In a four-hour meeting conducted remotely using a platform called Zoom, the Tijeras village council voted unanimously to fire Diane Klaus from her position as deputy clerk.
Over the past several years, Klaus has worked as acting clerk, interim clerk and most recently, deputy clerk. After Jake Bruton’s election as mayor in November, the village hired Michael Wismer as clerk-treasurer; Klaus has been his deputy clerk.
Wismer sent a letter to Klaus on March 10, informing her that since the beginning of the year, he has “been performing an ongoing review of Village operations and personnel, among them the operations of your office, Deputy Village Clerk.”
The letter says that Klaus as a salaried employee is entitled to all the rights and benefits of hourly employees, except that she is “terminable at will, with or without cause.”
Following that, Wismer added two pages of reasons for his recommendation.
The virtual meeting was attended by the village councilors, village attorney Frank Coppler, Klaus and her attorney Duff Westbrook, and a handful of members of the public, including this reporter.
A court reporter was on hand to record testimony, while Wismer and Bruton presented their case for Klaus’ termination. Councilor Maxine Wilson chaired the meeting as mayor pro tem, setting up rules for the meeting.
Difficulties with audio and internet connections meant that all of the parties repeated themselves often at the request of the court reporter.
After Wismer and Bruton made their case for termination, Westbrook argued that Klaus had been doing her job at the orders of the previous mayor, Gloria Chavez.
Bruton said that when he took office, he appointed Wismer as clerk and “gave him the directive of bringing our financial house into order.”
Of Wismer’s letter and recommendation, Bruton said he “concur[s] wholeheartedly.”
Westbrook said this was the second time Bruton tried to fire Klaus, on similar complaints.
In January, 2018, the village council voted unanimously to fire Klaus and to bar her from future employment with the village.
Then-mayor Chavez said at the time that she would not remove Klaus from her post in spite of the council’s vote, and Klaus continued on the job.
Wismer said when the village hired a financial director early this year, that Klaus had authority over most aspects of the village’s finances.
Illegal payments were made to about a dozen village employees as reimbursements for retirement contributions incorrectly withdrawn from employee paychecks. The village issued checks totaling over $65,000, including checks to Chavez and Klaus.
A special audit by the state auditor concluded in 2018 that the village may have broken the law by doing so.
When Bruton questioned Klaus about items “found to be in violation by the state auditor,” Klaus said they were “not in my job description.”
Bruton asked Klaus if she ever did anything outside her job description while employed by the village, and she responded, “Yes. Clean the toilets. Mop the floors. Do the dishes.”
Westbrook asked Klaus if she was responsible for financial duties under her job description; she said she had none.
Under questioning by Westbrook, Klaus said she had only worked as “acting clerk,” never as the village clerk. She said the authority in the village was with Chavez.
“I could make suggestions, but she could override suggestions,” Klaus said.
“Who was it that decided?” Westbrook asked.
“Mayor Chavez,” Klaus responded.
Klaus denied allegations of misuse of village funds in the purchase of candles, gift wrap, decorations, food, drink, and cough drops, explaining how each were purchased for the village.
Also at issue were repairs made to Klaus’ vehicle, which she said was because it was damaged by exposed rebar in the village parking lot when she went to work.
After three and a half hours, the council went into closed session to discuss the matter further, returning to open session an hour later.
After reconvening, councilor Don Johnson made a motion to approve Bruton’s dismissal of Klaus, with a final paycheck date set of April 15. Felix Garcia made the second.
The council then voted unanimously to end Klaus’ employment with the village.