His colleagues said expensing an assistant's travel is uncommon. Commissioner Michael Wiener said the move was "surprising" and "unprecedented."
County Manager Tom Zdunek also confirmed he advised Johnson not to bring his assistant, Karen Brown, but said each commissioner decides how to spend his/her $9,500 discretionary budget.
In early March, Johnson and Brown traveled to Washington, D.C. for a conference held by the National Association of Counties.
"If you're going to be effective, it's important that you include the key personnel in your office," said Johnson.
According to expense reports, the airfare and conference registration for Brown cost about $1,000. Johnson said it cost another $1,300 for her three night stay at the Omni Hotel and for food and spending money.
"My assistant truly is a deputy commissioner," said Johnson. "So it's very important as part of these trips that she know who I am meeting with and what's being said."
Each commissioner is given an office budget of just under $10,000 to spend on everything from supplies to food for constituent meetings and travel.
Commissioner Maggie Hart Stebbins said she has never used county money to send an assistant on a trip.
"I don't see how my assistant's travel benefits the taxpayer," said Stebbins.
Commissioners Michelle Lujan Grisham, Art de la Cruz and Wiener also said they have never expensed an assistant's travel.
But Johnson said Brown is not just an assistant. Her official title is "Deputy County Commissioner."
"I make the decisions, but she's the one who has to implement those decisions and it's very important for her to know what they are," said Johnson.
Stebbins said deputy county commissioner is not an official position.
"I don't think any of us use that term. I don't think such a thing exists," said Stebbins.
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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.