MORIARTY, N.M. (KRQE) — Veteran Department of Transportation employee and Torrance County Commissioner Lonnie Freyburger is stuck between a rock and a hard place.
Freyburger, who has been a DOT manager for nearly 25 years, has also served on the Torrance County Commission for the last 16 months, which he recently found out was against state law.
"(My supervisor) left a message that said, 'I need to talk with you. It's urgent,'" said Freyburger, who received the message earlier this month. "He told me I had to by the end of the day either resign from the highway department or resign from the commission."
According to State Personnel Director Gene Moser, classified state workers, including most DOT employees, can't hold partisan elected office.
"If they are elected, then by law, they must resign their position from state government," said Moser. "That was the concern to remove politics from the classified act."
Freyburger said he had no idea it was against the law. He told News 13, he got permission from a supervisor last year giving him the okay to sit on the county commission.
State officials said that's not an excuse. Freyburger was placed on paid suspension and given an ultimatum.
"The law is the law," said Adjutant DOT Secretary Mike McEntee. "We have to follow it. We are the government."
McEntee and Moser both said they don't know how Freyburger flew under the radar for more than a year.
McEntee said the department has launched an investigation to find out who allowed Freyburger to hold elected office.
"It shouldn't have happened that he was serving, so we're going to figure out what happened and take corrective action," said McEntee.
As for Freyburger, who is six months away from retirement, he plans to give up his $54,000 DOT salary and keep working as a commissioner for $16,000 a year.
"Just to desert them not even half my term left, I just felt morally and ethically I could not do that," said Freyburger.
Freyburger said what the state has done to him is unfair and he never expected to leave on this note.
Freyburger said he will have to pay $13,000 to buy out the six months he has left until he's eligible for retirement.
The state said it hasn't found any other state workers who are holding partisan office so far.
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New Mexico is located in the southwestern region of the U.S. Inhabited by Native American populations for many centuries, New Mexico has also been part of Imperial Spain, part of Mexico, and a U.S. territory.