A strong team, ready to lead
Watching the assembly of the new team at City Hall has been fascinating.
There are the homegrown talents, recognized for hard work and knowledge of Santa Fe — City Manager Erik Litzenberg, Police Chief Andrew Padilla and Airport Manager Mark Baca come to mind as people who worked their way up the ladder. Local talent is not being ignored.
Then, we have New Mexicans in exile returning home, such as Finance Director Mary McCoy, a New Mexico native who now lives in Boston. Several hires come from outside city government, a way to bring fresh ideas in.
Those include Las Cruces businessman John Muñoz at the Parks and Recreation Division, solar industry expert and engineer Regina Wheeler for Public Works, and Carol Johnson from Maricopa County, Ariz., to run the Land Use Department. A hire from Santa Fe County, Bernadette Salazar, will be in charge of Human Resources, while new City Attorney Erin McSherry previously worked as counsel for the state Department of Health. Several top officials are simply remaining in their jobs.
Perhaps most controversially, current City Clerk Yolanda Vigil is receiving a one-year contract while the duties of her job are refigured — city elections could be moving from March to November as a result of a new state law that consolidates local elections. When that happens, the county clerk — not the city clerk — would be supervising the municipal elections.
That means the duties of a city clerk will change, and Mayor Alan Webber said Vigil’s contract is for a year to see whether she and the city can reshape the job in a mutually agreeable fashion. Webber sees the clerk’s new duties focusing on providing data and modernizing all the information bases the city provides. That may well be a job Vigil doesn’t enjoy, but whatever she decides, she can share her knowledge of elections with whoever will be running them in the future.
To many in town, Vigil’s service as city clerk has been exemplary. When she was criticized over her handling of the city’s first election using ranked-choice voting — results were sadly tardy, not completed until just before midnight — a host of supporters rose up in her defense, including voting activists and former city councilors.
While we think Vigil took a late start and made it work (the voting system, remember, came only after a lawsuit and left little time to prepare), we also believe that citizens deserve faster information. Whether the city or county runs the election, citizens deserve more timely results. There also is the unfortunate reality that Vigil is able to earn both her retirement pay and her salary, a practice stopped after 2010 — however good any public official might be, being able to draw two checks, even if legal, is a practice that needs to end. Double dipping is bad for public confidence.
Going forward, though, we like the looks of this group. This is a team with a broad range of skills, experience and background, and it’s clear the mayor has allowed local talents to prove themselves while at the same time seeking outside expertise when warranted.
The choice for city manager came after a nationwide search, which led Webber right back home. Litzenberg, who was the fire chief before taking over as interim city manager, has a successful track record of innovation in his work at the fire department. He created the first year-round Wildland Division, helped build the Mobile Integrated Health Office public health initiative and brought together various stakeholders under the Greater Santa Fe Fireshed Coalition.
As the first strong mayor of Santa Fe, Webber was able to select the city manager, city attorney and city clerk, subject to City Council approval. With those picks, he has shown a desire for competence and professionalism.
Should it work in practice as it seems to on paper, this is a team of people who can balance each other’s weaknesses and strengths, becoming bolder and stronger as a whole than they are individually. That’s the right kind of leadership for Santa Fe.