The first rule of survival in public relations is to plaster the bosses’ names at the top of every media handout.
City Hall executes the practice as well as any Fortune 500 company.
“Mayor Alan Webber and City Councilors Signe Lindell, Roman Abeyta and Carol Romero-Wirth will introduce a resolution to raise the minimum wage for City of Santa Fe employees from $12.32 to $15 an hour,” a city news release began.
All four of those politicians are running for reelection in November. The city statement that highlights them arrived in time for Labor Day weekend, traditional start of the campaign’s stretch run.
Webber, Lindell, Abeyta and Romero-Wirth have been in office since at least 2018. They waited until two months before the election to propose raising wages of the lowest-paid city employees.
Their timing must be a coincidence. No one could believe the politicians’ pitch is anything but a humane gesture, even if it’s a bit behind the progressive curve.
At least 13 other government agencies and businesses in Santa Fe had already established starting salaries of $15 an hour or more. They range from the animal shelter and District Attorney’s Office to Ecco Espresso & Gelato and What the Truck catering company. Ahh Dental starts its employees at $20 an hour.
City Councilor JoAnne Vigil Coppler favors the proposed pay increase for municipal workers, though no colleague asked her if she wanted to help carry the resolution.
Vigil Coppler is running for mayor. She represents the greatest threat to Webber getting a second term. Her exclusion was another coincidence, no doubt.
Not until reporters began phoning did Vigil Coppler know fellow politicians were preparing the resolution for a $15 minimum wage in city government.
She says she’s happy for workers who might get a raise but sees the proposal as a political maneuver more than anything else.
“It’s a headline grabber. He’s trying to get attention with it,” Vigil Coppler of Webber.
The overwhelming majority of the city’s 1,400 employees already make more than $15 an hour.
Those who are paid less include custodians, lifeguards, parking attendants, temporary laborers and parks maintenance workers.
Webber and the three councilors who are sponsoring the proposed pay increase labeled it as significant.
They pointed to city government’s lowest-paid employees, who receive $12.32 an hour, the minimum wage in Santa Fe.
“The increase to $15 represents a $5,000 annual salary boost for a full-time employee making the current minimum,” the politicians’ news release stated.
My review of city government salaries showed only three employees making $12.32 an hour. They are listed as aides in providing senior services.
Library and forest technicians, customer service representatives and “specialists” at the convention center make more than the minimum but less than $15 an hour. Like janitors and lifeguards, most of them are paid $13 to $14.70 an hour.
Any increase matters to people who are squeezing the nickels and pinching the dimes just to make rent. Still, Webber and the other politicians promoting the measure were quick to oversell its impact.
“We believe in taking care of the workers who take care of the city — they should be able to raise families in the city where they work,” the city statement quoted Webber.
When was the last time raising a family on $15 an hour was possible? Depending on where you lived, it might have been the first George Bush’s term as president, which ended in 1993.
Paying several dozen municipal workers a little more won’t strain city hall’s budget. It’s a place where more questionable expenses often occur.
In a recent instance, city councilors and the mayor have earmarked public money for consultants to help with a project aimed at assuaging hurt feelings and cooling anger. It’s a reaction to Webber and his police commanders allowing a mob to destroy the Soldiers Monument on the Plaza.
Private consultants have been hired in the government’s reconciliation effort. Webber’s administration estimates the total budget for the program at $265,000.
I would rather have seen city workers in the low tier on wages receive that money, especially after Webber’s extravagances on administrative salaries.
His city manager, Jarel LaPan Hill, had no experience in running a government’s day-to-day operations. City records list her salary at $84.18 an hour or about $175,000 a year.
She was 37 when she started in city government with Webber in 2018, hired in the new and unnecessary position of chief of staff. Her original job paid her $85,000, a salary Lindell worried was too low.
At the time Webber created the job of chief of staff for LaPan Hill, Santa Fe had a city manager and a deputy city manager. Webber became the first full-time mayor in decades.
Another notable aspect of the $15-an-hour proposal by Webber and the three councilors is it applies only to city government workers.
No city politician has shown any interest in raising Santa Fe’s minimum wage by almost $2.70 an hour, especially not while they’re campaigning for another term or a higher office. Restaurateurs and other business owners might oppose the idea.
Santa Fe’s minimum wage can increase annually based on the consumer price index. The typical raise is about 30 cents an hour.
Soon enough, the lowest-paid city government workers will do better than that. The fact that they’re likely voters in the November election is probably just another coincidence.