New Mexico

ONLY ON ABC-7: Julia Brown reflects on time as Dona Ana County manager

Julia Brown Interview

LAS CRUCES, New Mexico - Former Dona Ana County Manager Julia Brown is opening up about her time in county government.

Commissioners abruptly fired Brown a week ago with little explanation. After the firing, Chairwoman Isabella Solis said the county was going in a "different direction," but it is still unclear what that direction is.

In a one-on-one interview only on ABC-7, Brown says the commissioners never gave her a chance.

"I have always said I was never challenging their right or authority to decide who they wanted as a county manager, but I had hoped that we were dealing with people who were reasonable enough to at least take the time to read my contract," Brown said.

Brown said she was led to believe commissioners would give her an evaluation. She said in the weeks prior to her firing, commissioners had the HR department looking at performance evaluation systems. But Brown said there was a red flag.

"I had sent out for the second time my proposed work plan and only got feedback from one commissioner," Brown said. So I was asking myself, well if they haven't reacted to the work plan does that mean they haven't read it?"

Brown also says weeks before her final commission meeting, two commissioners had already offered her position to someone else.

"I'm not going to name names but two commissioners, I don't know if they acted in concert or coincidentally, but each of them offered the position to someone else and that was  probably a week and a half to two weeks before the meeting," she said.

Brown says what happened to her, makes her question the commission's transparency.

"When you think about all the comments that have been made about transparency and wanting to bring change to Dona Ana County. Now a lot of us are wondering what kind of change is it?" Brown said.

Brown was Dona Ana County Manager since December of 2013. She tells ABC-7 during that time, she was proud of forming a community and constituents services unit, where employees have since responded to a backlog of complaints and inquiries from citizens.

Brown also established a grants unit, and a workplace improvement committee. The purpose of that committee, she said, was to give employees a chance to suggest new policies or practices they thought the county needed to make it a better place to work, and feel free from harassment or bullying.

Brown also talked about her relationship with Dona Ana County Sheriff Kiki Vigil.

"Unfortunately the instances where the sheriff and I have not agreed on things have become legendary," Brown said.

In 2015, Brown handed Sheriff Vigil a restraining order during a news conference Vigil was holding, to announce he was taking over the Dona Ana County Detention Center.

"It's unfortunate the sheriff wasted a lot of time and resources filing frivolous lawsuits against the county, all of which he lost," Brown said.

Brown tells ABC-7 she never tried to prevent the sheriff's department from getting the resources it needed, but says she had to be wise when spreading funds to each department.

"The sad truth is that this county does not have that level of resources," Brown said. "There are 15 other departments that have to be considered when putting together a budget."

Brown also said she and sheriff lacked communication. She recalled one incident in which she met with Vigil to discuss funding for new fleets. She said Vigil told the commission they had never met at all.

"The sheriff actually said that he had not had a meeting with me, that I refused to meet with him and the people that were in the meeting were looking around at each other in a perplexed fashion trying to figure out if we were in the twilight zone," Brown said. 

Brown said she believes the sheriff collaborated with the newly elected commissioners, and that's why they fired her.

She said after the election, Sheriff Vigil asked her for money to fund something he wanted for the department. Brown says she told him no.

"He said, 'Well I'm not going to worry about it, you're not going to be here much longer. When my three commissioners take office next year, they'll be getting rid of you so I'll be able to get everything I want," Brown said.

Brown also had a message for the employees she has left behind.

"Having seen the windows of opportunity opening and seeing light come in and outshine the darkness that had been there before, I would urge them not to give up hope.  That will continue to grow and become a permanent fixture in Dona Ana County government."

ABC-7 reached out to Sheriff Kiki Vigil numerous times. A sheriff's spokesperson said Vigil would not comment, stating it was a personnel issue. 

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