Governor forced to find replacements for 3 high-level positions | KOB 4

Governor forced to find replacements for 3 high-level positions

Chris Ramirez
Updated: August 06, 2020 04:26 PM
Created: August 05, 2020 03:34 PM

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.- Three of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham's top advisors during the COVID-19 pandemic have either left their job or announced their intentions to leave.

Olivia Padilla-Jackson was the cabinet secretary of the Department of Finance and Administration (DFA), the governor's top position over the state's budget. It's a budget that is projected to be billions in the red right due to the pandemic.

According to her resignation letter, she left on June 1.

Kathy Kunkel is the cabinet secretary for the Health Department. She's been at the forefront of the health crisis, featured several times during the governor's press briefings. In a letter to the governor, Kunkel wrote that she wanted to retire by July 24. 

Dr. Michael Landen was New Mexico's state epidemiologist, the top expert on infectious diseases.  According to state records, he had worked for the state since 1997 but abruptly left in June.

A spokesperson for the governor defended the governor's ability to retain highly qualified people in her administration.

"This isn't a situation where people are trying to jump ship, that is sort of a charged phrase in the sense that people are like-- I can't take it anymore and I need to get out," said Tripp Stelnicki, director of communications for Gov. Lujan Grisham. "That's not what has happened here. People have personal lives and family needs and sometimes your professional obligations don't align."

Jackson-Padilla said in her resignation letter, ""I love my job. I have made the difficult decision to resign solely because of family circumstances so that I can be closer to my family in Albuquerque."

"It was a loss in that she was a very savvy financial operator, and we valued her input," Stelnicki said. "To leave here at anytime, but particularly at a moment like this is tough."

The Department of Finance and Administration is currently being led by an acting-secretary, and Stilnecki said New Mexican's can be assured that the state's finances are in good hands.

"Like I said, a lot of state agencies see a lot of turnover, but at DFA, the bench is very deep as far as analysts and financial staff and that kind of expertise," Stilnecki said. 

In the Department of Health, Kunkel promised to stay in her position until another health secretary is named.

In her retirement letter, she wrote, "The hard work of the past three months is evidenced by the continued progress New Mexico is making in the containment of the virus." 

"I think she is comfortable with me saying she is 70 years old, and she wants to retire," Stilneck said. "Look-- the public health crisis has been a draining endeavor for everyone. We are working 90-hour weeks. That's just me. The secretary of health has probably the hardest job in the state."

Family was also the reason for Dr. Landen leaving, according to Stilnecki.

"Michael Landen has family out of state and wanted to be closer to them," he said. 

The state has appointed an acting-state epidemiologist.

Stelnicki said the three departures are not tied together. However, he admits that the timing is unfortunate.

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