resignation from Herrera's first Elections Bureau director in January 2008 — just a little over a year after she took office.

In case you've missed the most recent development, Herrera late last week fired two administrators who had talked with the FBI about possible wrongdoing in the office. A few months ago, Herrera's election director left, firing off a blistering letter accusing her of breaking laws and policies.

For her part, Herrera in recent weeks asked state police to conduct a sweep for electronic bugs — apparently no such listening devices were found — and filed public-information requests for e-mails of past and present staff members and certain political enemies.

One of those former staffers was Albuquerque lawyer Daniel Ivey-Soto, who resigned in early 2008 as Herrera's Elections Bureau chief.

He said at the time he was quitting to pursue an appointment to a vacant judgeship. It's long been whispered that there was more to that story, and the letter shows that's true.

Ivey-Soto began his "Dear Mary" letter saying he was sending his resignation by e-mail because "communication between us has been strained as of late."

"It is important in any agency to have a sense of teamwork," he wrote. "This is especially true when there is a small team. It has been apparent to me for some lime that I am not integrated into the team here at the Secretary of State's Office. This saddens me greatly, because I really do have tremendous respect for you and I believe that you are capable of showing great wisdom when you rely on you own instincts."

But Ivey-Soto apparently believed Herrera wasn't relying on her own instincts.

"This is your team, and Don Francisco is your coach," he said, referring to Francisco Trujillo, Herrera's top deputy. "I know Don Francisco has asked you repeatedly to fire me, and I appreciate the loyalty you have shown. My staying, however, is only worthwhile if we can work together as a team. Don Francisco's behavior recently confirms for me that this is not possible. Because he is the coach, the honorable thing for me to do is to finish my task, and depart gracefully."

And so he did.

"I do not plan to say anything negative in public and would appreciate the same respect," Ivey-Soto wrote. He has stuck by that. And I've never heard a negative word about Ivey-Soto from Herrera — which is why I was surprised to see his name among those whose e-mails Herrera sought.

As he said in his letter, any time a reporter, including me, asked why he resigned from the SOS, he said it was for that possible judicial appointment, which he didn't get.

On Wednesday, Ivey-Soto, who now works for the state organization for county clerks, verified that a copy of the letter I'd obtained was authentic. But he declined further comment, saying, "I think the letter speaks for itself."

Trujillo didn't respond to a request for comment.

After Ivey-Soto left, the job was vacant for a few months. Herrera then hired Jim Noel, but state Republicans raised a stink because he's related by marriage to U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., who at the time was running for office. So Noel quit before he even started the job. (I wonder if he's sent a thank-you note to the GOP.) Lawyer Gerald Gonzales only lasted a couple of months.

Then came A.J. Salazar, who left with a bang in March with a fiery resignation letter accusing Herrera of soliciting donations from companies that contract with her office and ordering some of her employees to gather signatures on petitions for her re-election campaign.

UPDATE: This column has been corrected. It no longer contains incorrect information on Don Francisco Trujillo's name. (More details HERE)