The Santa Fe City Council approved the appointment of John Blair as city manager Wednesday, but he’ll start the job without a contract.
Blair, who had served as deputy superintendent at the state Department of Regulation and Licensing until November, agreed to take the city manager job at an annual salary of $172,500, Mayor Alan Webber said at Wednesday’s council meeting.
“I recognize the role as sort of the chief administrative officer of city government and my responsibility is ultimately to serve the people of Santa Fe,” Blair said. “A significant part of that is both serving the mayor and serving all the city councilors in terms of their needs and their agenda and how we can collectively work to move the city forward.”
Without a contract, any pay raise Blair might receive will be at the discretion of the mayor if there is space in the budget, similar to how the city manager discusses pay raises with department heads.
“It’s frequently the case that contracts for the city manager are a way to provide certain assurances that the individual will get a severance package or the right to revert to a job in city government,” Webber said, “but Mr. Blair said he does not need it.”
Councilor Carol Romero-Wirth said Blair’s decision to accept the position without a contract, which typically includes provisions to protect employees, spoke volumes.
“I think you are showing a lot of trust that you feel that you will be treated fairly as a city employee and you do not need a lot of contractual provisions to protect you from the big, bad council and the big, bad mayor,” Romero-Wirth said.
The appointment was approved by an 8-1 vote, with Councilor Lee Garcia voting against. He said while he will offer his support, he would have liked to see more “contrast between candidates” and a more robust candidate search.
“I felt the process was rather rushed,” he said.
Mayors have the ability to offer their selections for three positions — city clerk, city attorney and city manager — whom the council can approve, according to the city charter.
Blair is replacing outgoing City Manager Jarel LaPan Hill, who served in the position since January 2020. She replaced former Fire Chief Erik Litzenberg in the role after he announced his resignation in July 2019.
Litzenberg was paid $170,000 a year as city manager — the same starting salary for LaPan Hill. LaPan Hill’s salary was later bumped to $175,000 following a performance review.
Webber said he felt the salary was in line with what city managers are receiving around the state.
“It is a very challenging job and I am very grateful Mr. Blair indicated he is available and willing to take on this work,” Webber said. “There is nothing harder in public service at the local level than being a city manager.”
Councilor Signe Lindell also expressed gratitude and confidence in Blair’s abilities.
“We’re grateful to you for the consideration of doing this job, which is a very, very hard job, and I encourage the council and all of Santa Fe to help you through this,” Lindell said. “Particularly through the early weeks of this; the learning curve is steep.”
Blair was born in Albuquerque and raised in Santa Fe, having graduated from Santa Fe High School. He received a degree in political science and communications from the University of Kansas and a law degree from the University of New Mexico School of Law.
According to his résumé, Blair’s background is primarily in the realm of politics; he served as deputy secretary of state and chief of staff to Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver from 2016-19 before joining the Regulation and Licensing Department.
He was appointed director of intergovernmental and external affairs at the U.S. Department of the Interior, a role he held from 2014-16.
He also worked as chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Mich., and legislative director and communications director for then-U.S. Rep. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M.