State Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn on Monday asked Jim Lane to step down as an assistant commissioner after revelations that Lane’s resignation two years ago as director of the state Department of Game and Fish came after a subordinate accused him of sexual harassment.
In a statement to The New Mexican late Monday, Dunn blamed “dirty politics” for what he said was the disclosure of contents of Lane’s personnel files.
A spokeswoman for Dunn said that when the State Land Office conducted a background check before hiring Lane for his $92,000-a-year job in March, Game and Fish did not turn over any records related to the sexual harassment allegations. The spokeswoman, Laura Riley, said Dunn’s office learned about the allegations “significantly later.”
The seven-member commission that oversees the Department of Game and Fish, which is appointed by Gov. Susana Martinez, has never offered an explanation of why it accepted Lane’s sudden resignation as director in October 2013.
On Sunday, the Albuquerque Journal reported that Lane’s resignation came nine days after the Governor’s Office received a letter from Santa Fe attorney Diane Garrity that alleged Lane made sexual overtures to the Game and Fish’s human resources director, Sonya Quintana.
Quintana rejected Lane’s advances, which included a text that read, “I really want to wake up with you tomorrow,” the Journal reported.
The Journal also reported that taxpayers paid $65,000 to settle the sexual harassment claim by Quintana. Quintana, who now works for Santa Fe County, declined through Garrity to comment Monday. Garrity said her client “just wants to put this nightmare behind her.”
Lane did not return requests for comment Monday.
Dunn, whose State Land Office is independent of the Martinez administration, avoided any mention of the sexual harassment accusations in his statement Monday that he had accepted Lane’s resignation “due to the recent disclosure of private personnel file contents.” Dunn noted that the personnel information about Lane became public at a time when Dunn’s office is negotiating with the Department of Game and Fish over the fees charged for hunter access to state trust land.
Garrity confirmed Monday that she sent the October 2013 letter accusing Lane of sexually harassing Quintana. Garrity also confirmed that Quintana entered into a settlement agreement with the state in February 2014. But she refused to release the settlement agreement or the letter to The New Mexican.
Jay Hone, the top lawyer at the state’s General Services Department, did not respond to a request by The New Mexican for release of the agreement.
House Minority Leader Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, said Monday that Lane should not be on a state payroll after the sexual harassment revelations. “If Mr. Lane continues to have a job with Aubrey Dunn beyond 5 o’clock today, I’ll be surprised and disappointed,” Egolf said. “If he doesn’t have the good sense to resign, he should be fired.”
Egolf, an attorney, said he considered the messages by Lane to be a clear case of sexual harassment. “For him to send those text messages in the early morning hours to a subordinate when they’re on an out-of-town trip, separated by a wall, is not just appalling,” he said. “It’s disturbing.”
Dunn, a Republican elected by voters statewide in 2014, had praise for Lane in his statement Monday: “In his short time with the Land Office, Jim has been a knowledgeable and helpful asset especially as we entered into negotiations with the Dept. of Game and Fish concerning hunting access on State Land for the benefit of our State Land beneficiaries. Mr. Lane has now been subjected to a game of dirty politics more than two years after he had an agreement from the Martinez administration that his personnel records would not be disclosed, in what appears to be an unfortunate and possible attempt to interfere with the negotiations between the State Land Office and the Game Department.
“This behavior has created a situation where Mr. Lane will be unable to effectively do his job,” Dunn added. “I want to thank Jim for his time and energy spent at the Land Office working for the benefit of our New Mexico schools and hospitals.”
Chris Sanchez, a spokesman for the governor, did not return an email sent late Monday seeking comment.
Before his run for state land commissioner, Dunn had openly clashed with Martinez. But she supported her fellow Republican’s candidacy in the 2014 elections.
The New Mexico Wildlife Federation objected when it found out last week that Dunn was negotiating with the Department of Game and Fish over a proposed large increase in rental fees for hunter access to state trust lands.
John Crenshaw, president of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation, said his group was concerned that Lane might have been misusing his position with the Land Office to retaliate against Game and Fish and the State Game Commission. “We have to wonder how or if he influenced Commissioner Dunn’s recent suggestion that the Game Commission’s lease for hunting access to state trust lands be jumped by one thousand percent,” Crenshaw said.
The State Game Commission had passed over longtime department employees to hire Lane as director of the Department of Game and Fish in October 2011, two years before his abrupt resignation. Between his two state jobs, Lane launched The Lane Trust Group, an environmental consulting business.
When Lane resigned, sportsmen and others wondered what happened. The Department of Game and Fish refused an information request by The New Mexican in 2014 for all complaints filed against Lane by employees. The agency cited an exemption for personnel records in the state public records law.
When the news concerning Lane’s texts to Quintana spread, reaction was swift.
“The misbehavior revealed in the attorney’s letter is beyond offensive,” said Crenshaw, who led Game and Fish’s Public Affairs Division for 18 years before retiring. “Sexual harassment and retaliation are repugnant enough, but the letter adds allegations of sexism and favoritism in hiring and promotions, interference with [U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission] investigations, and even spying on employees.”
Lane previously worked with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources as an environmental scientist and Wildlife Division director before joining the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish as chief of the Wildlife Management Division. Lane allegedly told Quintana and others at the Department of Game and Fish that his Kentucky employer demoted him “due to a sexual relationship with a subordinate,” the Journal reported. Officials at the Kentucky state agency said Monday they were unable to verify the allegation.