McCamley stepping down as secretary of Workforce Solutions

Daniel J. Chacón, The Santa Fe New Mexican

Apr. 16—Bill McCamley stepped down Friday as Cabinet secretary of the state Department of Workforce Solutions, the oft-criticized agency tasked with absorbing the tsunami of unemployment claims filed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

His abrupt departure comes after a year filled with stinging criticism over Workforce Solutions' seeming inability to deal with the volume of requests from out-of-work New Mexicans struggling to gain access to unemployment benefits.

"I just wanted to send a note to you all saying how proud of an experience it has been working with all of you these past 2+ years," McCamley, a former state representative, wrote in an email to employees this week.

"The effort, care, and patience you have shown dealing with New Mexicans as we work through this pandemic together has been nothing short of heroic and I can do nothing but offer my highest praise to all of you," he added.

In a news release, the Governor's Office noted McCamley was leaving "after more than a year of managing an unprecedented deluge of unemployment claims brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and overseeing the disbursement of more than $3.5 billion in funds to displaced workers throughout the state."

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said in a statement she was grateful to McCamley for his work over the last few years, particularly since the pandemic hit New Mexico.

"COVID-19 affected everyone in New Mexico, and the Department of Workforce Solutions was asked to step up and meet the new and unexpected and ongoing needs of so many of our neighbors," the governor said. "I am certain the state employees there will continue to do all they can to help constituents around the clock as we begin to move toward the end of the pandemic."

Ricky Serna, who previously served as the department's deputy secretary, will serve as acting secretary until a full-time replacement is identified. Serna is currently serving as acting secretary of the State Personnel Office.

"This is a short-term arrangement, during which governor's office personnel will assist him (Serna) with acting SPO management and oversight on a short-term basis," Nora Meyers Sackett, the governor's press secretary, wrote in an email. "We expect to find candidates shortly."

No reason was given for McCamley's departure. McCamley did not return a message seeking comment but indicated on Twitter he had not been pushed out.

"The governor and all of her staff have been nothing short of classy, professional, and supportive," he wrote in response to a tweet questioning whether he was "being hung out to dry."

McCamley led a department that has wrangled for more than a year with record levels of unemployment claims. More than 100,000 New Mexicans are receiving weekly jobless benefits.

As the coronavirus swept through the state in March 2020, new weekly claims for benefits statewide quickly rose to a peak of 18,000 from the typical 600 to 1,000 per week. Since June, there have been between 2,000 and 5,000 weekly initial claims for jobless benefits, taxing a system designed for fewer than 1,000.

Unemployed workers in the state have had to wrestle with Workforce Solutions' overwhelmed online and phone systems, sometimes calling dozens of times before receiving an answer. Often enough, the jobless were locked out of their Workforce Solutions accounts, triggering a storm of complaints.

The department has offered little explanation for the frustrations, other than to note the unprecedented volume of requests.

McCamley oversaw an overhaul of the department's processing system to handle the vastly increased volume of applicants for benefits through the state's unemployment insurance program. It also has had to set up an entirely new system to handle claims through the federal government's Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program for the self-employed, contractors and gig workers.

The state's $465 million Workforce Force Unemployment Trust fund was exhausted by September, and since then New Mexico has had to rely on federal funds to pay unemployment benefits.

In a Facebook post, McCamley thanked the governor "for the honor of serving in this role." He also thanked his staff, calling it an "absolute honor" to serve alongside them.

"To everyone else in New Mexico, please be kind to your fellow humans," he wrote. "In life we are all in this together. We all do better when we treat each other with patience, respect, and compassion. Let's make sure we keep doing that."

Follow Daniel J. Chacón on Twitter @danieljchacon.

Follow Daniel J. Chacón on Twitter @danieljchacon.