Santa Fe City Manager Jarel LaPan Hill plans to step down Jan. 12 after more than two years in the position.
In line to replace her — if the City Council gives its approval of Mayor Alan Webber’s appointment — is John Blair, who most recently served as deputy superintendent of the state Regulation and Licensing Department and helped develop the framework for New Mexico’s adult-use cannabis market.
The council is expected to vote on Blair on LaPan Hill’s last day.
“I am very excited,” Blair said in an interview Tuesday. “I have had some really positive conversations with the mayor and Jarel, and as someone who grew up here, this is a dream job to be in a position to help the mayor move the city forward.”
LaPan Hill, who served as interim city manager before being appointed to the permanent position in January 2020, just a few months before COVID-19 arrived, said she’s proud of the work she and the city have done to keep people safe throughout the pandemic.
“I am so proud of the work we have done, including the creation of an amazingly strong team,” LaPan Hill said. “This is a natural transition. It’s been a long four years; it’s been an even longer 2½ years.”
She said the city couldn’t have “asked for anyone who is more qualified” than Blair.
Before she decides what’s next, she said, “I am going to hang with my kids and enjoy life for a little.”
LaPan Hill, who spent four years in the Obama administration as chief of staff for the deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, joined the city as Webber’s chief of staff in 2018.
City spokesman Dave Herndon said she is the city’s longest-serving female city manager and was responsible for implementing a reorganization plan last year and managing the city’s COVID-19 response.
Webber said he was “extraordinarily grateful” to LaPan Hill for her tenure.
“Her experience working in the Obama administration made her very well prepared for what none of us could have expected when the pandemic struck,” he said. “She was the right person at the right time.”
Blair, who unexpectedly resigned earlier this month from the Regulation and Licensing Department, previously served as deputy secretary of state and chief of staff to Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver between 2016-19.
He also has connections to the Obama administration; he was appointed director of intergovernmental and external affairs at the U.S. Department of the Interior from 2014-16.
He 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.
“He is someone who is very well respected and very well regarded,” Webber said. “He is someone we have talked over the years about if there was a time we could recruit him to come work for the city.”
In an interview about his recent resignation from Regulation and Licensing, Blair said he had decided to pursue “another great opportunity” that he felt “passionate” about, but he didn’t provide details about the job.
Blair said Tuesday he was ready for a change after juggling multiple hats within the Regulation and Licensing Department.
He is particularly interested in how Santa Fe can be modernized while holding onto the things people love about the City Different, he said, adding he also will focus on city infrastructure improvements, addressing homelessness and promoting pro-environmental policies, if his appointment is approved.
Blair would be the fourth city manager since Webber took office in 2018. Webber said the changes were a result of the complexities of the job.
Brian Snyder, who had held the position since 2013, resigned in April 2018 at Webber’s request due to concerns over hefty pay raises he authorized the day of Webber’s inauguration without council approval.
The pay increases were halted, and Snyder returned to a supervisory position in the city Water Division.
Erik Litzenberg, the city’s fire chief at the time, was tapped to replace Snyder as city manager. He resigned in 2019.
“It’s a very demanding job,” Webber said. “The reality of being city manager in any community in America, the tenure tends to be relatively brief. You work incredibly hard, and you pass the baton on to the next person.”