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Analysis provides city of Santa Fe with jobs road map

December 7, 2018

City Manager Erik Litzenberg began his city career as a cadet in the Santa Fe Fire Department and worked his way up the chain, becoming a battalion chief, assistant chief and ultimately fire chief over two decades.

When the chief was tapped by Mayor Alan Webber to be city manager this summer, he said he quickly observed that navigating the job classifications outside the city’s public safety agencies is much more haphazard.

“The ladder is unclear and it’s important,” Litzenberg said. “It’s something that keeps people here. ‘How do I start in the organization? And how do I rise?’ ”

City officials hope to clarify the answers to those questions by way of a new classification-and-compensation study, an examination of the city’s 470-plus job titles and pay levels.

Unveiling the yearlong study in a news briefing Thursday afternoon, Webber described the document as a road map to addressing the “deferred maintenance of the people side of city government.”

“A lot of these classifications were not systemic,” Webber said. “They were one-off answers to a particular, individual problem.”

The study is likely to precipitate renegotiated contracts with the city’s public employee unions as officials weigh how to best implement a series of recommendations intended to simplify how the city’s roughly 1,400 workers are classified — and how much they are paid.

The Minnesota-based public sector adviser who conducted the study determined the city should shrink its 475 job titles to 330 as part of a “strategic, system-wide approach to classification,” according to a city memo.

The study also found city pay ranges are, on the whole, 1 percent lower than comparable markets.

The positions below market value are 11 percent lower than comparable markets on average, according to the study.

The study authors used some apparently incomparable “comparable” cities, such as Phoenix, but city staffers said they were able to create adjustments in the evaluation process to equalize market values.

To bring the group of employees whose pay is below market value into a recommended minimum, the city would need to find $1.52 million in recurring funds, the study found.

Study authors identified a proposed minimum, middle and maximum salary for each of the city’s job titles. For instance, the current minimum salary for a transit operator is $29,047. The study recommends a new minimum of $33,439.

City councilors will hear a presentation from staff on the study Wednesday. Although that discussion will not require immediate action, decisions for councilors to make eventually include whether and how to identify the funding to implement the study’s recommendations on pay and whether to approve the recommended re-classifications.

Acknowledging previous administrations had ordered two similar studies in the past 13 years and shelved both, Webber made clear he intends to rally support to implement this study’s findings, calling the city’s current job classification system “stagnant.”

“It wasn’t created to be that way, but over time it’s turned into that,” he said.

“It’s far less clear, if you are in one position, what is the next position and what do I have to do to achieve it,” Litzenberg added.

The study originated in the administration of former Mayor Javier Gonzales. The city budgeted $245,800 for the study.

The project was delayed by the changeover in mayoral administrations and a longer-than-expected time frame to “complete the position assessment questionnaires,” according to a city memo.

City councilors, saying such a study was long overdue, occasionally expressed angst about the delays in finalizing the report, perhaps chief among them Councilor Chris Rivera. “It was really frustrating,” Rivera said Thursday. “But I’m glad we’re finally getting it.”

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