Matt Pennington cries foul at action by Mayor Cynthia Atencio

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FARMINGTON — When Bloomfield City Councilor Matt Pennington made a motion last week seeking to place the appointment of acting chief Randon Matthews to the vacant police chief position on the council's Dec. 10 agenda, his proposal was seconded by Councilor Sue Finch.

But the motion was never discussed, as Mayor Cynthia Atencio insisted the position needed to be opened to applicants who would go through an interview process featuring three panels and a series of questions.

Atencio said in an email to The Daily Times that she had not heard Finch second the motion. All the same, her actions shocked Pennington. He thought the motion he had made should have been discussed and voted on based on parliamentary procedure. He said in the 11 years he has served on the City Council, he has never seen something like that happen.

“That’s a huge deal,” Pennington said when reached by phone Monday. “You just don’t get to decide what we’re going to do. We’re not a monarchy.”

He said parliamentary procedure is what the government is based on.

“Without procedure, what do we have?” Pennington said. “We have disorder.”

Municipal League weighs in

New Mexico Municipal League attorney Randy Van Vleck said the law does not dictate whether Atencio must allow a motion to be discussed and voted on, but he agreed that the mayor violated parliamentary procedure.

“It’s my opinion that that action by the mayor was improper,” Van Vleck said.

He said there was confusion about whether Pennington’s initial motion violated the Open Meetings Act because it was not on the agenda. Pennington stated before making the motion that he had consulted the Municipal League.

Van Vleck said because it was a procedural motion, he does not feel that Pennington's motion violated the Open Meetings Act.

Police chief requirements changed in job description

Pennington’s frustration increased when the minimum requirements for the vacant police chief position were reduced following the council meeting.

The requirements previously stated the applicants must have leadership experience as a lieutenant. The current job listing states that the applicants must have held the position of sergeant, which is lower on the command scale than lieutenant.

Pennington said the change was made against the council's wishes and looks as if the city is doing backroom deals and tailoring the position for a certain person.

He said when former Chief Randy Foster was hired, the minimum requirement was that applicants had to have served as a lieutenant.

“That lieutenant position is an important step that prepares you to be chief,” he said.

City Manager George Duncan said he felt reducing the minimum requirements would provide a broader field of candidates, including sergeants from larger police departments who have a lot of experience but haven’t had the opportunity to be promoted to lieutenant.

City manager talked to H.R.

The job description was changed Monday after Duncan consulted the city's human resources director. He said the listing will match the job description and minimum requirements that were in place when Foster was hired.

"If it worked for him, it will work for this position," Duncan said.

The description says the candidate must have three years of supervisory experience but does not state whether that must be as a lieutenant or as a sergeant.

Pennington said he supported appointing Matthews to the vacant position because Matthews was told if he met certain goals over a six-month period after being selected as interim chief, the council would consider appointing him to the chief position.

“He lived up to everything that he was supposed to,” Pennington said. “I think he’s done a phenomenal job.”

He highlighted a memo Atencio sent out after taking office in March. Atencio’s memo stressed that the city would hire from within. In most instances, the city has filled positions with people who have worked for Bloomfield.

Pennington said he had wanted an interview process used for the city manager position, but the city chose to appoint Duncan to the role. Former city managers have gone through an interview process.

“We are not, as a council, being consistent right now,” Pennington said.

However, Atencio said the move was consistent with past decisions. 

"In the past 25 years the City of Bloomfield has shown a history of both appointing and recruiting City Managers, as well as a history of appointing City Clerks," she wrote in her email to The Daily Times. "In the past 25 years, however, the City of Bloomfield has not appointed a Chief of Police. The past 25 years have shown that the Police Chief position has been recruited. I believe in the process and remaining consistent with the history."

Duncan was appointed city manager earlier this year. His predecessors, Eric Strahl and David Fuqua, both were hired through an interview process with panels. Keith Johnson, who preceded Fuqua, was appointed to the position in 2006.

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at hgrover@daily-times.com.  

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