Mike Vinyard, county administrator, dies in motorcycle crash

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He was a man who was not afraid to wear lavender. When he entered a room, it was with a crisp, lively step and a smile.

Always a professional but never taking himself too seriously, Michael Vinyard, Valencia County’s procurement agent, died Sunday, May 4, after a motorcycle crash in Albuquerque. He was 59.

Mike Vinyard Purchasing agent

A retired Air Force major, Vinyard was hired by the county in 2011. As the former state purchasing agent under former Gov. Bill Richardson’s administration, Vinyard found himself looking for employment as the state administration transitioned to Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration.

He was the man who shepherded through one of the state’s most controversial purchases – Richardson’s jet.

He never purchased anything of that magnitude for the county, but Vinyard’s coworkers say his death leaves a huge hole in the organization, both professionally and personally.

“What immediately comes to my mind when I think of Mike is his integrity and professionalism,” said Michelle Romero, the county’s buyer, “and his joy of bringing people together to have fun. He was definitely a gatherer of people to have a joyous celebration. As hard as all this is, I feel the thing he would want is for us to celebrate his life.”

When moral was low, Vinyard could always be counted on to come up with some kind of “scheme” to bolster spirits, said Valencia County Human Resources Director Dan Zolnier.

“He came up with this Halloween event, bought a popcorn machine, always some little thing,” Zolnier said.

In addition to his years of purchasing expertise, Zolnier said Vinyard was a man with many skills and interests, including drag racing, and being an avid motorcyclist, pilot and mechanic.

Valencia County manager Jeff Condrey, who took the position in January, worked with Vinyard nearly a decade ago, when Vinyard was working for the state doing procurement workshops for cities and counties.

“When I interviewed down here, I was surprised. I thought, ‘This county’s got to have something on the ball to attract someone of Mike’s caliber,’” Condrey said. “In my experience, he was someone very unique. Mike was dedicated to the profession as a whole. That was refreshing and an asset to the county. He left a tough set of shoes to fill.”

Vinyard’s dedication to his profession is what motivated him to teach, sharing his knowledge and passion with others. He was in demand for procurement workshops and seminars across the state and around the country. Vinyard was also an instructor with the New Mexico State University’s public administration continuing education program, EDGE.

“He was a good instructor, too. Dynamic,” Zolnier said. “He could take dry material and make it interesting.”

Valencia County Commission Chairman Charles Eaton said the most important thing Vinyard brought to the county was his knowledge and expertise in procurement.

“We’ve spent many years trying to get our house in order and Mike was a big part of that team,” Eaton said.

The chairman acknowledged the changes Vinyard brought to the county weren’t easy ones to make or accept for some.

“Mike was really stern when it came to procurement and I heard things good and bad,” he said. “But it was not personal because everyone recognized he was working to do the best thing for Valencia County.”

His coworkers also described Vinyard as extremely ethical and having great integrity.

“His ethics were beyond reproach. A lot of public entities get in trouble for corruption and bad management with purchasing,” Condrey said. “I know having him at the helm and being a watchdog over those public funds made it a lot easier to sleep as county manager.”

And the fact that they were public funds he was working with was never far from Vinyard’s mind, Romero said.

“He was always proud of the fact that he was going to make sure taxpayers’ dollars were spent wisely and never wasted,” she said. “He was above reproach. He walked the walk and talked the talk. He was respected because he gave respect.”

County attorney Dave Pato called Vinyard “an exceptional mentor and a dedicated friend.”

“It was my pleasure to get to know Mike, and truly an honor and a privilege to have the opportunity to work with him,” Pato said. “Mike brought dedication and integrity to every project he touched, and served to restore and foster the public’s trust, not only in purchasing but in the county’s operations as a whole. Mike was a caring and loyal friend, whose perspective and insight I will miss dearly.”

And his humor and ability to tell a story will also be missed around the county offices.

“Mike always had a story to share that would twist and turn and have us all laughing by the end. In each of those stories, there was wisdom that he shared through his life experience,” said Jacobo Martinez, county planner. “I always admired how he saw the good in everything around him and in everyone he made contact with, and that is usually how his stories ended. Happy and full of life.

“This community, this world, needs a lot of Mikes. I know I learned a lot from the man and I am sure that through his stories, a lot of others did as well.”

In addition to being the county’s “ethical procurement director,” public works director Kelly Bouska echoed Zolnier’s thoughts that Vinyard was also its go-to guy for employee moral. Most recently, Vinyard organized an ugly Christmas sweater contest, something he had never heard of.

“One of the guys from the clerks office had a picture of Mike in his sweater. He won — no one could beat that,” Bouska said. “Mike took pride in that. He did what he did, and made us follow the rules, which is good. He would always fish out his policies and procedures with a bit of humor, and that made it a bit more palatable. No one is going to fill his shoes. I kind of pity the next purchasing guy. All he’s going to hear is, ‘Mike never would have done it that way.’”

Vinyard will live on in several ways. He was an organ donor, and the board of the New Mexico Public Procurement Association, of which Vinyard was a founding member and past president, will offer a scholarship in his name for attendance and training at their conference.

Vinyard is survived by wife, Rena; his daughter, Margaret Diaz and husband, Jose; his sons, Dale Jones, Paul, and Kenneth Vinyard; his father, J.V. Vinyard and wife, Ruby Jane; his brother, Rob Vinyard and wife, Becky; and his granddaughter, Ava Diaz.

Vinyard was will be laid to rest Thursday morning at the Santa Fe National Cemetery.


-- Email the author at jdendinger@news-bulletin.com.