By Marlena Hartz: CNJ staff writer
The aunt of a county employee will continue her work as a temporary poll worker as county commissioners waived a nepotism policy in a special meeting held Thursday, thus condoning her employment while eschewing a state statute that prohibits nepotism.
The waiver was also granted last year, according to county records.
The county nepotism policy, which simply reiterates a New Mexico statute, morphed into a problem when county poll workers and election assistants were given raises. Poll workers can be paid more than $1,000 for two weeks of labor during election periods, with an hourly wage of $7.50, according to county officials.
Those hired to assist with elections skated under the tenets of the nepotism policy prior to the raise. A section of the statute states: “The practice of nepotism does not apply to casual employees hired to assist in county elections if the compensation for such employees is $600 or less per year.”
Since the raise, the policy grew relevant. But county officials said difficulty finding election workers hurls them into a bind where waiving the nepotism policy is essential for a smooth election.
“(This issue) keeps coming up,” County Manager Dick Smith said.
Two weeks before county elections kick off, County Clerk Mario Trujillo is still short on election workers, he said. The county has hired roughly 145 election workers, and 160 are needed, according to Trujillo.
“The younger generation just doesn’t want to work at the polls. Mostly senior citizens do it,” said a frustrated Trujillo.
A campaign to recruit more election workers, cast in print media and elsewhere, failed to entice residents to lend a hand at the poll, Assistant County Manager Lance Pyle said.
Curry County attorney David Richards advised commissioners that the state nepotism policy could not be waived.
Also at Thursday’s meeting:
• Commissioners approved a preliminary budget for 2006-2007. The largest expenditure of roughly $11 million budget is law enforcement, according to county official Mark Lansford. Budgeted for the sheriff’s department, the adult detention center and the juvenile detention center is nearly $5 million, a draft of the preliminary budget shows. The final budget is due to the state July 25, officials said.
• Commissioners voted not to renew a joint powers agreement between Clovis and Curry County. The agreement, which allows the county and the city to exchange services, was enacted in 1999 and was previously renewed without discussion. The city agreed to provide library, emergency preparedness, vector control, ambulance and other services to the county in exchange for use of the adult detention center. The city also agreed to pay $60,000 a year for use of the jail. Overburdened with the cost of housing inmates, county officials want to re-negotiate the contract, according to county officials.
• Curry County road department employees were granted permission to work within Roosevelt County on road projects. A bulk of capital outlay road projects in Curry County was cut in by the governor in an executive veto. About $850,000 in capital outlay funds was cut in the executive veto, according to Curry County Commissioner Albin Smith. The Roosevelt and Curry road department cooperation will allow road employees to remain employed, county officials said.
• An electronic monitoring contract with Sure Trac that allows criminals released from jail to be monitored through ankle bracelets was extended for six months. Extending the contract will provide a transition period for county officials to choose another company, Curry County Adult Detention Center Administrator Leslie Johnson said.