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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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NMSU?s NM EDGE program prepares newly elected county officials

Most people who run for public office say they do so with the intention of serving their communities ? but new officials don?t always immediately understand the intricacies of governance. They need a way to get up to speed before being sworn into office, become better-educated on various aspects of their new roles.

Two women and a man facing each other and talking
NM EDGE instructor Tom Weeks, left, visits with Village of Milan officials Triny Barajas, center, accounts payable clerk, and Theresa Garcia, village clerk, during a class on purchasing. This is just one of a hundred classes available to county and municipal elected officials and employees in the certified public official curriculum. (NMSU photo by Jane Moorman)

New Mexico State University?s Cooperative Extension Service has partnered with New Mexico Association of Counties to help bridge that gap by providing a nationally accredited certified public official program through NM EDGE, which stands for Education Designed to Generate Excellence in the public sector.

The goal of NM EDGE and NMAC is for counties in New Mexico to have better government through education.

?We are fulfilling some very basic needs ? professionalizing and educating elected officials to be able to better serve their communities and do a better job as elected officials,? said Steven Kopelman, NMAC executive director.

?We feel this program directly assists us in our mission to take practical education to every part of our state,? said Jon Boren, NMSU?s Cooperative Extension Service director. ?In our 100th year of serving the people of New Mexico, we continue to find collaborative ways to reach out to new partners.?

When Paula Garcia ran for a seat on the Mora County Commission four years ago, she wanted to help her county?s economic development and protect the area?s natural resources.

?I had a broad vision of what I wanted to do as a commissioner, but I had surprisingly little knowledge about how county government operates,? said Garcia, NMAC president who is entering her second term as commissioner. ?What I realized quickly was that I needed to understand the basics of governance. That knowledge doesn?t necessarily come from on-the-job experience, because what is normal in a given county may not be the best practice.?

Prior to being sworn into office in 2011, Otero County Commissioner Susan Flores was overwhelmed by the information she obtained at the NMAC Better Informed Public Official boot camp for newly elected commissioners, assessors and sheriffs.

?There were a lot of things involved in the position that I didn?t realize when I was running for office,? said Flores, who is entering her second term. ?I took the classes at the boot camp and thought that was good enough. But it wasn?t long before I realized there was more I needed to know and learn.?

Both commissioners enrolled in County College classes provided by NM EDGE.

?County College and NM EDGE brings together knowledgeable people from around the state,? Garcia said. ?Having classes with faculty, you get an objective view of how government should be operating. Plus you hear from other new and experienced commissioners on how they handle issues.?

Flores said she started taking classes and found that she applied the information immediately.

?One of the first things I used the information for was rewriting an ordinance,? Flores said. ?If I hadn?t had the education from NM EDGE, I would not have done it correctly.?

Flores, who is one of nine commissioners in the state to earn the New Mexico Certified County Commissioner designation, said ?You can?t rely on ?this is the way it?s been done in the past? frame of mind in this position. In government, you are constantly learning because of changes in the laws, statues and issues. You have to be aware of these changes.?

Both Flores and Garcia feel the knowledge they?ve gained through County College and the New Mexico Certified Pubic Manager program has made them better commissioners.

?We are working for the people of the county,? Flores said. ?Having this education has been invaluable. I now know we are not micro-managers of the county. The commission hires the county manager, whose job it is ensure the county employees provide services to the citizens.?

Flores is not the only Otero County elected official to attend NM EDGE?s program. Personnel in the treasurer?s, county clerk?s and purchasing offices have received certifications in their fields. Six have earned the certified public official designation, and four have completed the second tier of the program to receive the certified public supervisor designation.

?We are running the county better because of the classes,? she said. ?The clerk and treasurer offices are more efficient because of the training. And as a commissioner, I am able to explain things better to the citizens when they have an issue or concern.?

For more information about the NM EDGE program, visit nmedge.nmsu.edu.