By BILLY HUNTSMAN
Las Cruces Bulletin
At its Feb. 14 meeting, the Doña Ana County Commission was expected to discuss terminating County Manager Julia Brown’s contract, but voted, 3-2, to table this item for discussion at a later meeting.
Commissioners Isabella Solis, District 4, and Ramon Gonzalez, District 2, were those who voted in favor of discussing Brown’s contract at the meeting, while Commissioners John L. Vasquez, District 5, Ben Rawson, District 3, and Billy Garrett, District 1, voted for the tabling.
The matter of Brown’s contract was added to the meeting’s agenda after its publication, Garrett said, who expressed concern that county residents were not given ample notification of this item and so were not present at the meeting to participate in public input.
Garrett introduced the motion to remove the item from the agenda and continued to do so even after Solis said “it is our recommendation that the item remain on the agenda.”
Vasquez seconded Garrett’s motion and Rawson eventually voted with them to remove the matter from the agenda.
Thereafter, the residents who attended the meeting, an estimated 35 who, by show of hands, vastly supported Brown’s continuation as county manager, were invited for public comment.
“I’m befuddled at how the commission might even begin to consider, with three new commissioners, the contract of Ms. Brown,” said Jared Carson, pastor of Peace Lutheran Church in Las Cruces.
Solis, Vasquez and Gonzalez were elected to the county commission in November 2016.
“It doesn’t seem reasonable that there has been enough time to work with Ms. Brown, to meet with Ms. Brown, to come to a clear indication of what her work (ethic) might be, or what her goals are for our county,” Carson said.
He urged the commission not to act on Brown’s contract until such time as these aspects of her performance as county manager became apparent to them.
Micah Pearson is vice president of the National Alliance on Mental Alliance, Doña Ana County affiliate.
“(Brown) works with us on our Stepping Up initiative, which is our jail diversion program for persons with mental illness,” Pearson said.
Pearson said terminating Brown and bringing in a new county manager would hinder his organization’s progress thus far and would result in more mentally ill persons in jail.
County resident Frances Williams expressed confusion as to why Brown’s contract, which was renewed in 2016 for three years, was under consideration for termination.
“Obviously the other (replaced) commissioners felt she was doing a good-enough job to have a three-year contract,” Williams said.
Williams said she had heard a rumor that the current commissioners were considering inserting a “nuclear option” into Brown’s contract.Such an option, Williams said, would allow the county commission to terminate Brown for any reason.
The commissioners did not confirm or deny this remark.
Yvonne Magdalena Flores, an attorney from California, expressed similar confusion as Williams and said Brown, who is black, might be “overqualified” for the job as county manager.
“From where I’m sitting, this might be a Title VII action, this may be a 14th Amendment Action, I don’t know,” Flores said.
Title VII is part of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, a federal law prohibiting discrimination by employers against employees on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin, religion or other personal traits.
The 14th Amendment declares any person born in the U.S. is an American citizen and “no state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
Bobbie Green, vice president of the Doña Ana County chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, also voiced support for Brown.
“(The commission’s) responsibility is to act in the best interest of the public and any violation of that interest can lead removal from office,” she said, adding terminating Brown could be grounds for such action.
Resident Sarea Hussein praised Brown’s performance as county manager.
“Most of you have not been in office long enough to make that (job) evaluation in an objective and ethical manner,” Hussein said. “You all work for us and we don’t want you to terminate this contract.”
The commission did not say when, if, the issue of terminating Brown’s contract will come up again in open meeting. Brown’s contract is scheduled to conclude in November 2019.
Billy Huntsman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com or at @billy_huntsman on Twitter.