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One year in: Santa Fe’s full-time mayor

March 20, 2019

A little over one year ago, Mayor Alan Webber was sworn in as the first full-time mayor of Santa Fe.

No longer a figurehead, there to push policy or break deadlocks on City Council votes, the new mayor became an employee charged with running the city. That meant hiring a city manager and helping assemble a team of leaders, putting together a solid budget and working hard to catch up with what he rightly calls the “deferred maintenance” of city government.

Those delays were not caused only by the former system of government, with a weak mayor-council sytem, but also by the great recession that made it harder for all governments to function because revenues were down.

In a letter to citizens on his one-year anniversary in office, Mayor Webber described the cost of putting off needed repairs; $250 million in street and road improvements; 500 antiquated computer stations that need upgrades; police officers working without sufficient pay raises; an airport that requires investment to grow; city areas that lack adequate cell phone or broadband coverage; not enough housing, with a deficit of some 400 units; and some 100-plus chronically homeless people.

Deferred maintenance means that Santa Fe never quite manages to catch up to where it needs to be. We have seen that over the years with a government that reacts — whether not cutting back weeds or cleaning parks before disrepair is a problem, or never being able to recruit enough lifeguards at city pools. There’s the reality of a city with what seems to be plenty of employees, yet only three assigned to take care of hundreds of miles of trails.

Those are smaller problems, to be sure, but the inability of the city to get in front of issues has been a chronic problem. Webber’s ability to describe how to build systems that anticipate rather than react is one reason he won the first ranked-choice voting election so handily a year ago.

As mayor, he has put those promises to work by sorting through a jumbled system of city finances, using the damaging McHard Report as a road map to ensure Santa Fe’s future audits will represent the best financial practices. He favors a rigorous assessment to figure out where the city has been, department by department, so as to better plan where it is going. By setting up systems — starting with a team of impressive managers who are working together to handle Santa Fe’s challenges — Webber has put in place the people who can tackle the admittedly long to-do list facing the Santa Fe.

This is a mayor who works hard alongside employees, spending time on the business of the city but also getting out and about and meeting citizens. Such encounters can take the form of City Council meetings in different districts across town, as well as coffees with the mayor or events such as Southside Summer, happening where people live. He worked to make Fiesta de Santa Fe more inclusive and stood with residents who lost homes during the devastating flood last July.

One year in, there remains plenty to do — especially in explaining to Santa Fe residents what is happening and why, as well as continuing to beat the drum for excellence in delivering the services people expect.

Plug the potholes. Pick up the trash, encourage recycling and remind everyone to save water. Ensure public safety, focusing on recruiting and keeping police officers. Keep parks clean and well-tended. Make it easier to do business with the city. Get more housing in place. Move forward on plans for the abandoned Santa Fe University of Art and Design.

For a moment, though, enjoy the accomplishments of the past year. Now, back to work.