Testimony in the trial between the Santa Fe Reporter and the office of Gov. Susana Martinez ended Friday afternoon. Lawyers on both sides will file closing arguments in writing three weeks after the official court transcript is available. The Santa Fe Reporter filed the suit in 2013 arguing Martinez’s the governor’s office violated state public records laws and actively discriminated against the paper after it published unflattering coverage of the governor. During the three-day bench trial, testimony from former and current Martinez staffers offered a rare glimpse into how the governor’s staff handles media inquires and how they prioritize her agenda and her messages to the public. Throughout the trial, the governor’s contract lawyer Paul Kennedy tried to paint the picture of a busy governor’s office with overworked staff and not enough resources to adequately comply with state law and respond to every media request.
New Mexico’s 60-day legislative session doesn’t end until noon Saturday, but Gov. Susana Martinez already is preparing to call a special session because of ongoing budget problems, her staff said Friday night. “A special session could be called as soon as Monday or Tuesday,” said the governor’s spokesman, Chris Sanchez. Note: This post has been updated throughout to reflect news on likely special session. Keith Gardner, Martinez’s chief of staff, said a special session is almost a certainty. “If something doesn’t change dramatically from tonight, yes,” Gardner said at the Capitol on Friday night.
Two more top-level employees at the state Public Education Department recently left their jobs, taking the number to at least five since the beginning of the year. Terese Vigil, who headed the PED’s human resources bureau, left the department in mid-February. Aimee Barabe, director of Strategic Outreach for the department, left around the same time period. Vigil and Barabe’s exits make at least five resignations from top-level PED staffers since the end of January. The three others were Deputy Secretary for Policy and Program Leighann Lenti, Chief Information Officer Michael Archibeque and National Assessment of Educational Progress and Internal Assessments State Coordinator Stephanie Gardner.
At least three top-level state Public Education Department staffers recently resigned, among them a deputy cabinet secretary, NM Political Report has learned. They are Deputy Secretary for Policy and Program Leighann Lenti, Chief Information Officer Michael Archibeque and National Assessment of Educational Progress and Internal Assessments State Coordinator Stephanie Gardner. Lenti is one of two deputies under Secretary Hanna Skandera, pulling in a $105,000 per year according to the state’s Sunshine Portal. The department’s other deputy cabinet secretary is Hipolito “Paul” Aguilar, who had been rumored to resign but told NM Political Report in February that he wasn’t doing so. Archibeque, who handled the department’s IT division, earned close to $96,000 for his salary.
Shortly after state Taxation and Revenue Department Secretary Demesia Padilla was publicly implicated in an investigation of wrongdoing, the governor’s chief of staff received a letter. Those who sent the letter, which Susana Martinez Chief of Staff Keith Gardner received on July 14, claimed to be employees “who have witnessed the decline of this department because of the unprofessional, unethical, and overall inept leadership of Demesia Padilla.”
“Since the governor is on the record that her staff are expected to hold to the highest ethical and professional standards, we hope that you’ll look into what we share in this letter, and that you’ll do something about it before more TRD staff, out of frustration, seek out the [Attorney General], the state auditor and the press as a means to address these serious concerns,” the letter reads. NM Political Report obtained the letter through a public records request with the governor’s office. In July, State Auditor Tim Keller announced a preliminary investigation contracted by his office concluded that Padilla may have interfered with the tax audit of a former client for whom she did accounting work before becoming the TRD cabinet secretary. The client, later revealed to be Bernalillo-based Harold’s Grading & Trucking, has denied knowing about or asking for any special treatment.