Bill McCamley stepped down Friday as Cabinet secretary of the state Department of Workforce Solutions, the oft-criticized agency tasked with absorbing the tsunami of unemployment claims filed during the coronavirus pandemic.

His abrupt departure comes after a year filled with stinging criticism over Workforce Solutions’ seeming inability to deal with the volume of requests from out-of-work New Mexicans struggling to gain access to unemployment benefits.

“I just wanted to send a note to you all saying how proud of an experience it has been working with all of you these past 2+ years,” McCamley, a former state representative, wrote in an email to employees this week.

“The effort, care, and patience you have shown dealing with New Mexicans as we work through this pandemic together has been nothing short of heroic and I can do nothing but offer my highest praise to all of you,” he added.

In a news release, the Governor’s Office noted McCamley was leaving “after more than a year of managing an unprecedented deluge of unemployment claims brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and overseeing the disbursement of more than $3.5 billion in funds to displaced workers throughout the state.”

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said in a statement she was grateful to McCamley for his work over the last few years, particularly since the pandemic hit New Mexico.

“COVID-19 affected everyone in New Mexico, and the Department of Workforce Solutions was asked to step up and meet the new and unexpected and ongoing needs of so many of our neighbors,” the governor said. “I am certain the state employees there will continue to do all they can to help constituents around the clock as we begin to move toward the end of the pandemic.”

Ricky Serna, who previously served as the department’s deputy secretary, will serve as acting secretary until a full-time replacement is selected. Serna currently serves as acting secretary of the State Personnel Office.

“This is a short-term arrangement, during which governor’s office personnel will assist him [Serna] with acting SPO management and oversight on a short-term basis,” Nora Meyers Sackett, the governor’s press secretary, wrote in an email. “We expect to find candidates shortly.”

No reason was given for McCamley’s departure. McCamley did not return a message seeking comment but indicated on Twitter he had not been pushed out.

“The governor and all of her staff have been nothing short of classy, professional, and supportive,” he wrote in response to a tweet questioning whether he was “being hung out to dry.”

McCamley led a department that has wrangled for more than a year with record levels of unemployment claims. More than 100,000 New Mexicans are receiving weekly jobless benefits.

As the coronavirus swept through the state in March 2020, new weekly claims for benefits statewide quickly rose to a peak of 18,000 from the typical 600 to 1,000 per week.

Since June, there have been between 2,000 and 5,000 weekly initial claims for jobless benefits, taxing a system designed for fewer than 1,000.

Unemployed workers in the state have had to wrestle with Workforce Solutions’ overwhelmed online and phone systems, sometimes calling dozens of times before receiving an answer. Often enough, the jobless were locked out of their Workforce Solutions accounts, triggering a storm of complaints.

The department has offered little explanation for the frustrations other than to note the unprecedented volume of requests.

McCamley oversaw an overhaul of the department’s processing system to handle the vastly increased volume of applications for benefits through the state’s unemployment insurance program.

It also has had to set up an entirely new system to handle claims through the federal government’s Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program for the self-employed, contractors and gig workers.

The state’s $465 million Workforce Force Unemployment Trust fund was exhausted by September, and New Mexico has had to rely on federal funds since then to pay unemployment benefits.

In a Facebook post, McCamley thanked the governor “for the honor of serving in this role.” He also thanked his staff, calling it an “absolute honor” to serve alongside them.

“To everyone else in New Mexico, please be kind to your fellow humans,” he wrote. “In life we are all in this together. We all do better when we treat each other with patience, respect, and compassion. Let’s make sure we keep doing that.”

Follow Daniel J. Chacón on Twitter

@danieljchacon.

(21) comments

paul pacheco

What's that saying? "if you can't stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen!" Now all the other blood-suckers will come crawling out from some rock! But hey, that's show-biz!

Chris Mechels

McCamley seems a very nice, well intentioned, man who should have remained in the Legislature. Running the dysfunctional WFS requires some executive experience, and a lot of very tough personnel decisions. Not politics.

Our Governor is another who lack of executive experience causes every day. Her staff and Cabinet choices are pathetic. And a fair number of well qualified appointees simply quit, because Michelle is a relentless micro manager, as she was as DOH Secretary in 2007, leading to her removal. She will not change, so we need to remove her. A Governor needs a strong, competent staff and Cabinet, and Michelle hasn't figured that out.

George Welland

Oh my goodness Chris, you've single handedly in one comment exposed the Democrats' Achilles' heel ... up until now they've been the lesser of the two (ok Libertarian types ... three) evils; but failing to address the most recent UI meltdown (which started with only Democrats in all the state-wide and federal level offices) could turn the tide even in the 1st Congressional District race ... Naw, look at who the Republicans are running. However, MLG could very easily be a one term governor (although the biggest thing she has in her favor right now are the Republicans).

Seriously, these paternalistic (or maternalistic) types that mean well, but really don't have the expertise (especially to micro-manage others) are a threat to everyone (including themselves)!

Peter Wyman

When McCamley was trying to attain a political position...ANY position...back during his time in Las Cruces, he made it clear that his goal was to be a lifelong politician, sucking from Big Government's teat. The abject failure of Workforce Solutions is a shining example of what happens when a person's ambitions far exceed his qualifications.

Mike Johnson

[thumbup]Well said, and very true.

zach miller

Why? he literally did his one job of making sure poor people didn't actually get money from a program that they paid in to. That's exactly what barriers to getting assistance are there for. Workforce Solutions would never be needed if the government ever had intentions of paying out unemployment to the unemployed.

Gerald Joyce

Unemployment insurance is mostly paid for by employers not employees. Federal unemployment is usually a very, very small paycheck deduction. The unprecedented shutdown could not have been predicted and NMWS was neither staffed nor technically equipped to handle the volume, was any state. Let's blame one man for it. It's convenient. BTW the federal Paycheck Protection Program was advertised as compassion, in reality it was financed to prevent a complete collapse of our economy. Now, if we can only figure out how to dig our way out of this $29 Trillion hole.

George Welland

Interesting comments, with which I can partially agree, with caveats, I.e.:

1.) Thank you for pointing out that SUTA/FUTA taxes (actually contributions) are totally paid by the employer (except in three states, which treat workers better because they have some skin in the game), albeit in reality it's just a business expense passed on to consumers who really pay in higher prices, although still a negligible amount;

2.) The blame on McCamley is for covering up the disaster for over a year, failing to effectively communicate information about how programs works (or don't) to the public, and an absolute inability to manage a state program while pretending to know how it works (even hostile to a facebook page that explained what would happen months to weeks in advance of every snafu, etc.);

3.) The "unprecedented shutdown" was a replay of the national 80-82 Recession, the Dot.ComBust, The Great Recession, and numerous regional Oil Bust recessions, that all shared the common denominator of complete failures in state jobless programs (so no, the failure was very predictable, but was not of McCamley's making, he just let it burn for over a year, as it's the fault of governors and legislators and their intentional neglect over the last decade!).

4.) As for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), that's an ongoing fraud and corporate welfare scam that makes the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), designed to bail out banks during The Great Recession, pale in comparison (but I think the last sentence has a typo, as it's only a 2.9 trillion dollar hole so far, that's with a decimal point between the two and the nine).

BTW - The states where given billions of dollars over the last decade to modernize their computer systems and programs, and New Mexico squandered tens of millions of dollars on contractors who sold the state lemons under the prior administration.

In conclusion, most readers won't pick up on the nuances mentioned above, but every politician with any smarts, or a college educated staff member, should know exactly what went wrong and who's to blame!

Prince Michael Jauregui

Great summary, Mr. Welland.

Earl James

Time will tell whether or not McCamley was competent at this job or not. Let’s hope his successor can straighten out the messes he appeared to have left uncorrected. If you see all of these long standing problems there disappear a couple months after a new secretary takes over, then we’ll know the answer. Hold your fire until then.

George Welland

I don't think an improvement could possibly occur in less than half a year, without a systematic and concerted effort (funded and backed with political will). NMDWS is in shambles, the department's continued distress will not be a reflection upon the successor to McCamley or vindicate McCamley (who as far as I can tell just layered a pretty high salary on top of his PERA acquired through his legislative service and not much else!).

George Welland

"Stepping down?" Doesn't matter if McCamley was pushed or tripped... he was in way over his head. The feds ought to put the program under a friendly trusteeship and come in to straighten it out. NMDWS had been set up to fail decades ago... oh right it failed during the Great Recession also! Legislators and governors (over the last decade) share a big amount of the blame for the melt down of NMDWS and letting it burn for over a year while New Mexican workers and their families suffered (and still do)!

Mike Johnson

He had no education, no experience, and no previous jobs anywhere close to this, why would people think he would know what he was doing? Only an idiot, or politician would be that dumb. This was a mistake, face it and move on.

Mike Johnson

Incredibly wonderful news! Maybe now NM can get a qualified, competent person, however if MLG does the picking again......fat chance.....[lol]

John Cook

Anyone who thinks Bill McCamley is not qualified, competent, hard working and a good man needs help. Probably professional help but you could start with a stiff drink and a long nap.

Lupe Molina

I am sure Mike doesn't know Mr. McCamley or his career. He just looks for any excuse to attack the governor or any woman in power. This is a stretch even by his rock bottom standards.

Mike Johnson

I am quite familiar with him, I spend much time in Las Cruces, have many friends, and know his previous employment at one of my alma mater's development organization.

zach miller

that is exactly it. Mike always has the same tale to tell no matter the content of the article.

George Welland

Sorry John, I would have responded early, but I just woke up from my siesta and am having a drink... Oh and yea, if I needed help with something as important as people's economic security... I'd ask for help ... maybe even get a professional ASAP!

Mike Johnson

[thumbup]

Paul Dirdak Wendy Pomeroy

Tell it, John...

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