After only a year in office, a member of a local board has been formally censured.
At it’s Dec. 16 meeting, the board of supervisors for the Valencia Soil and Water Conservation District approved a resolution censuring board supervisor Gail Goodman.
The censure — which is an expression of formal disapproval — focused on Goodman’s interaction with and public criticism of district employees.
The district’s attorney, Jason Marks, said while there was a difference of opinions between Goodman and other board members, and generally opinions are protected, the allegations that led to the censure raised legal concerns in regards to the district staff.
The resolution of censure accuses Goodman of attempting to supervise staff and sharing personnel opinions in public.
Marks said as public employees, while the “facts” of their employment, such as their position and salary, are public knowledge, personnel opinions should be treated as private.
“It’s inappropriate to discuss the opinion of the performance of an employee outside of a closed session with the board or individually with the (district) director,” Marks said.
During the public comments at a December Valencia County Commission meeting, Goodman submitted written comments opposing the continuation of the district’s current mill levy in order to secure a loan for a new building.
In her comments, she noted the district spends about $271,000 for “generous salaries” for the five full-time and one part-time district employee while it receives about $350,000 in revenue a year from the existing mill levy.
Her comment went on to note, she “had no idea what these people do for eight hours a day, five days a week.”
At a VSWCD board meeting later that month, board members expressed their displeasure about Goodman’s comments.
She said the comment read into the record was her draft statement and she sent an amended version, omitting the comment about the employees, which wasn’t read. Goodman acknowledged while she could have expressed her opinion more tactfully, she stood by it.
In the resolution of censure, VSWCD Education Manager Allison Martin alleged Goodman attempted to pressure her to perform work which was not assigned or approved by the district director or the relevant committee, and that when Martin and other employees requested Goodman to observe the protocols, Goodman harassed them.
According to Martin’s statement, Goodman wanted she and district Conservation Program Manager Lindsey Diaz to work on a butterfly habitat project.
“Goodman kept pressuring both myself and Lindsey to make it happen and disregarded our requests to bring this idea through the committee first … Lindsey … told Gail that she didn’t appreciate her putting us down for not focusing on what Gail thought we needed to focus on,” Martin’s statement read.
“She proceeded to tell us that we should not take offense that she doesn’t support our salaries and that the mill levy does not need to be a burden to the taxpayers.”
In a phone interview after the January board of supervisors meeting, Goodman called the censure a set up.
“I think that it was the culmination of a campaign of harassment from before I took even took my seat,” the supervisor said.
Goodman said at the October 2019 board meeting, the month before she was elected, she was asked if she supported a new, proposed 1 mill levy on the November ballot.
“I’m an honest person, so I said no. (Board president) Abel (Camarena) said something to the effect of ‘you have some nerve to run for the board if you don’t support the mill levy’ and berated me repeatedly,” Goodman said. “That was my welcome.”
Goodman said it has been very difficult to take a position when she knows the salaries are, for Valencia County, very high, saying that Martin earns about $65,000 a year while District Director Andrew Hautzinger makes $70,280.
(Editor’s note: After publication of this article, VSWCD Education Manager Allison Martin clarified her annual salary is $53,809, and she does not receive any benefits from the district.)
“They are also very high for what appears to me to be the workload of the district. I have tried repeatedly to suggest they’re just out of line for the salary scale for a county,” Goodman said. “I think the people who work there are lovely people but I cannot vote to spend mill levy money on such salaries that are not paid in any other county divisions. I’m sure that has made me a very unpopular person with Allison and Lindsey.”
Goodman said she put a great deal of time into understanding what a soil and water district is and the projects she has proposed have been summarily rejected because she proposed them.
“I bring a different perspective and the reaction is always hostile,” she said.
After the vote for censure, Camarena said he and everyone on the board needed to remember words matter.
“Things sometimes are said and they are not intended the way they were said. When something I’ve said has been brought to my attention, I think about what I said and how it was received, and take responsibility,” Camarena said. “If they caused harm I have an obligation to account for that and apologize.
“I hope in 2021 we can model that as a way of disagreement. We can disagree but not be disagreeable. We have spent a year trying to talk to each other and I don’t want to be part of contributing to that disconnect.”
Julia M. Dendinger began working at the VCNB in 2006. She covers Valencia County government, Belen Consolidated Schools and the village of Bosque Farms. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists Rio Grande chapter’s board of directors.