Mayor: Santa Fe is getting back on track
Mayor Alan Webber said he aimed to hire the right managers and restore confidence in City Hall during his first nine months in office, particularly in the wake of a scathing 2017 audit that questioned the way the city managed its finances.
Despite occasional controversies, Webber contended during a talk Sunday morning, he’s been able to put the right pieces in place. As a result, he said, “We’ve been able to lower the city’s blood pressure.”
At a Journey Santa Fe event that drew about 100 people at Collected Works bookstore, Webber used the opportunity to speak in broad terms about future initiatives, as well as highlight what he said were some initial accomplishments.
Webber said key hires — Andrew Padilla as chief of police, Erik Litzenberg as city manager and Mary McCoy as finance director— will allow Santa Fe “to fix our own house, to get our house in order.”
All three are playing key roles in the city’s recent offer of a retention bonus to Santa Fe police officers, a move that will cost the city $600,000 if ratified by the police officers’ union. Webber said the city also is working on a more comprehensive way to recruit and retain police officers and plans to initiate an external assessment of the department to determine just how many officers the city needs and what roles they should serve.
Webber said the city will continue to work with the police union to hammer out a long-term contract. He said the retention bonus — about $4,700 for most officers, provided they stay at least six months — is a temporary salve designed to buy the city and the union time to hammer out issues as they look toward the future.
Some Santa Fe police officers have left in recent months for Albuquerque and other departments which are offering better pay. Webber last week called the bonus offer as a goodwill gesture, adding that compensation would also be part of the discussions for a long-term contract.
The offer initially was termed “insulting” by Tony Trujillo, president of the Santa Fe Police Officers Association.
Webber — who took office in March — also said the city is catching up with filing its annual audits following the 2017 audit conducted by the Albuquerque-based McHard Accounting Consulting, which offered a blistering critique of some city processes and concluded internal financial procedures with rife with the risk of fraud.
Webber also noted the city’s efforts to work with county and school district leaders to ease the housing crunch and its efforts to transform the vacant Santa Fe University of Art and Design campus into an economic driver. He said the city is about to hire a national consultant to help detail a plan for the area.
He drew applause when he said that Santa Fe will remain a so-called sanctuary city — a safe place for undocumented immigrants — despite federal threats to shut off financial aid to cities that do not cooperate with federal authorities in arresting those migrants.
He denounced President Donald Trump’s shutdown of the federal government to force congressional leaders to give him funding to build a wall along the United States-Mexico border as the actions of a “dysfunctional president.”
The wall initiative, Webber said, “is worthless and racist.”