Sometimes those high salaries are needed

I used to say to myself, “New Mexico, love it or leave it.” I was thinking about salaries.

I have changed my thinking.

This is New Mexico, I thought. New Mexico is a special place and we are all lucky to be here. People who have an opportunity to make more money will you somewhere else should stay and contribute their talents here. Since most New Mexicans don’t make much money, we can’t afford exorbitant salaries and should not have to pay them, especially to some out-of-state hotshot.

If you have had similar thoughts, perhaps they go something like this: Why should this person get so much more money just because they’re coming from out of state? What makes them so much better? If we’re going to pay anybody such a high salary, shouldn’t it be a New Mexican? By doing a national search, are we saying that New Mexicans are not good enough?

Not the most productive way to think.

Recently Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham fired the Secretary of the Public Education Department and the governor’s office announced there would be a national search.

The fired secretary, Karen Trujillo, had been a long-time employee hired from within the department. The education community had embraced her after the immense unpopularity of the imported Martinez era predecessors, the infamous Hanna Skandera followed by Chris Ruszkowski.

The governor had intended to do a national search for secretary of the Corrections Department. Eventually, after several months with the position vacant, she promoted Alisha Tafoya Lucero from within.

An appointment for Corrections had been announced in January but the nominee withdrew. The nominee, Julie Jones, had been the head of the prison system in Florida. She had been in charge of a system whose problems were similar to ours but on a much larger scale.

New Mexico’s corrections system needs massive improvement. It’s possible that the experience of a leader from a larger and more complex system, plus that leader’s outside perspective, might have enabled our corrections system to take a great leap forward. With no disrespect to the new secretary, we have missed that opportunity for now.

A long time legislator commented to me that if we are committed to genuine corrections reform, we should find the best expert available. But why, this person said, would someone come to New Mexico to take the top spot, if, in another state, that person could earn double the salary and have twice the number of deputies to support an ambitious reform program?

Recently the governor announced across-the-board salary increases for cabinet secretaries. Indignant gasps were heard and a few editorial pages rattled. Those secretaries are now earning $131,000. I hate to say it, but in some states that is not an executive salary.

In Albuquerque, there’s been controversy about how big a raise to give to the superintendent of schools, who was hired from within. Her last couple of predecessors, recruited from out of state, had earned more than she is earning now, but turned out to be duds. They earned more than she will be earning if she gets the maximum raise under consideration.

There have been a few expensive disasters at our universities, particularly distasteful because of the grandiose contract buyout provisions.

Do you remember William Bratton? He became the Police Commissioner in New York City at a time when the city was desperate to solve its crime problem. He instituted major changes of policy that resulted in a dramatic turnaround. Someone who can produce results like that is worth far more than what he is paid.

So it is not productive to be resentful of high salaries. Sometimes they pay off. In the case of critical departments like Education and Corrections, they are worth an educated gamble.

Maybe we need a really expensive out-of-state consultant to advise on the selection process.

Triple Spaced Again, © New Mexico News Services 2019

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