Española city manager resigns, offers no explanation

December 14, 2018

The Española city manager, who regained his job earlier this year after resolving a high-profile whistleblower lawsuit against the city and a previous mayor who had fired him two years ago, has resigned.

Kelly Duran, 41, was back at City Hall for roughly eight months before submitting his resignation Monday. He hasn’t been at work since then, as he is using accumulated leave, according to the Española city clerk. Duran’s final day on the books will be Jan. 7, the clerk said.

It was not immediately clear why he chose to leave.

“I will not elaborate on the specifics of my resignation,” Duran wrote in his lengthy resignation letter, dated Dec. 10, in which he extolled what he said were the high points of his most recent tenure.

Duran did not return a message Thursday seeking comment.

Española Mayor Javier Sanchez said Duran surprised him when he notified him of his intention to resign from the city manager’s job.

“We had a meeting last week, and he started to talk; he said, ‘I’m going to resign,’ ” Sanchez said. “I said, ‘Okie dokie, then.’ ”

Pressed on the rationale Duran gave him, Sanchez said some of what he and Duran discussed was private. Asked whether Duran was leaving for personal or professional reasons, Sanchez said, “I couldn’t even say, honestly. Kind of a tough combination, I guess.”

Sanchez said he and Duran worked “pretty well” together.

In his resignation letter, Duran wrote that his employment was “selfless,” highlighting that he had paid his own expenses while attending conferences and did not use a take-home vehicle, among other things.

“Why do I mention the above? I guess it’s my way to justify my actions, or even to validate for my own personal sake. Not sure,” Duran wrote. “What I am sure of, however, is the love I have for Española.”

He added, he supported Sanchez’s administration and that his decision was “balanced on principle and an alternative that will distract, deter, and or disrupt yours and the governing body’s intent in advancing Española forward.” He didn’t elaborate.

Duran’s departure concludes a roller-coaster episode in a city that’s no stranger to political fireworks — and shenanigans.

Former Mayor Alice Lucero ousted Duran in 2016, two years after hiring him. Lucero cast the tie-breaking vote in a 5-4 City Council decision to terminate Duran. At the time, Duran attributed the maneuver to conflicting personalities, according to a report in the Rio Grande Sun.

Later, however, both he and the former city planning director, who was fired alongside Duran, filed a lawsuit claiming they had been fired for refusing to go along with what they described as Lucero’s cronyism.

Duran’s suit alleged Lucero based decisions on political favoritism and that she became “angry or annoyed” when informed of policies that would prevent her from taking certain actions. The suit delineated several instances of alleged malfeasance or interference.

“I couldn’t ignore it, and I felt it was my duty to do it,” Duran told The New Mexican in April, referring to the whistleblower action. “If Española is ever going to improve, we have to take truth to what is before our eyes first before we can start solving the problems — and there is a lot of truth-telling that needs to take place.”

Duran was rehired shortly after Sanchez took office in March, as negotiations toward a settlement were underway.

Duran shortly afterward agreed to drop the claims in the suit in exchange for $230,000 in back pay, according to the Sun.

Sanchez said he was glad to have the whistleblower episode behind him.

“What I tried to make clear when I took office was there’s a lot of — we’ll call it truth-telling, where we recognize where we have our failures and try to use those as learning opportunities to improve the city but to also get rid of what we’ll call movidas,” Sanchez said.

“Just try to do things on the up and up as much as possible,” he added. “I think that has been a real bellwether of this administration.”

Sanchez said the administration was still seeking an interim city manager before the search for a full-time replacement begins.

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