ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) — The boss yelled at her employees, berated them, gave them confusing instructions. One by one, seasoned buyers and purchasing specialists for the city of Albuquerque gave up. Since she was hired in 2011, nearly every employee who worked for chief purchasing officer Ramona Martinez has quit.
The division those workers left behind- responsible for spending much of the city’s billion-dollar budget- was a mess when outside investigators dug into a workplace harassment claim in October 2015.
The report that Robert Caswell Investigations gave to Mayor R.J. Berry’s administration last December backed up the harassment claim.
Martinez’s management style was so raw that a city attorney worried the chief purchasing officer would know the lawyer had spoken to them. A deputy fire chief told investigators that when he sat down to ask why it was taking a year and a half to order something as benign as cabinets, Martinez called him a “hard-headed crybaby.”
A year later, Martinez is in the same job. And while the city says a letter of reprimand and a plan for change are working, nervous employees say that not much is different.
“Nothing happened,” one employee said. “She kept her job. She kept the employees that were working under her even though she knew what everybody said about her.” KRQE News 13 agreed to keep the employee anonymous due to fears of retaliation.
“Everybody stuck their neck out to make things better. And the administration’s refusing to help the employees,” the employee said.
Deputy chief administrative officer Gilbert Montano said the city doesn’t condone Martinez’s behavior, but much of the conflict came from efforts to reform a purchasing system that badly needs updating. The chief procurement officers handle the city’s purchasing warehouse- essentially an in-house big-box home improvement store- as well as other purchasing contracts.
Montano said the city brought in Martinez to essentially get rid of bad apples in the division, a directive she repeated to investigators in an October 2015 interview.
“I mean, people were swinging from the chandeliers. It was a mess. And processes, documentation it hasn’t changed since 1980,” Martinez said.
Again, current and former employees- more than two dozen spoke to investigators- dispute that assessment.
Speaking to investigators in October 2015, an assistant city attorney offered an opinion of purchasing employees that seemed to differ from the administration’s assessment that the division was stuck in the past: “They are up to the task. These are great, brilliant folks.”
Joe Rael worked as the city’s internal services supervisor in the purchasing warehouse. He left after a year working for Ramona Martinez.
“When you’re a supervisor, a boss, a manager and you have that level of turnover, usually the people above that supervisor, that boss, that manager should be taking a very hard look at the person in charge,” Rael said, “And saying, ‘Why are we losing so many employees? Especially employees that were with us for so many years, that we never had problems with, that were not disciplinary issues, they didn’t have disciplinary cases, no one had complained about them, they did their work diligently, yet they’ve gone.'”
Rael described the purchasing division as a great place to work prior to Martinez taking over. But as purchasing instructions became confusing and buyers couldn’t get prompt answers from Martinez, work in the fast-paced division slowed to the point that several city departments complained they couldn’t get orders and contracts processed quickly enough.
Those departments attempted to handle purchasing themselves. But in cases where buyers left the purchasing division to work for one of those departments, they complained Martinez would unnecessarily delay their orders. Investigators documented widespread instances of such complaints.
“With the things that she has done, that’s someone who should have lost their job,” Rael said.
Many employees worried Martinez’s real job was to prove the city should shut down the purchasing warehouse. While the city acknowledged that it is planning to reevaluate the warehouse’s feasibility, it hasn’t made any final decisions and plans to hire an outside consultant to weigh in on the matter.
In the meantime, Martinez and the city’s fleet manager now share supervision of the warehouse. The city insists that the arrangement is working and that it allows Martinez to focus on a long-running effort to automate purchasing. The shared-supervision plan was in place last fall, though, and neither Martinez not the fleet manager, Marina Wells, felt it was working.
The city insists it is. Once again, employees say it’s not and the constant retraining has slowed the purchasing process and cost taxpayers money.
“It’s just like a rotating door,” one said. “As soon as somebody can leave, they’re gone.”