Leadership program prepares officials for civic roles

The Leadership New Mexico program offers team-building and networking exercises to prepare participants for leadership roles.

Leigh Black Irvin
Bloomfield Police Sgt. Craig Barker pictured on Tuesday at the Bloomfield Police Department, is one of four San Juan County residents participating in Leadership New Mexico’s Local Government Leadership Program.

FARMINGTON – Although local officials participating in the statewide Local Government Leadership Program are discovering new approaches to management issues that include budgeting and employee training, they also are having a little fun operating a mine-resistant-ambush-protected vehicle simulator.

While there is a local leadership program called Leadership San Juan that's geared toward emerging leaders within the county, The Local Government Leadership Program falls under a statewide program called Leadership New Mexico, which is designed to prepare participants to shoulder more responsibility in their communities.

Craig Barker, a sergeant with the Bloomfield Police Department is one of this year's participants, as are San Juan County Commissioner Jim Crowley, Chief Deputy County Assessor John Kuhn, and County Clerk Tanya Shelby.

Since the Local Government Leadership Program's inception in 2002, it has held 15 sessions with a total of 324 participants representing 41 municipalities, 27 counties, 14 school districts and two regional councils of government. Ten New Mexico National Guard members have also participated in the program.

Patty Komko, president for Leadership New Mexico, said the program seeks to encourage public service and equip current and emerging leaders with the knowledge they'll need to assume additional civic responsibility.

"There are four programs under Leadership New Mexico," she said. "The Local Government Leadership Program is designed for staff or elected individuals of county and municipal governments, as well as members of school boards."

In addition to skill-building exercises and leadership training, she said, the issue-based program includes presentations by consultants covering issues that include land, water, oil and gas, education, and health and human services matters tailored for New Mexico.

Barker, one of the  local participants, served in the U.S. Army for 21 years before becoming a military police officer in California. He came to Bloomfield in 2006 after accepting a police officer position with the Bloomfield Police Department. In 2010, he was promoted from patrolman to sergeant, and since August of last year he has been serving as the department's police services sergeant in charge of accreditation and training.

Bloomfield Police Sgt. Craig Barker talks during an interview on March 21 at the Bloomfield Police Department.

"It's been nice working on the administrative side and being able to see the other side of the coin," said Barker. "I'm learning what it takes to support patrol, and seeing first-hand from this side what leads up to the decisions that are being made."

Barker said he attended the first of two three-day sessions held in Santa Fe at the end of February. In addition to team-building exercises, he said the session provided a chance to network with government officials from around the state that he wouldn't normally meet.

"It's been helpful to learn how other people strategize and solve problems," he said. "It's also good to learn about issues others in the state are facing, such as educational and budget issues, and to get ideas on how they're dealing with those issues."

As part of last month's session, class members toured the National Guard Armory and had the chance to test their skills at the facility's weapons training area.

"There was a firearm simulator with targets, and a simulator for driving a mine-resistant armored personnel carrier. It was kind-of fun," he said.

The next and final session of the leadership program will take place in Albuquerque during the first week of April, he said.

Barker, who obtained a master's degree in business administration last January, said he hopes the leadership program, along with his education, will make it easier for him to advance within his department.

"I have nine-and-a-half years left before retirement, and I would like to move up," he said. "I'm not one for standing still."

Barker's direct supervisor, Rondon Matthews, is the operations lieutenant for the Bloomfield Police Department. Matthews said Barker is a natural fit for this type of leadership training.

"(Barker's) best quality is that he just sticks with things," he said. "I don't know if it was from growing up on a farm or from his time in the military, but he is tenacious and just never stops."

Barker's classmate Jim Crowley said he is enjoying getting to know the 25 students in this year's class, and says that exchanging ideas with other officials from around the state will help him become better at his job as commissioner.

At center, San Juan County District Three Commissioner Jim Crowley, is sworn in with District Five Commissioner John Bekstead, right,  by New Mexico District Court Judge Bradford Dalley in December at the San Juan County Commission Chambers in Aztec.

"The networking has been very useful for me," he said. "It's also been helpful learning to understand where the resources are."

Tanya Shelby

Classmate Tanya Shelby said other county officials recommended that she apply for the program, and she's glad she did.

"It's very simple to apply, you just go online and fill out the application," she said. "I think the information you learn, along with the individuals you meet while attending, is very beneficial."

John Kuhn said the team-building exercises and personality tests, along with state history presentations and learning about issues facing the state have been the most interesting aspects of the training.

"For connection purposes, I think it's great," he said. "They really present you with a lot of information, and I have a completely different outlook on the topics now."

John Kuhn

Komko said a bonus of participating in the Local Government Leadership Program is that graduates can earn credits toward certifications for associations they belong to.

"We're always looking for good applicants, and would encourage anyone interested in Leadership New Mexico programs to apply," she said.

Information on Leadership New Mexico and its related programs can be found at www.leadershipnm.org.

Leigh Black Irvin is the business editor for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4621.