A panel of state lawmakers found themselves in a 5-5 deadlock on Tuesday over whether to fire education administrator Rachel Gudgel, who made derogatory comments about Native Americans.
The equality of votes means Gudgel retains his $ 131,000-a-year job as chair of the Legislative Education Review Committee.
The attempt to fire Gudgel came during a closed-door committee meeting at the State Capitol. Several sources have confirmed the failure of Gudgel’s eviction attempt.
In addition to Gudgel’s derogatory statements about Native Americans, lawmakers who wanted to fire her had other issues.
Several former committee employees said Gudgel chased them away with an abusive management style.
Gudgel, 44, did not respond to requests for comment. She was not present during the brief public portion of the committee meeting.
The 10 lawmakers who are eligible to vote on the committee emptied the room of a handful of spectators so they could discuss in private whether Gudgel should remain in power.
Committee members heard from Thomas Hnasko, a lawyer hired by legislative leaders to investigate Gudgel. Hnasko completed his work last year, but only two of the 10 committee members had received a summary of his findings.
During his appearance before the committee, Hnasko confirmed what lawmakers read in media reports: Gudgel made derogatory statements about Native Americans.
Five plaintiffs who worked under Gudgel said Gudgel’s petty comments were not isolated.
Isaac Dakota Casados, chair of the Native American Democratic Caucus, said he was disappointed the committee did not fire Gudgel.
“It is unfortunate and difficult to understand,” Casados ââsaid in a telephone interview. “I wouldn’t want to be around someone who carries a series of prejudices.”
He and the tribal and pueblo leaders said Gudgel could not be effective as an education administrator in a state subject to a court order to improve public schools for minority children.
Casados ââsaid Gudgel and committee members would be met by indigenous protesters when they gather later this month for a public meeting in Shiprock.
During the committee’s executive session on Tuesday, Gudgel received a more favorable opinion from Salley Trefethen, a leadership coach who was hired at taxpayer expense to help the director. The hiring of the coach took place after Hnasko’s investigation.
When Hnasko and Trefethen left the executive session, a coalition of Democratic lawmakers decided to fire Gudgel.
First-year Senator Harold Pope of Albuquerque joined four members of the House of Representatives to vote for his impeachment.
The representatives who tried to fire Gudgel were House Majority Leader Sheryl Williams Stapleton, Christine Trujillo, G. AndrÃ©s Romero and Derrick Lente. All are from Albuquerque, except Lente, from Sandia Pueblo.
Gudgel kept his job with the help of an unusual group of lawmakers.
Among Gudgel’s strongest supporters are Democratic Senators Mimi Stewart of Albuquerque and Bill Soules of Las Cruces.
Three Republicans joined Soules and Stewart in voting against Gudgel’s sacking. They are Senator Gay Kernan from Hobbs and Representatives Alonzo Baldonado from Los Lunas and T. Ryan Lane from Aztec.
All except Soules, chairman of the committee, declined to comment after the executive session.
“No decision has been made,” Soules said in an interview, ignoring the decision to fire Gudgel and the tie vote that kept her in the job.
âA lot of repairs need to be done,â Soules said a moment later. He said he was referring to “trust on many levels”.
How can trust be restored with the leadership of the committee unchanged?
âOther than talking to people, I don’t know,â Soules said.
As for Gudgel’s job performance, he said: “LESC takes all allegations seriously.”
If so, the committee was still moving at a languid pace. Representative Trujillo called for an executive session regarding Gudgel’s conduct in January 2020. Soules and Stewart objected to holding the meeting behind closed doors.
Soules said the legislative session was about to begin and he wanted to devote his full attention to it.
Employees working under Gudgel were surprised by Soules’ response.
âThe attitude was that workplace harassment can be put aside because lawmakers don’t want to hear about it,â said a former staff employee.
Soules and Stewart had enough votes last year to avoid an executive session regarding Gudgel’s conduct.
The pressure for a review of the director’s performance has increased this summer. Heavy publicity over the complaints against Gudgel buried by some lawmakers ultimately led to Tuesday’s executive session.
Stewart, Acting Speaker of the Senate, and Soules are two lawmakers who often speak of the need for accountability and transparency in government.
It took 18 months for the lawmakers who oversee this controversial state administrator to come together on her conduct in power.
Ringside Seat is an opinion piece on people, politics and current affairs. Contact Milan Simonich at [email protected] or 505-986-3080.