She says payout of $453,000 to ex-president 'most responsible' option
State senators on Monday confirmed businesswoman Kari Mitchell to the New Mexico State University Board of Regents, though one grilled her over the $453,000 payout to a former school president.
The confirmation vote was 39-0. Two southern New Mexico Democrats, Sens. Mary Kay Papen of Las Cruces and John Arthur Smith of Deming, called Mitchell, right, an outstanding community servant deserving of a place on the five-member board.
Mitchell, 45, of Mesilla, was appointed to the board of regents last July by Gov. Susana Martinez. About two months later, NMSU president Barbara Couture resigned in return for the taxpayer-funded payout authorized by the regents.
During a Senate Rules Committee hearing Monday, Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto questioned Mitchell at length about the regents’ handling of Couture’s departure. Mitchell said she supported the buyout but did not help negotiate it.
“We did feel it was the most responsible thing to do,” she told the committee.
Mitchell said she felt constrained from going into details because
Couture’s departure was a personnel matter. But Mitchell offered to
speak privately about it with Ivey-Soto.
Ivey-Soto, right, D-Albuquerque, said NMSU regents had a history of providing overly generous payouts to administrators who were forced out.
“There seems to be a culture down there of writing checks with the people’s money to get rid of people,” Ivey-Soto said.
After resigning in October, Couture received her full salary for the rest of 2012 — about $98,000. She also had use of the university residence and a car through the end of the year. This occurred even as she worked for her new employer, the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities.
Couture went on the association’s payroll in January 2013. That is when she also received the $453,000 payout from NMSU.
“That’s a real bitter pill to swallow,” Ivey-Soto said.
No other senator questioned Mitchell on why NMSU regents soured on Couture, who did not last three years as president.
Mitchell is owner and CEO of Las Cruces Machine, Manufacturing & Engineering. She serves on the executive committee of a high school-college education program called the Bridge of Southern New Mexico.
She received a bachelor’s degree in marketing and management from Adams State College and a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Houston-Clear Lake.
State campaign records show that Mitchell donated a total of $5,000 to Martinez and the governor’s Susana Political Action Committee between 2010 and last August.
Mitchell in 2009 also donated $125 to Democrat Diane Denish, who lost the governor’s race to Martinez the following year.
Mitchell’s term as a regent runs through 2018.