State search and rescue director fired

Steve Terrell

The director of the state Search and Rescue office, a former political hire who last year transferred to his classified job before a new administration took control, found out Thursday that he had been fired at the direction of the Governor’s Office.

“Well that’s it. I am officially unemployed,” Peter Olson announced on his Facebook page. “Gov Susana Martinez fired me today for `non-disciplinary reasons.’ ”

Olson for almost eight years had been the public information officer for the Public Safety Department. In September he switched jobs, moving from his exempt position — which meant he served at the pleasure of the governor — to a classified position.

He kept his $66,000 annual salary, which is about $20,000 more than the previous Search and Rescue director made. The job switch was the subject of investigative reports by two local television stations last year.

But even though his new post was classified under the state personnel system, Olson in an interview said he was on probation, which meant he could be fired at will.

Olson said he was informed Monday that he would be terminated if he didn’t quit. He said he was called into the office of newly nominated Public Safety Secretary Gordon Eden, who read him a letter saying he’d been terminated and that the “separation was under direction of the governor and is not disciplinary by nature.”

Olson is one of three DPS employees who had moved from exempt to classified positions before they were terminated Thursday. He called the firing “political.”

A spokesman for Martinez declined to comment Thursday.

In November, Heather Wilson, who headed Martinez’s Transition Team, said that appointees who shifted to classified jobs after the general election would be fired Jan. 1 unless the move was approved by the Martinez administration.

Olson said Thursday that he thought he might be safe because he took his new job in September, before the election.

According to a November report by KOB-TV, Olson, a former Santa Fe bureau chief for the television news operation, did not meet the requirements for the Search and Rescue job. The position required 10 years experience in search and rescue, 120 hours of classroom training and certification as a search-and-rescue incident commander in the state.

Recently resigned State Police Chief Faron Segotta told KOB, “I don’t think he is the most qualified person for the job. And I think it’s important that when we are hiring people # that there has to be transparency and the process needs to be fair. And I guess people are asking themselves was this process fair and, again, those are questions that are better directed at people above me.”

Asked about the chief’s comments, Olson said, “The chief had it in for me.” But he said he never had any conflicts with Segotta other than disagreements about proofreading of news releases.

Despite losing his paid job, Olson said he’d like to volunteer for a search-and-rescue team.

Contact Steve Terrell at 986-3037 or sterrell@sfnewmexican.com. Read his political blog at roundhouseroundup.com