Are government employees ‘hooking’ with taxpayer dollars?

There are a few “ghosts” that frequent some office building in Santa Fe. No, not the spooky Halloween-type apparitions, we are talking about some well-paid public employees who only show up for work sporadically and disappear for long periods of time. .

Who are they? Meet the executive assistants of the Public Regulation Commission (PRC).

Governed by five elected officials, the PRC is a large state agency that oversees everything from utility tariffs to pipeline safety. Among the 129 PRC employees, there are five executive assistants of $ 72,000 per year who staff each of the Commissioner’s offices in Santa Fe.

So, for example, if you have a problem with your utility bill, you can seek help from one of the commissioners of the PRC. But if you schedule your visit for Monday, October 15 at 11:20 a.m., you’ll find a series of dark office suites and locked doors. While most state employees are at work that day, Commissioners Lovejoy, Hall and Lyons (and their staff) are nowhere to be found.

A year-long investigation into News 13 reveals that most PRC commissioners and their executive assistants only show up at the Santa Fe office sporadically. And while commissioners, who are elected officials, are not held to account for their time, executive assistants must abide by state personnel rules. In fact, our investigation reveals that some assistants seem to play with the taxpayer’s penny. Even though their timesheets reflect the working hours, they are frequently absent from their office suites in Santa Fe.

PRC chief of staff Ernest Archuleta said executive assistants to the commissioner are not “special” employees. “Their normal work schedule is usually 8 to 5 Monday through Friday with one hour for lunch. The chief of staff adds that if a PRC employee does not come to work and fails to note the absence on their time cards, then “it is a problem”.

Consider the work habits of Executive Assistant to Commissioner Lynda Lovejoy, Andre Cordero. A spot check of KRQE News 13 over the past year indicates that André Cordero was not at work for many random days. A review of his timesheets shows that Cordero did not take any time off for those days.

For example, KRQE News 13 found Cordero was off work for dozens of days in 2017, including:

  • Friday June 16
  • Friday November 17th
  • Tuesday, November 21
  • Monday November 27
  • Monday December 11
  • Wednesday 13 December
  • Friday December 15th
  • Monday, December 18
  • Tuesday 19 December
  • Friday December 22.

Cordero says he’s in the office every day. He denies having “faked” on his scorecard. “I was here. It is my professional responsibility to be in this office,” Commissioner Lovejoy’s executive assistant told KRQE News 13 that he may have been out for lunch when we did our spot check. “I’m here a lot. When I leave the office I can get something to eat and come back. But most of the time my (schedule is) consistent.”

Commissioner Lovejoy says she is not concerned about her assistant’s work schedule. “Andre is probably the only assistant who is here,” says Lovejoy. “My assistant as well as the other assistants of the commissioner are exempt. (André) doesn’t need to be here from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday. I just won’t accept that my assistant is wasting his time, ”says Lovejoy. Commissioner Lovejoy explains that André works in the office Monday through Wednesday and works in the field Thursday and Friday.

Shortly after we asked Andre Cordero about the gaps in his scorecard, he resigned from the PRC.

The KRQE News 13 investigation also documented numerous inconsistencies in scorecards by Deborah Bransford, executive assistant to Commissioner Pat Lyons. For example, some of the days Ms Bransford was away from her PRC office in 2017 and 2018 were:

2017:

  • Wednesday 13 December
  • Friday December 15th
  • Monday, December 18
  • Friday 22 December

2018:

  • Friday February 2
  • Tuesday 6 February
  • Thursday February 15
  • Friday February 16

On those dates, Ms. Bransford indicated on her time card that she was working and did not take time off.

Deborah Bransford says Commissioner Lyons gives her permission to “telecommute” by carrying a cell phone and sometimes working from home. “I might not always be at my desk, but I’m always available,” Bransford says. “My phone is connected to my office. I have to carry (a cell phone) 24/7. I’m on call 24/7 and I’m not entitled to overtime, ”Bransford told News 13.

“I write letters for my employer. I do whatever he wants me to do and check my emails. I answer emails. I call people. I have access to calls in the office. I resolve critical issues, complaints, ”Bransford says.

State auditor Wayne Johnson says telecommuting is only allowed when a public body has a written policy governing the rules for working from home. “It’s not the rule here in the state of New Mexico that every employee, at the drop of a hat, can decide, ‘Well, I’m not going to go to work today. telecommute, ”says Johnson.

PRC Chief of Staff Ernest Archuleta said the Public Regulatory Commission does not have a telework policy. “It’s not allowed because there is no policy at the moment,” Archuleta says.

State Auditor Johnson says the lack of a teleworking policy in the PRC is “absolutely” a problem. “What the policy helps you do is create an environment of accountability for the employee,” says Johnson.

And there’s more.

The office of Commissioner Cynthia Hall in Santa Fe is regularly closed. Commissioner Hall also authorizes her Executive Assistant to work from home. KRQE News 13’s spot check last year documented more than three dozen days during which Hall’s assistant, Stephanie Dzur, was not in the office and did not take time off. Dzur resigned earlier this year.

Commissioner Hall said her new assistant, Heather Alvarez, is also sometimes allowed to work from home and telecommute.

“It is not permissible for an employee not to come to work and be paid for it,” said Wayne Johnson. “It’s absolutely a problem from our point of view. We call it a scorecard fraud… My advice to management is to start documenting their absences and if you are a whistleblower in this organization, keep a log of this employee’s attendance, ”says Johnson. .

To view an example of a teleworking policy, click here.


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About Douglas Mackenzie

Douglas Mackenzie

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