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.”

Follow Daniel J. Chacón on Twitter @danieljchacon.

(12) comments

Chris Mechels

Typical of the MLG administration. Throwing OUR money on favorites, with no performance record. Michelle does the same thing with her own staff. Utterly corrupt.

Mike Johnson

Indeed, and add his extensive education: Bach. of Arts in German, Colorado College 2012, and a year abroad studying German in Germany during that time. Sure, he was way "overqualified" for "special assistant", and perfect for Director of Strategic Initiatives (whatever that is). It doesn't take much education to work in that department, which should actually be about science, not working for politicians in politics.

Patrick Gabriel

He also has an MPH. For those that are struggling with the acronyms that’s a Masters of Public Health.

Angel Ortiz

Looks like NM State Government is failing once again. This type of promotion is ludicrous. Seeing the other two staffers resign reflects a negative work environment. Sounds just like the Richardson administration all over again. Tragic.

Marci Mel

Yup. Especially if those two staffers were there a lot longer only receiving cost-of-living penny raises. I guess other state workers shouldn't take no for an answer if they ask for a better raise and their boss cries poverty? Where there's a will, there's a way.

Mike Johnson


Lee DiFiore

I must be getting old. What's an "Mx"?

Katherine Martinez

Exactly. I think we need to sign up for the Pronoun 101 class that includes the ever increasing LGBTQIA+-/#$ algorithm. The advanced class will include the definition of Latin X/O/abc. The Lab class will follow. The text books are expensive however I might warn.

John Cook

'Mx.' is a non-gender honorific. Mr. is the male honorific and Miss, Mrs. or Ms. are the female honorifics. Mx. is the non-gender one.

Lee DiFiore

I am getting old. What's an honorific?

Brad Doubles

More of the same nonsense in NM govt jobs. I can guarantee, this person would not come close to making $41/ in the private sector. No skills, just frills....could not create value in a private business so we all get to pay with our

Katherine Martinez

What in the world is this? I was not taught this in basic chemistry. /o/x health, LGBTQIA+

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