Don’t expect any major changes at City Hall under the new Gonzales administration.
At least not right away.
A day after sweeping into office, Mayor-elect Javier Gonzales said Wednesday he plans a 90-day transition period that includes soliciting input from city councilors and others to develop a list of traits that Santa Fe wants in a city manager. Acting City Manager Brian Snyder has been filling in since May.
“The most important message I want to send to the public is that it’s important for us to be deliberate in developing a process to select a city manager and to move to a more permanent administration because of the major amount of issues that are facing the city,” Gonzales said in a telephone interview.
“We just can’t rush into making appointments,” he said.
Gonzales, who won a four-year term, said it’s critical for an organization to get the right people in top management.
“When you don’t, and I’ve been witness to that, it has a very detrimental impact, and it’s very hard to recover from in a timely manner. I feel like a city the size of Santa Fe, the issues that we have facing us through our budget, the need to enhance the delivery of services, we just have to make sure we get it right,” he said.
Gonzales said he risks losing “that early influence” on his choice for city manager the longer he waits to make an appointment, which must be confirmed by the City Council, as well as by inviting more people to help make a recommendation.
“In the past, I think mayors have moved very quickly to appoint city managers, and the council has really supported a mayor’s choice for city manager. I’m taking a little bit of a different approach,” he said. “It can be viewed from a political standpoint as being risky, but from a public policy standpoint, I think it’s the right one.”
Gonzales said he wants anyone interested in the job to apply, including Snyder.
Traits Gonzales is looking for in a city manager include the ability to improve employee morale and develop budgets that align with strategic plans. He said he would prefer someone from Santa Fe or the region who understands city government bureaucracies and has managed a government the size of Santa Fe, if not larger.
“I think it’s going to be important that the individuals understand Santa Fe, that they understand the relationships that exist between the council and the county as well as the tribal governments, so you want somebody with a familiarity of the type of government that we have,” said Gonzales, who promised increased collaboration with surrounding governments during his campaign.
Gonzales, who will be sworn in Monday, said he plans to announce his transition plan in the next week to 10 days. He said he hopes to develop a process in which a transition team would examine each city department and help him determine if the people with the right skill sets are in the right place.
“Of course, I want all of this to be done in coordination with the council and members of the public so that it’s a transparent process,” he said. “We have a number of acting department heads — the city manager is acting — and I think it’s important not only for the morale of our employees but certainly for the long term of the city that we move in some type of timeline to create more permanence in those positions.”
Gonzales, who beat out two city councilors with 43 percent of the vote Tuesday, said his “most immediate plan” is to talk with his new colleagues on the council and determine who will serve on and chair which committee.
Not only is he required to make committee assignments by ordinance, he said it’s important to do so to “start taking on some of the issues that we talked about during the campaign, whether it’s working to develop programs that are more closely aligned with the schools, looking to develop economic development initiatives that diversify our economy, or Santa Fe developing a road map to becoming a leader in the green economy. Those are all key priorities for me.”
In addition to making committee assignments, Gonzales said he plans to choose a mayor pro tem soon.
“I want a pro tem who is ready to get out there and really help represent the city,” he said. “I want to spend time with them [city councilors] to determine who wants it, and certainly if they’re supportive of where I want to take the city, I think that’s going to be a key element.”
Gonzales did not rule out the possibility of picking one of his mayoral opponents, Patti Bushee and Bill Dimas, to be mayor pro tem.
“History has shown us that some of the best allies are people that you’ve been in races with,” he said. “For me, it’s all about who’s willing to work alongside with me and help address some of the priorities that I have.”
Neither Bushee nor Dimas returned a call for comment Wednesday.
Gonzales said he will meet with Snyder soon to get a briefing on the budget process.
“We’re in a budget cycle right now, so focusing on getting a budget passed over the next several weeks is going to be a top priority,” he said.
Gonzales said he has a long list of to-dos as mayor, including addressing the flaws that emerged in the city’s public campaign finance code this election season.
Gonzales and both of his opponents qualified for $60,000 in public financing. But Gonzales was the only candidate who had the financial support of political action committees and other outside groups, despite asking them to stay out of the race. He said he will work to strengthen the city’s public finance laws to do “what we can to create disincentives for outside groups to put money in,” including looking at the possibility of creating a matching fund provision for candidates “who aren’t receiving the benefit of outside groups.” The city may be able to limit campaign contributions to PACs, too, he said.
“No public system will ever be free of outside groups, but you can do everything you can to build in safeguards to create a more equal playing field for candidates that are running for office,” he said.
Other election-related priorities include redistricting. In January, the city annexed 4,100 acres on the south side and added 13,200 new residents.
“We need to look at redistricting District 3,” Gonzales said. “I don’t want to wait until the next redistricting cycle comes into place to make sure that people on the south side have equal representation.”
Gonzales also wants to implement runoff elections, which Santa Fe voters previously approved, and make voting more convenient for the public, either by expanding hours or opening polls on weekends.
“I think one of reasons why we see such low voter turnout from Districts 3 and 4 is that’s the place where you have many working families that often work more than one job, and it’s difficult to find time and go and vote,” he said.
Contact Daniel J. Chacón at 986-3089 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @danieljchacon.