Staff Council Speaks: President Reviews Challenges, Accomplishments
The University of New Mexico Staff Council is alive and well after 20 years of service to the staff and university. This has been a busy year for the Staff Council as we directed most of our attention toward the actions of the Educational Retirement Board in fall 2010 and the New Mexico State Legislature in the 90-day session this spring. These two issues caused a tremendous amount of anxiety on campus, but the Staff Council worked hard to keep everyone informed of changes and encouraged participation through comments from our constituents.
The ERB proposals, which drastically changed retirement eligibility, were met with campus-wide concern and outrage. Our biggest concern was the proposed change of age and years of service requirements for existing members. A united effort from the UNM staff and faculty was joined by teachers and educators across New Mexico to help persuade the board to reconsider their proposal to the legislature and not change the rules in midstream. We did support the board's concern for the solvency of the retirement fund and joined them in Santa Fe to support bills that would address the solvency of our pension fund.
Working with the UNM Office of Government Relations and the Faculty Senate government relations committee, the Staff Council spent many hours talking to New Mexico legislators, encouraging them to support fair and logical bills to repair the ERB. In the end though, the legislature didn't address the solvency of the fund. The legislature added another 1.75 percent in employee contributions on top of the 1.5 percent temporary swap from 2009. This does nothing to help the solvency of the fund and results in a 3.25 percent pay cut for state employees, a burden that rests on the backs of all ERB members.
The Staff Council leadership tries hard to listen to staff and learn how they feel so that we can respond appropriately to issues. It seems we have fought a losing battle this year with very little success in our efforts to influence the legislature, the regents and the governor about the effects the ERB swap will have on our lives. However, the emails and phone calls we received from staff were appreciative of the Staff Council's efforts. They attest to the fact that staff is united and resolute in continuing to oppose the practice of using state employee retirement funds to balance the state budget instead of addressing the solvency issue of our pension fund.
President David Schmidly and his administration supported our efforts with the legislature and ERB. We were also included in the university budget efforts. Staff members were asked to serve on the cost containment task force to solve the budget issues that the legislative funding cuts have imposed on the university. I feel that working with the administration, faculty, deans and students in these tight economic conditions has actually improved the UNM community relationships.
The people that you meet during the course of serving as Staff Council president are a reward I did not anticipate. The board of regents gave untold hours of service to the university. They have listened to my reports and shown concern for the staff. I would like to extend a special thanks to former Regents President Raymond Sanchez. He is a true gentleman.
President David Schmidly has treated me with friendship and has displayed support and respect to the UNM staff. It is good to see him looking well after his serious illness. Many members of the administration have helped the staff this year and for that, we are thankful. Richard Wood, Faculty Senate president, has displayed outstanding leadership this year. We did not solve every problem, but we tried, and we worked together.
Kathy Meadows started as Staff Council administrative coordinator last July, replacing retiring Karen Retskin. Meadows is dedicated to the position and has been invaluable to the staff and to me during the past year. The members of the executive committee who vet the staff issues and direct the council are selfless and tireless workers. So many staff serve quietly and go unrecognized for their service on committees and as councilors. Thank you for your service!
Since I took office on May 18, 2010, the ERB and UNM budget have occupied a lot of my time, but the Staff Council has been busy on other things throughout my term as president. In July, the Staff Council expanded Staff Appreciation Week into an entire Staff Appreciation Month. During the month of July we had several events that recognized our hard working staff and showed appreciation for their dedication to the university. Also in July, the Staff Council celebrated its 20th anniversary! In August, we presented Elisha Allen with the Jim Davis Staff Council Award for Meritorious Service. Allen is a past president of Staff Council and continues to serve as a councilor and chair of the council's government relations committee.
Last August, the Staff Council joined the UNM community in welcoming the new Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning Resource Center. The center adds another level of diversity for staff, students and faculty. Diversity does matter at UNM and the Staff Council is committed to endorsing this view and the new resource center that embraces it.
The council's career development committee worked hard on revising the language in the university's career ladder policy. In August, the council passed a resolution encouraging Human Resources to revisit and update this policy. As a result of the resolution, HR instituted changes to this policy that make it clearer.
In November, the council's work+life committee collected more than 600 pounds of leftover Halloween candy from the campus community and sent it to Operation Gratitude. Operation Gratitude accepts donations and sends them to service men and women overseas. The Staff Council, along with a generous donation from the Division of Student Affairs to offset shipping charges, sent 10 boxes of candy to California for Operation Gratitude.
In December, the Staff Council and Interim President Paul Roth presented three staff employees with the Gerald W. May Outstanding Staff Award. The recipients were Marvin Gurule, Marion McGranahan and Candyce Torres. The May Award is the most prestigious award staff can receive. The Staff Council thanks the President's Office for their assistance in planning and funding a reception for the award recipients, their families and friends.
In December, the Staff Council instituted a new award program called the Staff Hero Award. This award is given to staff that have made a special effort in helping with an event, project or provided special service to UNM staff. The council presented three employees with a certificate for their special achievements: Kim Kloeppel, Dean Jojola and Barbara Gabaldon.
In December, the work+life committee sponsored a collection drive to help the shelter pets at Animal Humane and the city's Animal Welfare Department. From the main, north, south and branch campuses, the Staff Council collected more than six truckloads of animal items for these homeless pets awaiting adoption. We also collected more than $400 in cash donations for Animal Humane. It is evident that UNM staff have a soft spot for the needy animals and the two agencies were most grateful for all the generosity shown by staff.
The Staff Council passed a resolution in March which formed a new council committee called the Health Sciences Center Staff Councilors Committee. Membership includes all HSC councilors and addresses issues of particular interest to HSC staff. The chair of the committee is Suzanne McConaghy.
During March, the Staff Council held elections to fill 30 seats representing job grades. We are pleased to say that all 30 seats have been filled and the new councilors took office May 17, when the council also elected new officers to carry on the work of the Staff Council. My only advice to the new officers is to keep the welfare of staff as your guiding principle. Each person brings unique abilities to the position you fill so fill the position with your unique abilities and have some fun along the way.
By Merle Kennedy, Staff Council President