Agency admits official on leave

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By David Giuliani

It’s official: Isaac Apodaca, the state hospital’s deputy administrator, is on leave.

On Thursday, the Optic received pay records indicating that Apodaca, who has been in charge of public relations and staff development, has been on paid administrative leave since Jan. 29.

This information was revealed after the newspaper sent a written public records request to the state Health Department, which oversees the hospital, known formally as the New Mexico Behavioral Health Institute.

Last week, the Optic questioned Health Department officials about Apodaca, and they refused to say whether he had been placed on administrative leave, saying it was a confidential personnel matter. All they would say is that some employees had been placed on administrative leave, without giving names.

The state’s open records laws allow matters of opinion and disciplinary actions in personnel files to be confidential. But that doesn’t apply to information about an employee’s pay or status.

One of Apodaca’s co-workers, Carlos Lopez, the director of housekeeping, said earlier this week that both he and Apodaca are facing termination for a violation of hospital rules. Lopez said the two deserve discipline but that termination is going too far. He said he has developed a good record over 15 years of service at the hospital.

Public employees are usually placed on administrative leave while an agency investigates a matter.

Ralph Gallegos, a temporary employee who used to work in the state engineer’s office, is now assuming some of Apodaca’s public relations duties, officials said.

Apodaca has had a career in public relations. When Manny Aragon took over as president of Highlands University in 2004, he hired Apodaca, then the hospital’s public relations director, as the interim director of the university relations department. After the Board of Regents fired Aragon in 2006, Apodaca stayed on a for a few more months, leaving when the college decided to fill the PR job on a permanent basis.

Apodaca didn’t return a message left for comment.