Group collecting public official pay records

Sharna Johnson

Payroll records for the cities of Clovis and Portales are among 14 New Mexico cities whose data has been posted online by a private research foundation that says it’s working to better inform the public.

The data — with intentions of eventually including all counties and cities in the state — is being gathered through public information requests, according to Paul Gessing, president of the Rio Grande Foundation, located in Bernalillo.

The project came about as a means to exercise a new statute that requires public entities to respond with electronic records when they receive requests, Gessing said, rather than responding by mailing hard copies, which slows the process.

“We try to promote ideas and do research on ideas related to limited government in New Mexico. The more information individuals have, the more likely people will be to question their government,” he said.

“We’re in a modern age. We just think this is another way for citizens to keep an eye on what their public officials are doing… Before, getting paper documents was very costly and time consuming. Once the law changed we figured it was time to go ahead and use the law that was the vision of what the (legislative sponsor intended).”

Gessing said data is uploaded to the site as it is received and county data will be entered after the cities are completed.

By-and-large, Gessing said cities and counties have complied quickly to the requests of his foundation.

Only two counties have charged nominal fees, including Curry County, which Gessing said responded to the request by saying electronic records were not available and charged $6.25 for printed records.

“Curry County, so far, has been the most difficult to deal with in this process, which on the county level is not complete,” he said.

“One of the things that just needs to be done at a state level is ask that all governments at all levels put this information on websites.”

Gessing said the availability of the data makes it possible to cross reference information between communities and for citizens to get a better look at where taxpayer money goes.

In Clovis, the city manager, police chief and fire chief earn less in a comparison with similar size cities.

However city commissioners in Clovis earn more, according to the data.

At $7,000 a year, Clovis commissioners are as much as $2,200 above those in Hobbs and $1,300 above Roswell.

However City Manager Joe Thomas earns a salary of $108,429 — $12,000 to nearly $60,000 less per year than his equals in Hobbs, Farmington and Roswell, the data shows.

Clovis Police Chief Steve Sanders — at $75,705 annually — is below his peers in those cities by a range of $10,000 to $44,000, and Fire Chief Ray Westerman — making $76,870 — is below by as much as $33,000 a year with the exception of Roswell, which pays its fire chief about $6,000 less a year.

In Portales, City Manager Thomas Howell earns $80,624.

Fire Chief Gary Nuckols is paid $59,883 and Police Chief Jeffrey Gill $62,129.