State Corrections Department Secretary Gregg Marcantel raised eyebrows recently when he appointed his former public affairs director, Alex Tomlin, to the $100,000-a-year position of deputy secretary of administration and has created a new $103,000-a-year chief of staff position in the department.

A union leader said members’ reactions to the news that Tomlin, a former television reporter, will oversee about 60 employees and the department’s $317 million annual budget have been “swift and intense.”

Miles Dylan Conway, communications director for Council 18 of the New Mexico branch of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said Tuesday that he’s been flooded with angry calls and emails — many from corrections officers who have been working mandatory 72-hour shifts weekly because of severe staffing shortages at the prisons. Some questioned Tomlin’s credentials and the creation of a highly paid new position at the management level while critical lower-level positions remain unfilled.

Tomlin’s hiring also comes as the Corrections Department is under fire following a six-month investigation by The New Mexican that found the department failed to properly oversee the private company that provides inmate health care, Corizon Health, despite a growing number of lawsuits and employee warnings about the company’s care.

As of Friday, 155 lawsuits had been filed against Corizon by 211 inmates since it took over the health care contract in 2007.

Tomlin — who has a bachelor’s degree in communications from Texas A&M University — will be responsible for “finances, information technology and facilities management,” according to department spokeswoman Ashley Espinoza. Tomlin was paid about $70,000 a year between 2013 and 2015, when she served as the department’s spokeswoman.

Because her new position is exempt, the Corrections Department was not required to advertise the job or interview other candidates.

Tomlin said in a statement that she left the department about six months ago “for an opportunity in the private sector” but “decided corrections was where my passion really was.” She is happy to be back, she said.

Marcantel — who worked closely with Tomlin on creating internal mini-films that looped on television screens throughout the department when she was public affairs director — announced her new appointment to staff in a lengthy email Friday. She started work Monday morning.

“Given Ms. Tomlin’s attention for detail, creativity and communication skills,” Marcantel wrote, “not only will she be a champion for the remarkable staff assigned to her influence, but her capacity to identify, frame and communicate our fiscal needs will also complement the valuable work and resource requirements of each functioning unit, division, and department throughout our organization.”

In his email — a sort of long-form inspirational memo that stressed the importance of a carefully recruited and properly trained workforce — Marcantel also announced a reorganization at the upper levels of the department, which includes the new chief of staff position. That job will be filled by Mark Myers, who has been acting deputy secretary of administration since the former deputy secretary, Aurora Sanchez, retired about two years ago.

Marcantel said in his email that Myers, a retired police officer from Las Cruces with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, will now be in charge of filling vacancies, management training and “organizational integrity.”

In response to a written question about her experience with budget oversight, Tomlin wrote: “While I was not in charge of the budget in my previous position, I was an executive team member who regularly attended budget hearings, answered legislative requests about our budget and worked closely with administrative staff on initiatives, programs, legislative bills, etc. that impacted the budget.”

Tomlin said she was too busy to grant The New Mexican a phone interview Tuesday, but said in a written statement that she was “excited” to be part of the New Mexico Corrections Department family again. She is “passionate” about supporting the prison staff, she added, and she believes her “knowledge of the department, communication background and leadership skills are the right fit for the position.”

But not everyone is as confident that Tomlin is qualified to serve as deputy secretary of administration.

Conway said the union hasn’t had a chance to vet Tomlin’s qualifications yet, but union members are upset that “on its surface, it appears the Corrections Department may have hired someone with questionable qualifications for a very intense and high-paying job.”

“The bottom line for our public safety coordinator is: Management doesn’t need relief, workers need relief, and the wages [Tomlin and Myers] are being paid would cover over three corrections officer positions,” he said.

Tomlin’s credentials are less impressive than those of Sanchez, who retired from the deputy secretary job about two years ago.

When Marcantel appointed her in 2012, Sanchez — who has a bachelor’s degree in business administration — had 24 years worth of experience in state government administration, including stints as an IT auditor, audit manager and public safety analyst for the Legislative Finance Committee. She also was a certified information systems auditor.

In contrast, Tomlin worked as a television news reporter at two different stations for a combined total of about six years before landing her first job in government as the spokeswoman for the Department of Corrections in 2013, a job she held for two years.

Contact Phaedra Haywood at 505-986-3068 or Follow her on Twitter at @phaedraann.

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