County manager aims for openness

By Amy Byres

RIO RANCHO, N.M. — Sandoval County Manager Wayne Johnson hit the ground running, starting his job before officially starting his job.

Johnson is the former manager of Torrance County. He had a 60-day transition period from hiring to his official start date on July 27.

Former Sandoval County Manager Dianne Maes used this time to pass the torch to Johnson before she retired.

“It has been a good transition. I got to give a lot of credit to my predecessor, Dianne Maes. She was great in the transition,” he said.

As a county manager, Johnson values holding taxpayer dollars accountable and maintaining transparency. He said he is an open book.

“That is something that has been part of who I am since the time I was first elected to office,” he said.

Johnson has served as state auditor and Bernalillo County commissioner. While a commissioner, he wrote the county’s transparency ordinance.

“A lot of time governmental organizations, they put up a website and say, ‘OK, we are transparent,’” he said.

But that is not always the case and the people have a right to transparency, he said.

“It is more than a transparency ordinance; it is more than a website; it’s an attitude. Often there is a culture change and a mindset change within the organization, and you set that at the top,” Johnson said. “That’s a commissioner’s level, that’s a manager’s level type of mindset where it’s not just about providing a document, as required by statute; it’s about providing information to the public that they have a right to.”

Johnson has goals for the county:

• Use innovative methodologies to problem-solve,

• Create jobs,

• Develop the economy, and

• Strengthen partnerships.

Over the transition period, he said, he met the county’s department heads and directors, and came to understand the county. He engaged in the 2020 Library General Obligation Bond proposal, where he appreciated methods used to problem-solve.

The 2020 Library GO bond is for about $1.9 million with various amounts being allocated to libraries throughout the county. A committee made up of county librarians, Johnson, County Financial Advisor Rob Burpo and Commission Chairman David Heil decided the amounts earmarked for each library.

“I don’t want to take credit for the committee because it was formed before I got here. But despite how hard it is to do that kind of work, I think it bears a lot of fruit,” Johnson said.

A problem this committee had was cutting the libraries’ original request for $3 million when there was about $1.9 million available in the bond. The county asked the librarians to re-evaluate their requests, and then cut the same percentage from each library to reach the target amount.

“I think it was a very inclusive process, where in the past, we almost arbitrarily, said ‘You’re going to get this amount of money based on our evaluation of the requests,’” Johnson said.

“But by including the committee of librarians, we were able to analyze that on a deeper level because they do this every day, and they were able to make some interesting comments and suggestions for even the librarians that weren’t a part of the committee.”

He said he would like to apply innovative solutions like this one to other conversations.

“If you get people involved early in decision-making processes, especially in more controversial ones where passions might run high on both sides, then you avoid a lot of problems,” he said.

In addition, Johnson wants to strengthen partnerships in the county.

“One of my goals is to establish a really good relationship with all of our partners in the county with 10 pueblos and tribes, with all of Rio Rancho and Cuba, Placitas and Bernalillo; getting really strong relationships going with all of those partners is incredibly important to the county,” Johnson said.

Sandoval County ties all these partners together, he said.

“If we can work well together, then we can leverage each other’s resources to solve problems for each community, and I think that is really important going forward,” Johnson said.