The statue of Don Diego de Vargas is seen at a private home/business at an unidentified location in Santa Fe.

Former Santa Fe parks and recreation Director John Muñoz is accusing Mayor Alan Webber of “scapegoating” city employees when it comes to the makeshift storage site of a city-owned statue of Don Diego de Vargas.

The mayor said in statements issued last week he was surprised to learn the statue — removed from downtown Cathedral Park for safekeeping in June ahead of a planned protest — was standing in the backyard of a contract worker’s home and business.

Webber said he had believed the artwork was in a security city facility and had been misled by an unnamed “former department head.”

Muñoz, who resigned earlier this month to take a job in Las Cruces, said in an interview Monday the mayor was well aware of storage plans for the statue after workers pulled it from its base at the park.

“My team didn’t act by itself,” Muñoz said. “I did not act by myself. We had direction, and we took the directions and communicated clearly that the vendor would take the statue and store it.”

Muñoz said he did not imply in any communication with other city officials that the statue would be stored at a city facility.

It’s unclear if Webber was referring to Muñoz when he said he had been misled. When asked to name the department director who provided incorrect information, a spokesman for Webber wrote in a statement the city was not going to “play the blame game.”

“The city is moving forward,” Dave Herndon wrote.

Herndon did not directly answer a question about whether Muñoz’s version of the events was true. Instead, he reiterated the mayor had been misinformed on the statue’s whereabouts.

“If we’d known that it wasn’t in the City’s safekeeping, we would have acted immediately,” Herndon wrote. “Now that we know, we are planning to move it, in consultation with interested parties.”

Ron Trujillo, president of the nonprofit Caballeros de Vargas, a local religious and cultural organization that donated the sculpture to the city more than a decade ago and opposed its removal in June, said last week he discovered it was being held in the backyard of the contracted crane operator who had taken it from the park.

Muñoz wrote in an emailed statement late last week the plan was to store the statue at that location until an “immediate” decision could be made on whether it would be put in a museum, returned to Cathedral Park or removed from public eyes indefinitely.

“This was our understanding from the Mayor and this was the same information relayed to the vendor who professionally and very carefully removed and housed the statue,” Muñoz wrote.

The de Vargas statue, installed in 2007 at Cathedral Park, depicts a conquistador long decried by some as a symbol of violent colonization while lauded by others as a figure of Hispanic pride who reclaimed Santa Fe a dozen years after the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 forced the Spanish to flee the area.

Webber had a two-hour meeting last week with City Councilor Chris Rivera and Trujillo to begin planning for the city to retrieve the artwork. He later issued a statement saying the statue was “safe” but was not in the city’s hands.

Muñoz said Webber and City Manager Jarel LaPan Hill, whose name was included in one of Webber’s statements saying they both had been misled, were “gaslighting” the community “on both sides of this issue.”

“After 10 months, is it plausible to think that City employees acted alone in a rogue manner and took it upon themselves to cover-up this information?” Muñoz wrote.

“The Mayor and City Manager were fully aware. This is basic follow-through, leadership, and accountability.”

(31) comments

Catherine Murry

They can tear down the statues, but they can’t change history. They can burn the Catholic Churches, but they can’t stop the Hispano people from loving God. In the year 2044 - 13 years from now the Latinos will be the majority population in this country.

Gerald Joyce

And gee, I thought Americans would be.

KT Rivera

This Mayor's 'Blame Game' is to place the blame of city problems on any former employee(s). The city's responses to issues with the police evidence rooms, the payroll system fiasco, and the missing plaque at the Cross of the Martyrs all throw the blame on former employees or contractors.

Chris Mechels

Webber is expert at this game. Never really been a manager, but always a PR flack.

We, esp our pathetic media, let him off the hook on the Elizabeth Dunham issue, which stunk to high heaven. Webber's response was that HE would not play the dirty political game, thus he avoided Dunham.

His political ambitions surfaced soon after the Dunham death in 2011. Webber is a tissue of lies and PR, who has ruined the SF City Government.

Khal Spencer

This kind of reminds me of the finger pointing about the police evidence room. Another Marx Brothers movie.

This comedy is what happens when you let mobs rule, whether it is leftist loonies in Fanta Se or right wing lunatics in Washington, DC. Everything happens in a panic and nothing good comes of it.

Barbara Harrelson

I agree, Khal, that it sounds like Webber's blaming a former police officer for the problems with the evidence room, but I don't think it's funny or like a Marx Bros movie. I think it is very concerning, and I would believe Munoz over Webber in this latest incident. I don't see how mobs or leftist loonies have a role in what we are talking about here: our officials, esp. the mayor, telling the truth and being held accountable.

Khal Spencer

I don't really find it funny either. Just being sarcastic. Sometimes when I see dysfunction, it reminds me of the movie Duck Soup. One of my favorites.

My comment about tearing down statues or storming the national capitol is this: when things deteriorate to the level where you cannot control events, the best you can do is struggle with damage control, pick up all the broken china, and try to fix the processes later. Oh, and go back to the china shop for new place settings.

It may have been perfectly logical, to steal a quip from Dr. Spock, to stash the statue in the yard of the contractor, at least for a while. I imagine everyone was busy trying to figure out what to do next. But the finger pointing about who did what with the statue, who made the decisions, why it still sits where it sits, and "what did the Mayor know, and when did he know it" has me shaking my head.

Meanwhile, as others have said, we have real human beings needing city services. No statue went hungry or homeless last night. Pontificating about Statuegate might be important to some, but my wife is volunteering this afternoon at the Food Depot and thinks this is all pretty stupid.

Gerald Joyce

Khal, I have emailed Sean Thomas and asked him to contact SFPD regarding the upgrades to the property evidence facility along with the newly hired full-time civilian personnel. The changes are state of the art, impressive and will continue to address all items in the report and it's recommendations. In the public's interest the New Mexican should inform the citizens of the improvements, not just report on SFPD's deficiency.

Khal Spencer

I agree, Mr Joyce. Sometimes good news should be on the front page.

Nicoletta Munroe

Regarding the statue removal, the story of the de Vargas statue and its treatment is creating sympathy for the object, even though it is associated with colonization. De Vargas is becoming a sort of martyr. Correspondingly, the Santa Fe plaza obelisk is an object of concern because of the treatment of it. Regardless of the politics of these totems, they were each treated with disregard. That fact weighs on the argument for removal of monuments. Both the statue and the obelisk may be re-instated because they represent our history, and erasing it may be another form of genocide. Ask the question: Are we erasing history because we do not have the strength to caucus and deliberate a decision in a democratic process? In the case of the Santa Fe plaza obelisk the Native American community argued for a new plaque before the events of October. The idea was to remove the fourth side plaque that contains the words "savages" . The word was carved-away in 1974. It is the responsibility of the community to find consensus. The mayor does not have the right to demand removal of historic monuments in the city of Santa Fe. Consider that the Santa Fe plaza obelisk is evidence of racism and may be used for a case for reparations.

S. Ulrich

"Vendor"? Does Munoz mean "contractor"? Not impressed by his statement, either.

Richard Reinders

I think the government refer to any outside "contractors" or supplier as vendors.

Augustin de la Sierra

I suppose Mr. Webber is adequate as a mayor. But I do not admire him. I do not see intellect there. I see signs he has been too removed from racism and sexism to speak with any brains on these subjects. I do not think he's earning the money he is paid by taxpayers.

I hope one of the experienced City Councilors runs for mayor in November.

Maria Bautista

Joanne Vigil Coppler is running for Mayor.

Alexis Martinez Johnson

It appears our leaders are evading truth.

Maria Bautista

Webber thinks he owns Santa Fe, sadly!

Samuel Herrera

Weber needs to resign now.

Robert Kowalski

Is anyone really surprised? He has lied about this from the start. He’s just another politician covering his own rear

Richard Reinders

IMO Webber pulling a Cuomo move, who can trust what his motives are with the TRC he will have a yard sale of monuments and culture. Munoz is gone and had nothing to lose telling the truth.

Stefanie Beninato

Why aren't you referring to the Governor of Texas, Richard. He keeps insisting it is wind generators that has caused the energy failure in TX last week. Texas does not even comply with standard safety/backup requirements for their energy system. Oh I forgot he is a Republican....

Richard Reinders

Stefanie there was a combination of things that caused the power issue in Texas and Ercot was one of the problems along with loss of Natural gas due to the rolling blackout policy and solar. here is the story on the mechanics of the grid. By the way I am a Democrat look it up.

Stefanie Beninato

I know you claim a Democrat party affiliation but you seem to excoriate Dems not GOP. And TX did not require the safety/back up elements thatall most all other states require. We also know that the TX governor did not think masks would help and did not impose any real emergency restrictions. It was the TX AG who sued other states because they were supporting Individual #1's false narrative about a stolen election. I just suggest stop making these national/party parallels when it is a local matter about a statute not public health including people dying because of lack of heat and now lack of clean water.

Kirk Allison

“The city (i.e. Webber) isn’t going to play the blame game?”

Nope, they’re going to play the “deflect the blame game.”

Dan Frazier

I suspect Muñoz is telling it like it is. Seems like the story should say when Webber said he was misled, and when Muñoz announced he was stepping down. Also, if Muñoz has given a reason for stepping down, that should be clarified in the article.

Stefanie Beninato

My understanding is that Munoz stepped down because he got a better paying job (remember the parks part was reorganized under public works--another joke) and he took a substantial pay cut. Also he had to deal with city bureaucracy and what we all know is the ineptitude of the head of public works--Regina Wheeler--who as the one supervising all physical facilities and their improvement/repair projects is responsible for pools not being reopened, heaters not functioning properly, restrooms without ADA required equipment etc, repeated break ins at Perez, late purchase orders etc. I am sure the Council's lack of recognition that staff cuts were not going to help get rid of weeds did not help either. IMHO Munoz tried to leave on an up note--not casting blame--just acknowledging his inability to play the bureaucrat game--look at his description of leadership--that should tell you something. And why is it taking the city so long to reclaim the statute--if we are waiting for Wheeler it could be months--maybe they could put it in the mayor's office or some other part of the city hall or the SFCCC both of which remain shut down.

Nancy Lockland

He took a job in Las Cruces. It is clearly stated.

Maria Bautista

Thanks. Webber reorganized city hall to remove people who did not agree with him.

Lupe Molina

I suspect Munoz is telling the truth but he's definitely a disgruntled ex employee who took a big pay cut, has an ego and an axe to grind. I'm pretty amazed the article didn't mention that since the paper already reported it.

Maria Bautista

There you go Lupe, Munoz left for better job. Webber did not fire him! Your beans are falling out of your mouth.

Lupe Molina

What are you on about? Nobody said Webber fired him. Munoz was forced to take a pay cut. Thats in the reporting from earlier this year.

Alexis Martinez Johnson

We are talking about Mayor Webber not even knowing where property is. He could have said let me see where you put it and followed through. It's basically displaying a disregard for the subject matter which includes the statue. It was in someone's backyard/business/home.

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