City manager’s mistake doesn’t warrant firing

By Freedom New Mexico

Clovis City Manager Joe Thomas made a mistake. He admitted it. It cannot happen again. But we agree with Clovis city commissioners who determined Thursday that Thomas’ arrest and subsequent guilty plea for carrying an open container of beer in his vehicle should not cost Thomas his job.

Thomas was arrested Aug. 3 after state police said he failed a field test at a sobriety checkpoint between Logan and San Jon in Quay County. He was charged with driving under the influence, but it was dropped when tests showed his blood-alcohol level was within legal limits and he had no illegal drugs in his system.

He pleaded guilty Sept. 24 to the misdemeanor open container charge and paid about $100 in fines.

Since it is a personnel matter, city commissioners will not say if Thomas has been or will be disciplined for his off-duty action, only that he is still city manager.

Mayor David Lansford also issued a statement that he said reflects the City Commission’s support for Thomas: “We are confident with his leadership and consider the circumstances of the recent past resolved.”

We believe commissioners should have told the taxpayers — Thomas’ bosses — if any disciplinary action was taken. At a minimum, though we hope that he was formally reprimanded for his actions, and warned that he will lose his job if anything similar happens in the future.

We also believe those who’ve called for Thomas’ firing over the incident are overreacting. He has been a model city employee for more than 30 years, first as a police officer, then public works director for eight years, and city manager since December 2004.

He’s always kept a low profile, but he’s always been someone the community could count on to take care of business.

When a tornado hit Clovis in March and destroyed hundreds of buildings and caused millions of dollars in property damage, it was Thomas who mobilized city workers and had most of the trash cleared in one weekend.

He deserves credit for pushing improvements at the Guy Leeder softball complex, which attracts thousands to the city each spring, summer and fall for some of the more competitive tournaments in the region.

City department heads and leaders from other public entities praise him for his ability to work with others and his ability to focus on results rather than who gets the credit.

Former City Manager Raymond Mondragon told us last week that Thomas’ strengths include in-depth knowledge of the city’s infrastructure, its park system and the inner working of its police department. That combination is rarely found in one individual.

Thomas has taken a beating from anonymous comments left on the Clovis News Journal’s Web site since his arrest, but even during this time under the microscope he has remained professional and responsive to inquiries, including those by the media — not always a common reaction from public officials under fire.

While Thomas has mostly declined comment about his arrest, he did tell a News Journal reporter, before the legal actions were completed, “It was an extremely bad judgment on my part.”

When a lot of public figures utter such words, it is obvious balderdash because they spout off like that even on everyday matters.

Not so with this city manager. Whatever his faults, he’s not one to hide his true feelings by blowing oral smoke, as those who know him a while can attest.

Joe Thomas is an effective leader who made a mistake. It cannot happen again or it is almost sure to end his career and besmirch his reputation permanently.