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FARMINGTON — The San Juan Water Commission appointed a new executive director on Wednesday to replace its former director, who was placed on paid administrative leave in March and then retired a few months later in May.

As the commission’s new director, Aaron Chavez will earn a base salary of $104,000 a year, according to his contract. The commission, an independent government entity, oversees water rights for Farmington, Aztec, Bloomfield, San Juan County and the San Juan Rural Water Users Association.

“I would like to thank you for the opportunity to serve as your executive director,” Chavez told commissioners after they unanimously approved his one-year contract during Wednesday's commission meeting.

He said he looks forward to working with constituents, though an upcoming challenge will be finalizing a policy to distribute thousands of acre feet of water rights to members. Commissioners have been revising the plan since 2002, and its members have told The Daily Times that they do not all agree on the details of that plan.

Chavez began working for the commission in April 2001 as a geographic information system technician, he said. Commissioners appointed him to interim executive director in March after they voted earlier that month to place the then-executive director, Randy Kirkpatrick, on paid administrative leave.

In a tort claim notice dated Feb. 27, former commission employee Tracy Thrailkill announced she intended to take legal action against Kirkpatrick and the commission. In the document, Thrailkill said she and Kirkpatrick were in a “personal, intimate relationship” that led to her wrongfully termination on Feb. 26.

Thrailkill said on Wednesday that she hasn’t filed the lawsuit but has plans to do so. First, she said, she needs to file a complaint with the Human Rights Bureau in the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions.

Her deadline to do that is in early December, she said.

“I got it marked on my calendar,” she said. “I’m not going to miss that.”

spokeswoman with the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.

When reached by phone on Wednesday, Kirkpatrick said he has been falsely accused and Thrailkill's accusations did not prompt his retirement in May. He said he was planning to retire in July anyway.

“That was long planned for a year or two” in advance, he said.

He said Chavez is a good man, and he wished him well.

Dan Schwartz covers government for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4606.

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