Stop switch­ing out NM state engi­neers

Albuquerque Journal - - OPINION - BY JOHN DRAPER

The New Mex­ico State En­gi­neer is not just an­other agency chief or cabi­net mem­ber who man­ages a bu­reau­cracy. The state en­gi­neer ex­er­cises an ex­tremely im­por­tant ad­ju­di­ca­tory func­tion in New Mex­ico, rul­ing on peo­ple’s wa­ter rights. In this re­gard, he or she acts as a judge who must be seen as in­de­pen­dent from in­flu­ence by the gover­nor, other in­di­vid­u­als and spe­cial in­ter­est groups. This is the pre­sump­tion of our wa­ter code.

For this rea­son, the ap­peal from state en­gi­neer de­ci­sions is to the courts, not to the gover­nor or any other ex­ec­u­tive de­part­ment of­fi­cial. In ad­di­tion, the job re­quires longevity be­yond the nor­mal cabi­net term of four to eight years in or­der to build and ex­er­cise the com­pe­tency re­quired of the state en­gi­neer.

Ever since Gary John­son broke with long-stand­ing tra­di­tion and re­placed the state en­gi­neer at the be­gin­ning of his term as gover­nor, new gov­er­nors have in­stalled a new state en­gi­neer at the be­gin­ning of their terms. The fre­quency of re­place­ment of the state en­gi­neer be­came even greater re­cently when Su­sana Martinez re­placed the state en­gi­neer in the midst of her term as gover­nor, oust­ing the state en­gi­neer she her­self had ear­lier ap­pointed.

For many years, New Mex­ico had a tow­er­ing fig­ure, Steve Reynolds, as state en­gi­neer. He served from 1956, when he was ap­pointed by Gov. John Simms, un­til he died, in 1990. His ten­ure as state en­gi­neer spanned many terms of gov­er­nors of both po­lit­i­cal par­ties. He served as state en­gi­neer for 34 years, even though the statu­tory term for state en­gi­neer is only two years. Over time, he es­tab­lished a rep­u­ta­tion for com­pe­tence and in­tegrity. He came to be the most revered fig­ure in state gov­ern­ment.

As a re­sult, when­ever gov­er­nors dur­ing that pe­riod con­sid­ered re­plac­ing Mr. Reynolds, they ran into a wall of op­po­si­tion, and soon re­con­sid­ered and with­drew the idea. This was im­por­tant be­cause it meant that Mr. Reynolds was in­de­pen­dent and not be­holden to any par­tic­u­lar gover­nor or spe­cial in­ter­est. In fact, he can­celled some of Gov. Simms’ per­sonal wa­ter rights while Gov. Simms was still in of­fice. Yet, Gov. Simms was heard to say years later that the sin­gle most im­por­tant thing he did as gover­nor was to ap­point Steve Reynolds state en­gi­neer.

Other states do not al­low their wa­ter rights de­ci­sion­mak­ers to be switched at the be­hest of an in­com­ing gover­nor. In Colorado and Kansas, for in­stance, the coun­ter­parts to our state en­gi­neer are civil ser­vants pro­tected by the civil ser­vice sys­tem or by a strong tra­di­tion of re­ten­tion dur­ing good be­hav­ior, in­de­pen­dent of gu­ber­na­to­rial terms.

Rou­tine switch­ing of per­sons serv­ing as New Mex­ico’s state en­gi­neer should be brought to a halt. State engi­neers should be given the longevity that will al­low them to es­tab­lish and develop the com­pe­tence and in­tegrity that New Mex­ico had in Steve Reynolds. Our new Gov. Michelle Lu­jan Gr­isham and the Leg­is­la­ture should make the term of the state en­gi­neer 10 years in­stead of two years. As now, the state en­gi­neer should be re­mov­able only for cause, and should not be ex­pected to re­sign at the be­gin­ning of new ad­min­is­tra­tions.

We can’t ex­pect ev­ery, or per­haps any, state en­gi­neer to match Steve Reynolds, but we can re­in­sti­tute the tra­di­tion that he ex­em­pli­fied of long-term ser­vice fos­ter­ing com­pe­tence, in­tegrity and in­de­pen­dence.

John Draper is a New Mex­ico wa­ter at­tor­ney with 40 years’ ex­pe­ri­ence be­fore the state en­gi­neer, the New Mex­ico courts and the fed­eral courts, in­clud­ing more than 25 con­tin­u­ous years rep­re­sent­ing states in wa­ter cases be­fore the United States Supreme Court.

John Draper

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.