A proposed constitutional amendment to create a nominating commission for university regents cleared the Senate Rules Committee on Monday. The vote was 7-3. The sponsor, Democratic Sen. Jeff Steinborn of Las Cruces, said an independent body of nominators, and not the governor alone, should establish a field of candidates to serve as regents. Senate Joint Resolution 6 would require the nominating commission to submit three names for each regent seat to the governor, who then would make her selections from the field. “This is the heart of reform,” Steinborn said.
All eyes are on Governor-elect Michelle Lujan Grisham. With about two months until the legislative session starts and just weeks until she takes office, speculation and rumors about how she’ll run the state are growing. Lujan Grisham will appoint new department heads for the state agencies, but she has another list of important appointments to make shortly after taking office. Lujan Grisham will also have to fill state judicial vacancies and a New Mexico Senate seat in southern New Mexico as she takes office in January. During her campaign, Lujan Grisham also said she would like to see all new members of the University of New Mexico Board of Regents.
The University of New Mexico paid out nearly $1 million to a former medical resident who accused medical school administrators of retaliating against her for reporting she was raped by a male resident. NM Political Report obtained the settlement agreement this week, nearly nine months after the case went to trial. The agreement, obtained by NM Political Report through a public records request, sheds some light on why the school settled with former University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center anesthesiology resident Cynthia Herald. But other specifics, like how much of the $800,000 settlement came from the school and how much from the state or what prompted the school to settle, remain murky at best. Herald now lives in Michigan, advocating for victims of sexual abuse and hopes to start a psychiatric residency program soon, according to her lawyer, Randi McGinn.
A state Senate committee on Monday blocked a proposed constitutional amendment that backers argued would have helped depoliticize the often partisan process of selecting regents for the boards of New Mexico’s public universities. Instead of leaving it for governors to pick just about whoever they like to lead the biggest institutions in the state’s sprawling higher education system, Senate Joint Resolution 1 would have created nominating committees to vet applicants for each vacant board seat and recommend appointees. The governor could then choose from the committee’s list. But Republicans and Democrats alike on the Senate Judiciary Committee raised a range of sometimes contradictory concerns. The proposal was too vague, some argued.
University of New Mexico Regent Jack Fortner resigned after nearly two decades in the position. The Farmington attorney submitted his resignation Tuesday, the day before a special legislative session in which Gov. Susana Martinez wants senators to confirm two new UNM regents. In a short resignation letter on his law firm’s letterhead, Fortner said he was “humbled and proud” to have been part of the UNM legacy. “I am grateful to have had the opportunity to serve my alma mater for nearly twenty years, and to have been able to contribute in various leadership roles to work to make our state’s flagship university an even more nationally recognized center of academics, research, medicine, and athletics,” Fortner wrote. Martinez had nominated Fortner’s replacement, and another regent to replace Brad Hosmer, but the Senate Rules Committee never held confirmation hearings for either.
Former New Mexico Speaker of the House Don Tripp has withdrawn his name from consideration for a seat on The University of New Mexico Board of Regents, citing a state constitutional provision that prohibits legislators from being appointed to such a position during a term in office. Tripp, a Socorro Republican, ran for re-election in November and won another term. He stepped down earlier this year. “We don’t need to muddy the water,” he said by phone Tuesday. “We need to honor the constitution.”
University of New Mexico President Bob Frank won’t finish out his term as head of the state’s largest university, but he will keep getting paid. That’s part of the deal the UNM Board of Regents made with Frank after a meeting Tuesday morning. The meeting marked the second time in a week that the board met to discuss Frank’s future in light of a report that criticized his management style, which was described by some as “bullying.”
After more than three hours behind closed doors last week, the regents took no action. But they came back Tuesday morning and announced the deal, which included paid administrative leave starting at the beginning of 2017 and lasting until his term was scheduled to end on May 31. Frank had previously announced he would not seek a second term as president.
The University of New Mexico Board of Regents took no action on University President Bob Frank after three and a half hours of discussions behind closed doors and three days of intense media speculation. No regents remained after the meeting to discuss the lack of action taken on Tuesday. The lack of decision came in the wake of an internal report, first reported by the Albuquerque Journal, that partly criticized the management style of Frank and described it as “bullying.”
After the report leaked to the media, regents set an emergency meeting for Wednesday. Another regular Board of Regents meeting is set for next Tuesday, though it isn’t clear if regents will discuss Frank. The board must provide an agenda for the meeting 72 hours before it starts, according to the state Open Meetings Act.
Gov. Susana Martinez named a former cabinet member to the University of New Mexico Board of Regents, a panel that has come under scrutiny in recent months after other Martinez appointees spearheaded the takeover the UNM Health Sciences Center. Tom Clifford recently retired as cabinet secretary of the New Mexico Department of Finance and Administration. Clifford worked for 20 years in state government, through multiple gubernatorial administrations. Martinez did not issue a statement on the appointment as she typically does for high-profile appointments. Her office did provide background for Clifford, mentioning his time as the policy and research director for the state’s Taxation and Revenue Department and his ten years working for the federal government.
Last month University of New Mexico Regent Rob Doughty shepherded to success a little-scrutinized plan to restructure the leadership and governance of the university’s Health Sciences Center. As one of the plan’s architects, Doughty also kept the plan secret — from the public, medical staff at UNM Hospital and at least two of Doughty’s fellow regents in the weeks before a March 14 vote that set the restructuring in stone. Now, the black hole of information surrounding how the plan came to be is growing murkier. New Mexico In Depth has learned that Doughty deleted emails he sent and received in the weeks leading up to the last-minute, controversial vote that changed oversight of UNM’s Health Sciences Center, which has an annual budget of $1.9 billion. The change did away with a board composed of community members and regents and replaced it with a panel of three regents, who are political appointees of Gov. Susana Martinez.