Every member of the Santa Fe City Council should be full of questions about Mayor Alan Webber’s nominee for city manager.
Has the chosen one, John Blair, ever run a city government? Answer: No.
Does Blair have a college degree in public administration, a typical credential for managers or assistant managers of cities even smaller than Santa Fe? Answer: No.
Why didn’t Webber ask the City Council to join him in establishing qualifications for the city manager and then advertise the vacancy? Answer: Webber acted alone so he could hand the job to Blair, whose résumé brims with connections to Democratic politicians.
Should the eight city councilors move to reopen the selection process to see how Blair’s qualifications stack up next to applicants in a national search? Answer: Absolutely.
Will the councilors do so? Of course not. The majority will praise Webber’s choice and ignore the absence of a legitimate search.
Blair, 47, is a nice fellow. I like him. I don’t like wired jobs, especially in a city government whose basic services have suffered under Webber.
Good city managers are knowledgeable about police protection, street repairs, upkeep of parks and general cleanliness of public spaces. They don’t make arrests, fill potholes or chop down weeds. City managers make certain their crews are efficient in getting the job done on time and within budget.
The city manager’s job should not be political, but Webber’s selection of Blair shows it is just that.
Blair ran last year for the open congressional seat in New Mexico’s 3rd District. He told me he saw a path to victory. Blair finished sixth in the seven-person Democratic primary.
Before he was a candidate, Blair worked on campaigns of Democrats seeking high office.
He was deputy manager of then-U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman’s winning bid for reelection in 2000. Blair headed Barack Obama’s successful 2008 presidential campaign in New Mexico.
If you’re looking for a political operative, those experiences are impressive. None has a thing to do with managing a city where the police department has lost evidence in felony cases, and residents of the south side complain of below-par municipal services.
In addition to his efforts on campaigns, Blair worked for U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich when Heinrich was a House member representing the Albuquerque area. Blair also spent 10 months on the staff of a congressman from Michigan.
More recent jobs for Blair were as a deputy to New Mexico’s secretary of state and a deputy in the state office organizing upcoming sales of recreational cannabis. Those sound like fine jobs. They also have nothing to do with managing a city of 85,000 people.
Blair has a bachelor’s degree in communication and political science from the University of Kansas and a law degree from the University of New Mexico.
He graduated from law school in 2004, the same year he managed Edward Chavez’s campaign for the New Mexico Supreme Court. Chavez won. Blair became a law clerk for the Supreme Court.
I credit Blair for a dreaded term: networking. He landed comfortably whenever a political job expired or his own campaign for high office failed. How this makes him the one and only contender to be city manager is a question councilors should be asking.
Webber’s outgoing city manager, Jarel LaPan Hill, worked on his campaign in 2018. Webber won the election and made LaPan Hill his chief of staff, a new and unnecessary job in a bloated bureaucracy.
Webber later elevated LaPan Hill to city manager.
She had no degree in public administration and no track record in operating a city government.
Cities smaller and a bit larger than Santa Fe are being more forthright about picking their managers. They’re advertising the jobs in hopes of attracting top-notch talent.
Bell, Calif., a Los Angeles suburb of 35,000, is seeking applicants for city manager. “Candidates should possess significant experience in senior municipal management. A bachelor’s degree in public administration, business administration or a related field is required. A master’s degree is preferred.”
Fine, you say, but Bell is in a megalopolis rich with prospects. Then consider Yakima, Wash., population 97,000. It lists requirements similar to Bell’s for an assistant city manager’s job.
Garden City, Kan., with 31,000 residents, also is trying to hire an assistant city manager. It requires three years of supervisory experience in municipal government, as well as a college degree in public administration, business or a related field. As usual, a master’s degree is preferred.
Webber’s nomination of Blair for city manager came two days before Thanksgiving. The city’s announcement of LaPan Hill’s forthcoming resignation was timed for the same news cycle.
The news dump might obscure the fact that Webber didn’t advertise the city manager’s job. Doing so would have drawn dozens of applicants from New Mexico and across the country.
Even the good ol’ boys who own NFL teams abide by the Rooney Rule, a halfhearted attempt to put minority candidates in the mix for jobs as executives or head coaches.
Santa Fe really is the city different. As soon as one political appointee of Webber departs, another is anointed.