Three months ago, Justin Garoutte was working as a special assistant to New Mexico Environment Secretary James Kenney with a pay rate of $26.44 an hour.
Now, Garoutte is working as the department’s director of strategic initiatives, a position the state didn’t advertise, and making $41.82 an hour. The 58 percent raise amounts to about $32,000 more a year, or nearly $87,000 on a 40-hour-a-week schedule.
Kait O’Brien, an Environment Department spokeswoman, called Garoutte a highly motivated and valuable member of the team who was “over-qualified” for the special assistant position.
“Given their experience, education and dedication to protecting public health, Mx. Garoutte was promoted into the Director of Strategic Initiatives,” O’Brien wrote in an email.
She wrote that Garoutte was hired for the job when it became vacant in 2021.
“No other candidates applied for the position as it was an internal promotion,” O’Brien added.
Garoutte did not return a message seeking comment, but according to a LinkedIn page, Garoutte has myriad experiences, from teaching German at Colorado College in Colorado Springs, Colo., where Garoutte graduated in 2012 with a 3.84 GPA, to more recently serving as field director for state Rep. Roger Montoya’s primary election campaign last year.
Garoutte also worked as a development assistant at the Española Democrat’s nonprofit, Moving Arts Española, before joining the Environment Department in July 2020.
“Justin (pronouns: they/he) is from Antonito, a small town in southern Colorado’s San Luis Valley,” the LinkedIn page states. “Their areas of interest are environmental health, health equity, Latina/o/x health, LGBTQIA+ health, community building, social determinants of health, and community-based participatory research.”
As a special assistant to the Cabinet secretary for eight months, Garoutte’s job included scheduling meetings for Kenney and other senior leadership team members and serving as the department’s lead for the New Mexico Wastewater Surveillance System, a public health early warning system aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19 in congregate care settings.
As director of strategic initiatives, “Justin will lead our science, innovation, collaboration and compliance cross-cutting portfolios,” Kenney wrote in a message to employees at the time Garoutte was promoted. “Justin’s team includes Alan Peura and Melinda Robbins.”
Though Peura is still on the job, both he and Robbins have announced their resignations since Garoutte took the job.
“Both are pursuing other opportunities,” O’Brien wrote.
Robbins could not be reached for comment, and Peura declined to comment. He referred questions to Maddy Hayden, the department’s communications director.
Hayden, who previously served as the department’s public information officer, received a pay increase at the same time Garoutte did, according to documents obtained under a public records request. Her pay increased from $35 an hour to $41.82, a nearly 20 percent hike.
“Maddy was promoted from public information officer to director of communications and now supervises four individuals and leads the department’s internal and external communications portfolio,” O’Brien wrote. “Like most positions, increased responsibilities are met with increased salary.”