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Universities help pay salaries of Richardson appointees

Two New Mexico universities are helping foot the bill of
Gov. Bill Richardson appointees, and the arrangement has some concerned about
potential conflicts of interest.

The University of New
Mexico will pay nearly $100,000 a year toward
Higher Education Secretary Reed Dasenbrock’s $257,250 salary and $60,000 a year
toward Health Secretary Alfredo Vigil’s $175,000 salary.

New Mexico State
University, meanwhile, is paying
William Flores his $220,000 provost salary while he serves as deputy secretary
of higher education

Sen. Kent Cravens, R-Albuquerque, expressed skepticism about
the arrangement in a copyright story in Thursday’s Albuquerque Journal.

“There’s no question that in order to attract qualified
people, you have to pony up,” Cravens said. “But putting it in a
situation where one institution might have a political advantage over another
seems like a stretch. I’m not sure I’m conformable with it.”

A spokesman for Richardson, Allan Oliver, said the governor
doesn’t see a conflict of interest.

“This is an opportunity to bring New
Mexico’s best and brightest to the senior levels of
policymaking for the benefit of all New Mexicans,” he said.

The idea is not a new one.

Leslie Taylor, a spokeswoman for the University of Arkansas
for Medial Sciences, said the medical school helps pay the salaries for
Arkansas’ chief health officer and for the director of the state’s department
of health and human services. In the three years the university has been doing
so, no conflict of interest issues have arisen, she said.

Dasenbrock said he believes his appointment has been
well-received by the higher education community.

“My sense is that in time, people will understand that
I am working on behalf of all New Mexicans and all New
Mexico higher education institutions, and if there is
skepticism, of that, come back in a few months and let’s see where we
are,” he said.

But Sen. Tim Jennings, D-Roswell, said he’s not convinced no
conflicts will arise.

“The way the system is set up, there are systems of
checks and balances,” he said. When the checks and balances go away, then
what do we do?”

Flores remains on staff at NMSU and
part of his responsibility is dealing with the Higher Education Department.

An agreement between Dasenbrock and UNM
states that the university is paying Dasenbrock the amount he’s owed for an
unused yearlong sabbatical.

The state’s former Higher Education Secretary, Beverlee
McClure, was paid $157,000 a year.

Vigil’s salary is $57,000 more than what former Health
Secretary Michelle Lujan Grisham, who wasn’t a physician, was earning.

Sen. Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, said the increases pose a
problem, given that the Legislature tries to pay its employees comparable
salaries to what the administration is providing.

“When we get into a spiral like this, that the
Legislature did not start, who’s going to pay?” Jennings

He also said the agreement between the state and the
universities has some serious ethical problems.

“Everybody’s worried about our ethics in our
Legislature, but nobody is looking at theirs,” he said.

– Associated Press

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