Santa Fe’s city manager resigned abruptly Friday at the request of Mayor Alan Webber, and the municipal government’s human resources director retired, as the new administration faced mounting questions about pay raises quietly awarded to select employees.
Webber told reporters that the municipal government will halt the 10 percent and 15 percent pay increases former City Manager Brian Snyder had approved for 37 staff members on the eve of the mayor’s inauguration. City executives quietly devised the plan to issue the raises without the City Council’s vote just days before voters elected Webber.
Though Webber had initially defended the move as an important part of a project to modernize the city’s software system, the mayor conceded Friday that a policy enacted in 1992 required City Council approval for the raises.
What the mayor previously had described as a communications problem, Webber said Friday amounted to “a very different level of failure.”
Still, he described both Snyder and outgoing Human Resources Director Lynette Trujillo as “hard-working.”
The change marked another turn for — but unlikely the end of — a controversy that has upended the first weeks of Webber’s term, raising anew questions about accountability and oversight in a municipal government beset by financial problems and inefficiency.
First reported by The New Mexican, the raises were directed to a group of city staff who had agreed to work on modernizing the city’s operations through a major technology upgrade — a key recommendation in a wide-ranging review of the municipal bureaucracy completed last year.
The pay increases would have cost about $400,000 for two fiscal years.
Webber on Friday stood by the idea of granting extra compensation and said he will seek to restore at least a portion of the raises by taking the measure to the city Finance Committee and, he hopes, the full City Council for a public vote.
Webber said Friday that newly elected Councilor JoAnne Vigil Coppler had raised concerns that the pay hikes were not only opaque but violated city policy.
Indeed, the 1992 policy says “incentive pay” must be approved by the council and Finance Committee.
Though his administration initially had described the pay as “temporary raises,” Webber said the increased pay fell under that policy nonetheless — a point he conceded likely would have come up if administrators had consulted with the city attorney or with union representatives.
“It means it wasn’t a communication error or even a minor error in judgment,” Webber said. “It was an error in policy practice and it was fundamentally not holding the city’s management to the way that their job needs to be done.”
A former director of the city’s Human Resources Department, Vigil Coppler said Friday that while she supports the tech upgrade that led to the raises, she believes the mayor and City Council deserved a say in the pay increases.
Such oversight, she argued, is “an important cornerstone of managing public employees.”
“If employees can’t rely on that, you have a very open-ended system for favoritism and who knows what,” she said.
“I’m not saying there was favoritism,” added the councilor, who represents District 4 in the central part of the city. “… But you have to rely on people to implement things in a fair and equitable way.”
Vigil Coppler said she had not discussed the city manager’s status with Webber, on the one hand saying she was sorry about the episode’s outcome but on the other hand contending that the mayor “has to have confidence in the people that are there to help him.”
The shake-up at City Hall means Webber, the first salaried and full-time mayor in Santa Fe’s modern history, will be picking a city manager.
But Snyder will not be off the city’s payroll altogether.
Under a provision of his contract approved by former Mayor Javier Gonzales, Snyder will return to a supervisory job in the city’s Water Division.
Snyder, who did not respond to a voicemail message Friday seeking comment, has been city manager since 2013, when Mayor David Coss tapped him for the post.
A civil engineer with about two decades of experience in the public and private sector focusing on water and sewage, Snyder joined the Santa Fe city government in 2004. He was promoted to Water Division director in 2009 and then took on the additional role of Public Utilities Department director in 2010.
Trujillo joined the city in March 2015. She previously worked as the human resources bureau chief for the state Taxation and Revenue Department, where she spent nearly 13 years, according to her LinkedIn account. Before that, she worked for about six years as an assistant human resources director for Santa Fe County.
Renée Martínez, the deputy city manager who sought the raises, will stay on the job for now.
But Webber told reporters that he does not see a reason to keep the deputy city manager position as he takes on the job of mayor full-time.
In the meantime, Fire Chief Erik Litzenberg will serve as temporary city manager. The council will vote next week on whether to keep Litzenberg in the post. If it approves, he can remain in the post for 90 days at Snyder’s salary of about $2,800 a week.