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Herrera says Salazar resigned because she denied leave request
Secretary of State Mary Herrera is alleging that former Elections Director A.J. Salazar resigned not because of ethical concerns about the way she runs the office but because he wanted time off from work that she didn’t allow.
It’s a charge Salazar says is ridiculous and doesn’t address any of the serious concerns he has raised publicly and to the Attorney General’s Office.
The allegation from Herrera came through her personal attorney, Sam Bregman of Albuquerque. He also provided a copy of an e-mail exchange (embedded below) between Herrera and Salazar from the night of Feb. 25 – the day before Salazar resigned. In the e-mails, Herrera denied Salazar’s request for time off, then Salazar told Herrera he wanted to meet with her to tender his resignation.
“The reason that A.J. Salazar resigned from the Secretary of State’s Office was not because of some alleged ethical issues going on in the office,” Bregman said. “To the contrary, the reason he left the office was because he wanted Spring Break off and he didn’t want to go to work, and those e-mails prove that.”
“And for some unfortunate, unknown reason, he decides to make all these allegations against Mary that are just not true,” Bregman said.
Salazar’s resignation came in a scathing letter in which he accused Herrera of violating the Governmental Conduct Act and election laws. Among his allegations is that Herrera ordered exempt employees to collect signatures for her re-election bid at a meeting held during work hours, that she was improperly soliciting donations from contractors doing business with the office to help fund a training, and that she retaliated against him after he tried to stop those potentially illegal actions.
Salazar said in an interview that he viewed Herrera’s denial of his leave request as retaliation. That was the last straw, he said, which is why he resigned the next day.
Salazar said he stands by the allegations he made in his resignation letter and said the fact that Bregman didn’t directly address any of them “speaks volumes.”
“It’s completely off the mark because it doesn’t respond to anything that I have raised and, in true Sam Bregman fashion, he’s trying to use smoke and mirrors to deflect what the real issues are here,” Salazar said.
Bregman said he was releasing the e-mails and speaking publicly because Salazar’s resignation letter became public today when it was published along with an article in the Rio Grande Sun. Herrera’s office has, thus far, rejected requests from The Independent and others for a copy of the letter.
The state attorney general and the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government contend that the letter is a public document. Bregman said Herrera has wanted to release the letter to the public all along but state government attorneys have halted that action because of concerns about personnel issues. Salazar names some current and former employees in his letter.
Bregman said Herrera “absolutely” intends to release the letter next week, though parts of it may be redacted.
Speaking of personnel issues, Salazar said Bregman showed little concern for his.
“I’m very disturbed by Mr. Bregman discussing what is a personnel matter between myself and the secretary,” Salazar said. “I haven’t waived any of my constitutional rights or substantive rights.”
Salazar noted that he has retained an attorney because of this situation surrounding his resignation.
In the initial e-mail in the Feb. 25 exchange provided by Bregman, Salazar requested an hour off the following day and several days off in March, most of them so that he could “care for my children during spring break.” He wrote that his portion of preparation for an election training being held this month would be completed in spite of the time off.
“I thank you in advance for approval of this time as I have plenty of Annual Leave in reserve and because I do need this time,” Salazar wrote.
Herrera responded by saying she was “getting concerned” because of upcoming election-related events.
“I am not expecting you to work late hours but these tasks are crucial for a successful Primary Election. I cannot approve all of those days, sorry,” Herrera wrote.
Salazar responded briefly.
“Alright Ma’am. I am not a good fit for this position in your office,” he wrote. “I would like to meet with you tomorrow afternoon to tender my resignation.”