Job-seeking Melrose police chief faces decision

By Sharna Johnson: Freedom New Mexico

Melrose Police Chief Lee Ferguson has a decision to make — give up his candidacy for De Baca County sheriff, take a leave of absence without pay, or resign, according to village policy.
And he’s decided he won’t give up his run for sheriff.

“I’m still running for sheriff, so I either take the leave of absence or seek employment somewhere else and resign,” Ferguson said Friday.

Village police chief for more than a year, Ferguson said he learned of the policy for the first time Thursday night. If he continues his campaign and doesn’t take leave, he could be terminated. He has five days to be in compliance with the policy, he said.

Candidates for the De Baca County election file for candidacy March 18. The primary will be held June 3, according to the county clerk’s office.

The De Baca county sheriff receives a salary of $32,884 plus benefits. The Melrose police chief receives $28,641 plus benefits, officials said.

Ferguson said he wasn’t aware of the policy when he announced his intended candidacy, he said.

Ferguson said he was written up Thursday night by Melrose Mayor Lance Pyle for seeking the sheriff’s office.

According to village policy, seeking election to political office prior to taking a leave of absence is grounds for disciplinary action.

Four others have expressed interest in the sheriff’s office, the De Baca County News reported Thursday.

De Baca County is currently without a sheriff, according to the clerk’s office.

Though enforcing the policy could temporarily leave the village without a police chief, Lance Pyle said the policy must be observed.

“Why have policies and procedures in place if you’re not going to follow them,” he said.

A public announcement by Ferguson of his intentions in Thursday’s De Baca County News constituted his seeking office and initiated the five-day deadline for him to comply with policy, Pyle said.

Pyle, who oversees personnel for the village, said the policy was implemented in 2005. In order to make an exception, the village council would have to amend the policy, he said.
Pyle said he could not comment on Ferguson being disciplined, citing confidential personnel matters.

The village has invested more than $4,400 into certifying and training Ferguson as a police officer in the three years he has worked for the village, he said.

Pyle said he was surprised to hear of Ferguson’s plans to seek public office but added, “I am always for people bettering themselves; everybody wants to better themselves.”