When Alan Webber was elected mayor nearly four years ago, he took the reins not only of City Hall but a new form of governance — one that featured a full-time, “strong” mayor model and included expanded powers his predecessors never enjoyed.

But nearly a decade after the last city charter review commission pushed forward those changes, and with another panel likely to be appointed later in 2022, officials are taking stock of local government’s structure — assessing what has worked, what hasn’t and what’s still needed.

“We are at the beginning of this,” said City Councilor Carol Romero-Wirth, who also served on the charter review commission. “This is the start of that conversation, but there will be more conversations about whether it is working and what structure would make it better.”

The city’s charter review commission is supposed to meet every 10 years to discuss potential changes to the document. A decade ago, it forwarded Charter Amendment 9, which shifted Santa Fe from a city manager/city council system to a blueprint that placed far more power in the hands of the city’s elected chief executive. The charter change also made the mayor a voting member of what is now called the Governing Body.

Before that, the mayor voted only in the case of a tie.

The changes gave Santa Fe’s mayor the ability to set a legislative and policy agenda but also provided the office a makeover — from a largely ceremonial, part-time role to one that offered hiring and firing power over three critical city employees: the city manager, city attorney and city clerk.

The tentative feeling-out process for the mayor, council and agencies within city government have lingered long after the shift took effect in 2018. Growing pains were evident during Webber’s first term.

Though Webber acknowledges some uncertainties remain, he said it’s clear a full-time mayor was something Santa Fe sorely needed.

“It’s hard for me, after sitting four years in the mayor’s office, that Santa Fe, as a capital city, has not had a full-time mayor’s office until now,” he said.

While Romero-Wirth said she felt the changes were “critical” in moving the city forward, she said the debate on whether the most recent charter amendments went far enough or need to be scaled back likely will be crucial when a new commission is formed. A key issue, she added, is the presence of a mayor as a voting member of the Governing Body.

“Right now we don’t have an executive that is completely an executive or a council that is completely a council,” Romero-Wirth said. “We have this hybrid. I think that is the conversation a new charter commission is going to have to have. Do we like this hybrid? Is it working for us?”

Councilor Michael Garcia agreed a separation of powers was worth exploring.

“If you look at a lot of other governments, the only legislative power [the executive] has, is having that tiebreaker of a vote,” Garcia said. “I think that is something we need to look into as we explore revising the authorities delegated to the mayor’s office.”

Patricio Serna, who chaired the review commission that approved the changes to the charter, said a system similar to Albuquerque’s — in which the mayor does not sit on the council but possesses veto power — was discussed but ultimately tabled. He noted the Santa Fe City Council remains vital to policy discussions and said the primary reason for making the changes was the need to instill “continuity” and “leadership” through a stronger chief executive.



“The City Council still has a lot of power,” Serna said. “I think it is working out fine. We will still have to give it more time, of course.”

Webber calls the current structure a blended governmental blueprint rather than a strong-mayor system.

“There is a full-time mayor, but it is still a mayor/city manager form of government,” he said. “While the public thinks the mayor is where the bucks stops in charter terms, it often stops with the city manager. That is an interesting subtlety.”

The question of potential changes a charter review commission may propose comes against the backdrop of moves made during Webber’s first term. Since taking office, Webber has made a variety of structural alterations to how government works on a day-to-day basis, rearranging the city’s various agencies under three new super departments. The City Council approved the changes in September 2020.

Under the reorganization, police, fire, emergency management and community services were placed under the Community Health and Safety Department. Planning and land use, arts and culture, affordable housing, economic development, tourism and recreation were moved under a new umbrella titled the Community Development Department. And constituent and council services were moved into the City Clerk’s Office to create a Community Engagement Department.

“It was a gradually developing conversation about the right way to bring more effective groupings together for better delivery of services to the city,” Webber said, describing the thinking behind the changes.

Councilor Chris Rivera, elected to the council in 2012, said he hasn’t really noticed a difference between the way government ran prior to Webber’s reorganization effort and its current operation, though he said, “I think it is still kind of early” to make a final determination.

“For me, not a whole lot of real changes,” he said.

Former Councilor JoAnne Vigil Coppler was one of the loudest opponents of the move to reorganize the departments, citing timing issues around the burgeoning COVID-19 pandemic.

Defeated by Webber last November in the mayor race, Vigil Coppler said it was hard to gauge the effects of Webber’s reorganization effort because there was “nothing to measure it against.”

“When you do a reorganization, you study it, you set up, I guess focus groups, you see what is working, what is not working,” she said. “If you combine various departments, you have to ask, does this make sense?”

Webber said the city has already started seeing “significant benefits” from the reorganization plan, noting how different city offices came together to help provide services at the height of the pandemic.

“I think change is always hard,” Webber said. “I think reorganizing any organization, any institution, is going to be difficult.”

(29) comments

Daniel Werwath

As a member of the Charter Review Commission 10 years ago, I wanted to share a couple additional observations. One of the main drivers of the Strong Mayor proposal was the high turnover of City Managers (measured in months, not years at that time) and the way they were being pulled by Councilor's priorities over the macro priorities of the City and Mayor. Also that the Council could unilaterally fire the City Manager against the wishes of the Mayor. If you measure success by the tenure of City Manager, in that respect it's been successful. One of the other goals was to open up the Mayor position to more highly qualified candidates by paying a legitimate salary, not just retired and wealthy people who could afford a full time job on a part time salary. In this measure, I think by that it has been successful as well, we've had good qualified mid-career professionals even if they weren't elected. There was plenty of discussion that with a strong mayor, the City Manager could shift to a more Chief Administrative/Operation Officer, and then have the Mayor have a Chief of Staff. I wish that would have been implemented, but was too prescriptive to put into the Charter document. There were other important changes with positive effects- independent redistricting committee, limits on campaign contributions, bond disclosure requirements, and it created an independent audit committee. As a matter of clarification, the Mayor always appointed the City Manager, the only change was to be able to fire them unilaterally. The article also didn't mention that these changes were overwhelming adopted by voters.

Patrick Walker

The audit committee clearly isn't doing its job, we now have a City Manager with zero experience or even a degree in public administration and the parks and playing fields are an embarrassment. And overwhelming adoption by the voters only in a percentage terms. I suggest lowering the standards for initiative, referendum and recall.

William Mee

The first Strong Mayor has failed. Maybe another person would work better?

Daniel Werwath

[thumbup]

Jim Montevallo

Great photo of Blame Game Webber. Seem he's cultivating the Richard Nixon look.

Jim Montevallo

Reorg was so silly. Al trying to look like he is doing something. Re orgs are about creating efficiencies but there are none. Just failure at Midtown, Finance, Police, every whichaway.

Rivera is trying to be kind but look what he's saying: NADA.

Even mayoral supplicant Romero-Wirth is saying what a mess Santa Fe is right now, in her own lawerly, skin crawl way.

When a politician says "its early" rather than even try to spin, in constituent language that means #FAIL.

Weaken the mayor, power to the people & RECALL

MC Gurule

And while they are at it, let's get rid of the ranked choice voting. We don't need it in Santa Fe!

Jim Montevallo

Amen

Maria Bautista

And dump Leger!

Lynn k Allen

We need the Mayor to explain his failures. Just what is he doing now to rectify non compliance with federal reporting requirements... Just what is he doing now to abate the drug/crime infestation?

Let's get some answers for those big bucks.

Maria Bautista

He doesn't have to do anything. Colon auditor will let Webber off the hook, because Colon is running for AG, needs Webber's backing.

Stefanie Beninato

The mayor as chief administrator and as part of the council has always struck me as a problem because of the constitutional separation of powers--maybe there is something to be said for the chief executive drafting policy, managing and enforcing law and policy. If the buck can be passed back and forth, you know it will happen. BTW the mayor is paid substantially less than the city manager but still too much IMHO.

Lyndell Vallner

First question to answer...Was Santa Fe better off with the old system or this new one.

Second, is every city resident and business owner better off now or before.

Khal Spencer

It is still not clear to me why we need a strong mayor and a manager. One job for the price of two? My goodness, this is a small city.

Further, “While the public thinks the mayor is where the bucks stops in charter terms, it often stops with the city manager. That is an interesting subtlety.”

I disagree. We elect a mayor who appoints a manager. The manager reports to the Mayor. If things are not working, the buck stops with the Mayor (and council), since the public obviously has no power to hire or fire staff, but we do have the power to hire and fire the Mayor and Councilors on Election Day. The manager's job should not be running interference for an elected official.

This is clearly a work in progress. I wish us all luck.

Lynn k Allen

Well said! Especially since the Mayor has not shown to be a Successful Manager....

Chris Mechels

Surprising that the obvious flaw with the current set up wasn't obvious. Letting the Mayor fire the City Manager "at will" means, in effect, that the City Manager has to be a crony of the Mayor, and the Mayor is a tyrant. Also, the Ranked Choice voting serves those with deep pockets, who refuse Public Financing. Public Financing should be mandated, or, as in Webber's case, the Mayor's job goes to the money. Key failures. Question is, will the current sycophants on the Council deal with these obvious failures. And will Webber be prosecuted for his misuse of funds? The likely answers are; no and no.

Mike Johnson

The current structure of having a highly paid mayor AND a city manager is ludicrous and ridiculous. If Webber can't run the city alone, why is he getting paid the big bucks? Just because he is incompetent is not reason to waste even more money on a manager. As a typical city government organization states:City managers exist in a council-manager form of government and mayors in a mayor-council, or “strong mayor” government. Since many U.S. residents are not intimately familiar with government organizational structures, nor do many critically compare them, this distinction is not widely known." So Santa Fe, as usual, exists as an outlier in how things should be done:......and getting the worst of both worlds......

https://www.fels.upenn.edu/recap/posts/1475

Khal Spencer

"City managers exist in a council-manager form of government and mayors in a mayor-council, or “strong mayor” government. "

That's what I thought, and was the governing model up in Los Alamos.

Mike Johnson

Right Khal, but remember, this is the "city different"........[lol]

Patrick Walker

My mother, Karen Walker, was the Chairperson for the Home Rule Commission which put this Charter in motion. I can assuredly say that she would be appalled at some of the results. If Webber thinks his massive reorganization of city government has had significant positive results, you wouldn't know it talking with the average Santa Fean.

Patrick Brockwell

All I know is Mayor Webber and Jarel LaPan-Hill were the worst employers I've ever had. I could add to the list ...Good people leave and you can't get rid of the worst.

Jim Montevallo

Thank you for confirming what all the mess has looked and smelled like.

People I know at the city were sort of excited for webber, so relieved it wasn't the loudmouth divider, and then webber's insecurity and weakness alienated them in mere WEEKS not even months. Several have resigned. Life is too short to put up with blame game no account bosses.

Richard Reinders

To separate the Council and Manager from the Mayors backside you will need a crowbar. There is no separation with the exception of a couple of Councilors Garcia and hopefully the new Garcia, the Council and Manger don’t work for the constituency they work for Webber, and there is the problem. The employees feel disconnected from the top, so all you have is a dysfunction. I would say this experiment is a failure.

Michael Kiley

“Right now we don’t have an executive that is completely an executive or a council that is completely a council...” Exactly. Almost. Sad that these discussions totally omit the training that is exactly for heads of towns, counties, states and, alas, the president. Public Administration. Miss Romero forgot the town administrator, when the mayor is "strong", the administrator is weak or not there. Why ignore the expertise from years of graduate study that you train right here at UNM? Why you should not ignore public administration is Trump, and at the top of the list of lasting damage is a death toll from his blundering and bull-headedness that is approaching one million Americans. :China had about 5,000 out of over 1 billion people by the time Trump left, because their leader went through decades of competing with other smart people, and it is no surprise that Xi is smart.

Richard Reinders

What does Trump and Xi have to do with this article[offtopic]

Khal Spencer

Just a case of "round up the usual suspects"

Mike Johnson

I bet "climate change" is at work here.......

Emily Koyama

Afflicted with TDS.

No matter that more Americans have died under Biden than died under Trump from covid, and that was with the benefit of a vaccine and far more knowledge on treatment and prevention.

I guess we should have welded people inside their apartment buildings like Xi did....🙄

Richard Reinders

XI is so honest to the rest of the world, I am sure we are getting the truth. I was in Shenzhen when a major riot was happening, with truck loads of military rushing in and shooting while protestors started burning cars and buildings. I read the paper the next day in Hong Kong, and on the last page there was a blurb saying there was a slight disturbance in Shenzhen, so I know first hand they control the narrative in China.

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