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Former consultant who advised city on tech upgrade hired as HR project manager

February 13, 2019

A consultant who warned the city of Santa Fe that a multimillion-dollar technology modernization initiative was at “extreme risk of failure” if it didn’t take corrective steps has landed a nearly $98,000-a-year job at City Hall.

Juan Blea was a software and technical provider for Acro Services Corp., a Michigan-based company the city hired to conduct an independent review of the high-priority project. He is now a city employee working on the initiative he said was in trouble.

Blea, a Santa Fe native who grew up on Alto Street, said Tuesday he had a “good gig” with Acro but that he applied for the job because he “strongly, strongly” believes in the city finance director, Mary McCoy, and the city human resources director, Bernadette Salazar, among others.

“I also believe in this administration — I honestly do,” said Blea, who began his career in city government.

“I mean, I’ve had opportunities over the last several years to come back to the city, and I’ve turned them down every time,” he said. “As a matter fact, I have turned them down with an uproarious ‘hell, no.’ When this opportunity came up, I did seek it out because I just feel like the time to make a change is now, and this is the right leadership to make that change.”

City Manager Erik Litzenberg said the city went through the normal hiring process when the job opened up.

“Juan Blea came forward as the most qualified and the best for the position,” he said. “I think he’s going to be really useful for helping move this into the future.”

Mayor Alan Webber said he wasn’t involved in Blea’s hiring but speculated that Blea saw an opportunity to join an organization where talented people want to work if they believe they can make a difference. He also said he thought Blea went from being a skeptic to an advocate “for making things better in city government.”

“Initially, when he did the [outside review], he told me he thought the city … needed a lot of improvement and that he was trying not to be too discouraging in his assessment,” Webber said. “He thought we had the capacity to improve, but that historically, we hadn’t measured up.”

In his independent review of the city’s Enterprise Resource Planning and Land Use System Modernization Project — the city’s solution to its aging technology and outdated business processes — Blea recommended a new management structure that included an internal, on-site project manager to oversee the initiative.

But Jarel LaPan Hill, the mayor’s chief of staff, said that’s not the job Blea was hired to do.

Blea was hired to work as a human resources project manager, where he “performs a variety of technical and operational functions related to project management of technology,” according to the job description.

“The feedback he gave me probably goes against the grain of the story your question raises, which is, ‘Is this … sort of an inside deal?’ Webber said. “Usually the inside deals work the other way. You work at the city and then you leave and you get a contract. It doesn’t work that you do a contract and then you get so excited about what you’re trying to fix that you actually would imagine you would want a job.”

The city said Blea, who started Feb. 4, was among nine applicants for the job.

In addition to Acro, Blea has also worked at Envision Utility Software in Santa Fe and Teksystems, an Albuquerque-based software consulting company. Between September 2011 and July 2014, he worked for the state Department of Health an an information technology manager.

Blea is a licensed alcohol and drug counselor as well as a certified continuing education provider. According to his LinkedIn page, he is the owner and founder of Aztlan Education, which offers courses “on the psychology of addiction, ethics and poetic devices within a critical pedagogy.”

According to his job application, Blea worked for the city of Santa Fe from January 1995 to September 2003 in various roles, including as project manager on the creation of the Regional Emergency Communications Center. In his job application, he listed his reasons for leaving or wanting to leave his job at the the city as “politics.”

Follow Daniel J. Chacón on Twitter @danieljchacon.

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