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.

Ringside Seat is an opinion column about people, politics and news. Contact Milan Simonich at

msimonich@sfnewmexican.com or 505-986-3080.

(33) comments

Jarratt Applewhite

Thanks for your courageous defense of procedural justice, Milam. Seeing hiring processes waylaid by political correctness is disheartening. Political ideology has exactly zero relationship to competence, particularly in this nonpartisan arena. I wonder whether this another woke intrusion into our social fabric. I remember when Mayor Jaramillo raised the. "ya basta" banner. I hear an echo.

Richard Irell

This article shows the importance of a free and independent press.

While we can all probably agree that the SFNM has an editorial liberal bent, it doesn’t prevent them from reporting malfeasance across the political spectrum.

Khal Spencer

[thumbup]

Gerald Joyce

Alan please rethink this or save us some money and don't fill the position. Obviously, this person has no experience managing a municipality, maybe Tiger would be a better choice.

Khal Spencer

Given this is Mayor Webber's second term, I would assume he could manage the city now that he has weathered the first term, including both a pandemic and the civil unrest leading to The War of the Monuments. And as you say, if we need an assistant to the mayor, it should be with someone having civic management experience.

This article makes the process smell pretty bad.

Khal Spencer

It still puzzles me that we need both a strong mayor and a city manager. And given how badly things are going as far as city services, we seem to be paying twice for a lousy job.

If Council has to approve this appointment, they should not do so. This should have been advertised and a selection committee appointed. Or eliminate the job. The last thing Santa Fe needs is more political hacks feeding from the public trough.

Diane Gonzales

As Democrat, I hold people in my party who are elected officials to a high standard. This latest move by Webber is pure cronyism which signals his allegiance is to a machine that worked to elect him. That was pretty obvious judging from all the prominent Dems who endorsed him. Democratic politicos should have stayed silent knowing the mayoral race is nonpartisan. Now, we are stuck with not one, but two people running the city that haven't a clue how manage a city. Sadly, we can't even look to the council to question Webber's reasoning for appointing an inexperienced person as city manager. It's apparent the are beholden to him and not their constituents.

William Mee

My op-ed on the City's non-compliance with the Settlement Annexation Agreement since 2018 coincides with Webber coming on board. https://www.santafenewmexican.com/opinion/my_view/city-is-not-keeping-annexation-promises/article_ebd3cbc0-4265-11ec-9ed4-b37ea8ee6910.html?fbclid=IwAR1o1iAk7rxcnhJP30wJlzMr6o5AuDzwOqydwbQm0UN8gQ2zYnYXpzVH5cM

Jim Montevallo

"Every member of the Santa Fe City Council should be full of questions about Mayor Alan Webber’s nominee for city manager."

Ha! Don't waste your breath. Not one of them has ever shown courage besides Michael Garcia. They have let a bad mayor get away with bad things every single time and Santa Fe is so much poorer for it.

Stefanie Beninato

Thanks for taking my comment on the appointment of John Blair, Milan, and turning it into a column that gets some attention. Yes, why the rush to hire a permanent city manager? When was there any advertising of this job? Isn't advertising a requirement to avoid discrimination law suits? Were there other candidates? Why wasn't this resignation of LePan reported asap? Because if she resigns and John Blair is waiting in the wings, then this appointment really stinks.

Chris Mechels

The "strong mayor" model is a huge mistake, a set up for Webber, and those like him. The City Council should reject of Blair, who is unqualified, but of course they won't do that. The result, Webber, a PR specialist, not a manager, hires a political operative, also not a manager, and Santa Fe goes without management. It shows.

The City Manager in Sfe, who can be dismissed without cause by the Mayor, needs one credential; the ability to say "yes Mayor" with a happy smile. In Blair's case, he will also help Alan to run for his next office, perhaps Governor.

So, where was the New Mexican when the "strong Mayor" was debated. It was a stupid idea, and created a Dictator. Where was the New Mexican when Ranked Choice voting was proposed, which favors those like Webber, with deep pockets. He bought the Mayor's job.

Time to reverse course, and end the dictatorship, and also to examine the New Mexican's role in creating this mess.

Mike Johnson

[thumbup][thumbup][thumbup]

Gerald Joyce

Do not often agree with Chris but he is right on with his analysis.

Richard Reinders

IMO Get rid of the Mayor and keep the Manager. Lets Go Jay Baker

rodney carswell

Does the hiring process followed (or the nominee's credentials), as described in this column, sound appropriate? Contact your City Council representative to express your opinion. https://www.santafenm.gov/elected_officials

Emily Hartigan

Thanks for another complex lesson in local Santa Fe politics. Actual expertise would seem what a city manager should have, but the mention of Bell, CA, er, rang a bell..... they were the city with the highest paid city officials in the US, for a relatively tiny place, 11 years ago. A cautionary tale?

Patrick Brockwell

Richard, I think you got this one right. Better phone a friend than hire someone who will want to do it right. The Webber administration is allergic to expertise. Being very qualified threatens the status quo. Wouldn't want that.

Richard Reinders

Why thanks Patrick ,I knew there was a common cause or ground we could find. Webber thinks Santa Feans are a bunch of yokels that can't see his motives.

Mike Johnson

True Richard, but so far Santa Fe voters appear to be just what he thinks, wouldn't you say after this last election?

Mike Johnson

Not surprising but always appalling. Webber has a good role model for success in politics, MLG, she is just as arrogant, partisan political, and interested only in political loyalty from appointees, not qualifications. Another reason NM is alway last in any measure. How do these kind of people keep getting elected? Look in the mirror typical NM voters.

John Cook

If only you could find a way to bypass all those 'typical NM voters'. You know...by having the true patriots take over the government by force in order to save us from socialism. By putting an authoritarian 'strong man' in charge. To save our way of life. There is a name for that system.....help me out here Dr. Johnson....I'm sure you know the name for what I have just described.....

Mike Johnson

Yes, "Democratic" Socialism, as practiced by Bernie and The Squad.......

John Cook

Ummmm? Democratic socialism is going to save us from socialism? The Squad wants to put an authoritarian strong-man in permanent power? You know the answer to my question, Dr. Johnson. Do you have the courage to name what you promote? Or are you a monument of marshmallow?

Mike Johnson

Mr. Cook, how about a person who uses emergency health powers to expand and solidify their hold on political power and control over the people and spending of federal funds? Who issues edicts, mandates, and restrictions without any oversight from the legislative branch that control and decide much of your life choices? We have one of those for our Governor, and I think she is fully supported by the "Democratic" Socialists. I call that dictatorship, and no, I would not want what we have in NM for any other poor souls in America.

John Cook

The detailed requirements for city managers in the cities you mention are for 'weak mayor'/strong city manager cities. When we moved to a strong mayor system we put the detailed duties/requirements of those cities into the hands of the mayor. In our case the city manager must have experience in managing people and complex systems and John Blair has that experience with both campaigns and state government.

Mike Johnson

Typically, and by this definition, city managers are not present in strong mayor cities: "A city manager is an official appointed as the administrative manager of a city, in a "weak-mayor" council–manager form of city government." The massive salary Webber is being paid should not require a city manager. He should be able to handle the whole job, as other large cities do without any city manager. But obviously, Webber is weak, no matter what he is paid.

Khal Spencer

You just defined the mayor's duties and now tell us that Blair will be doing the same thing. As I said, we get one job for the price of two. Great. Meanwhile, the SFPD is understaffed, cannot get DUI data to the prosecutor, there are weeds everywhere, the Midtown Campus continues to be a rotting sinkhole for public funds and we have two people who cannot seem to get it turned around.

Mike Johnson

[thumbup][thumbup] The disaster of Webber is so obvious, everyone should have been able to see it the last election, only in NM.

Khal Spencer

I don't mean to compare a mayor to Il Duce, but in my world, you elect a mayor to "make the trains run on time", i.e., provide excellent and reliable city services at an appropriate cost to the taxpayers. My read is in The City Indifferent, we elect on the basis of liberal or progressive credentials first and worry about stuff like the weeds, homeless, crime, potholes, understaffed PD, high ratio of city employees to taxpayers, and the rotting sinkhole of Midtown Campus somewhere down the line.

I had hoped the second term would be to "build back better", so to speak, but this appointment doesn't make me an optimist. I would have preferred a seasoned technocrat/manager.

The proof will be in the pudding, so to speak.

Richard Reinders

IMO Webber has his election team on the city payroll while he plan for higher office they will have four years of planning at the tax payers expense. Webber has operated more like a dictator in his removal of statues without the benefit of city council and now with hiring of a campaign manager. The city council might as well go home and let Webber continue to disrespect process, procedure and city employees. The city of Santa Fe is being used as a stepping stone while basic operation and services are neglected.

Stefanie Beninato

Where are your facts that his campaign team was on the city payroll, Richard? That would be a huge campaign violation. Don't you think Vigil-Coppler, Martinez-Johnson, Maria Bautista or the Union Protectiva would have noticed and brought yet another campaign violation against Webber?

Richard Reinders

Its my opinion. Just putting 2 and 2 together with Blair being Obamas campaign manager as well as others, when it comes to politics I don't believe in serendipity. You are naïve to think they won't be having private meeting for the next 4 years.

Angel Ortiz

Huge thanks to everyone who voted for Webber. Another 4 years of ignorance and greed in the Mayor's office.

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