When an employee seeks to correct immoral, corrupt or simply poor management, the Whistleblower Protection Act is the employee’s best friend. In its current form, it allows the employee to expose bad management, possibly theft or malfeasance, without fear of retribution by management.
Management is never happy when someone way down the food chain points out a glaring defect or wrongdoing by the big bosses. Witness Angelo Jacquez pointing out Northern New Mexico College’s laundry list of wrongdoing in 2014. Jacquez explained to management that several department heads were breaking the law, violating the terms of how grants should be spent and the non-use of software on which Northern was making lease payments.
For his help he was fired, or rather his contract was not renewed for no reason. He sued and won a very large settlement.
The New Mexico Municipal League and the New Mexico Association of Counties representatives say they are tired of settling tort claims or getting sued by employees, who claim they were wronged in retaliation for bringing bad behavior to light. The groups are pushing Senate Bill 299, which would greatly water down the Act. In fact if enacted into law, it would remove all the teeth from the Act, leaving employees helpless to correct situations which cost taxpayers a boat load of money.
New Mexico Ethics Watch’s reaction to the League’s and Association’s complaint of being sued is for the organizations to stop doing things that lead to these suits.
SB 299 is championed by Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Bernalillo. It’s surprising that a Democrat would carry a bill that would gut employees’ rights under the Whistleblower Protection Act. It’s usually the Rs gutting workers’ rights.
Gut is the proper word when describing what Candelaria’s bill would do if passed. Ethics Watch’s press release lists 10 major components of the bill. Among them is remove contractors from protection of the Act. That would mean Jacquez could not have sued Northern. It would more narrowly define a retaliatory action, remove malfeasance as something to be covered under the Act, raise the standard for a waste of funds, remove the requirement that an employee retaliated against be reinstated and raise the bar for when the Act comes into effect.
New Mexico Ethics Watch Executive Director Douglas Carver states in the press release, “At a time when the people of New Mexico are crying out for ethics reform, this bill represents a leap backwards.”
Watch Board Secretary Phil Davis states, “ This bill will result in greater freedom for employers to intimidate and retaliate against those who speak out on matters of public concern.”
It’s public dollars being wasted, stolen or misused by public officials. The public should know about it and if an employee can blow the whistle and correct a bad actor’s behavior, we should applaud them, not punish them.
The bill’s first stop in the laborious process is the Senate Public Affairs Committee, where it has yet to be scheduled for a hearing. That is a Democrat-controlled committee. We trust Candelaria’s fellow Ds can bring him to his senses or allow the bill to die a slow, ignored death.