At its first meeting this year, two newly seated county commissioners made their voices heard in a big way—ousting county manager Belinda Garland and replacing her with Wayne Johnson.
The commission voted Wednesday 2-1 to approve a contract to hire Johnson, who will start Jan. 12. The two votes in favor came from the two newly elected commissioners, Kevin McCall and Ryan Schwebach, who was elected chairman earlier in the meeting.
The opposing vote came from two-year incumbent commissioner Javier Sanchez.
Johnson replaces Garland, whose 2-year contract would have expired in March.
The item appeared on the agenda in late December, before the two new commissioners took office.
Johnson said that Schwebach and McCall had approached him with the idea after he lost his election bid for State Auditor and was available. He said they saw the change as “an opportunity to go in a new direction.”
Johnson had previously served as a Bernalillo County Commissioner, and was appointed State Auditor by Gov. Susana Martinez. He lost his bid to keep the Auditor’s seat in the November election.
“It is not, in any way, against the current county manager and the job she is currently doing,” Schwebach said, adding, “It is an opportunity for this county to move forward in a positive direction, in a forward-thinking direction, and a professional direction.”
“I’ve looked at the experience and knowledge that Wayne [Johnson] would bring to the county,” McCall said, “and I feel that Wayne would bring a great knowledge and professionalism to this job.” Directing his comment to Garland, he added, “And in no way is it against you and your job.”
“I think it’s a mistake to say … we’re going to drop this person and bring this other person on without having earned it,” Sanchez said. “It’s about doing what’s right. Just because things are legal doesn’t make them right.”
Public comment was in invited by the board which brought praise from Garland’s colleagues within the county government. County Clerk Linda Jaramillo said, “Belinda [Garland] is very helpful to me and I think, very professional.”
Torrance County resident Sharon Cobb said, “We, the people rejected him as auditor. It’s really frustrating for those of us who live and breath and love this county and this community to see this be done to us. It’s just not fair. This is the worst of politics.”
Jason Quintana from Tajique asked whether the agreement by Schwebach, McCall and Johnson constituted a violation of the Open Meetings Act.
Schwebach answered that, “It was an agreement between three commissioners, before two commissioners took office,” adding, “It was perfectly legal, the conversations we had before taking office. And there were three commissioners in those conversations, two commissioners-elect and one commissioner.”
Support for Johnson came from Moriarty Mayor Ted Hart who said, “I’m very much in favor of Wayne [Johnson] coming into the county. … I’m going to miss Belinda, we worked good together, but I think you guys have to start moving forward and start thinking about the people of the community.”
“To all the employees and residents, thank you for supporting me and I tried to work real hard for all the people,” Garland told The Independent.
Regarding her staff and colleagues, she said, “They will move forward like they need to, and do it well like they always have. A good, hard-working bunch of people.”
Leota started working for The Independent in 2006, working her way up through the ranks. An employee buyout in 2010 led to her ownership of the newspaper. Leota has served on the board of the N.M. Press Association, and is currently its First Vice President. She is passionate about health and wellness, especially mental health, and loves making art. She can be reached at [email protected]