Mayor Alan Webber’s chief of staff has a new title: interim city manager.
Jarel LaPan Hill, a Santa Fe native and 1999 graduate of Capital High School, will take the helm at the City Manager’s Office on a temporary basis Saturday after Erik Litzenberg leaves Friday to become Santa Fe County’s new fire chief.
“As far as a choice that can keep the city moving forward, keep our positive momentum going with the least amount of disruption and the greatest amount of continuity, I think she’s a great choice,” Webber said Tuesday.
LaPan Hill, 38, is paid about $88,400 as chief of staff. As interim city manager, she will be paid $155,000 — the same salary as Litzenberg when he first started the job last year.
Webber said he didn’t know how long LaPan Hill would serve as interim city manager.
“We’ll see how long the recruitment process [for a new city manager] takes,” said Webber, who added that the hiring of a new city manager won’t be a rushed decision.
“If you look at the way I’ve tried to do business as mayor in every way, in every opportunity that we’ve had, we go about it very methodically,” he said. “We’re not looking for just anybody to fill the job. We’re looking for the right person to be the city manager going forward.”
Webber noted that about a dozen people have applied for the job “more or less over the transom.” He also said the city is in the process of hiring of a recruiter “to reach out more broadly to people in the profession and also to people who are qualified but are not professional city managers.”
LaPan Hill isn’t interested in the job on a permanent basis.
“Unfortunately, the things Jarel has been working on in her role as chief of staff will have to get moved to the back burner,” the mayor said. “But I’m confident that once we find a full-time city manager, her role as chief of staff will resume, and the work she was doing that was really critical for supporting both me and the city manager and the department heads will go back to the way it was.”
Webber said he has no plans to do away with either the city manager job or the position of chief of staff, which some people have called for following a voter-approved charter change that made Webber the city’s first full-time mayor.
“We’re not a sleepy little city any more,” he said. “We are a sophisticated city, and we really need to up our management game, so I don’t see any reason to do away with the positions we’ve got. I think we need to look at how the city is organized going forward to get more effective management and more results for the people of Santa Fe, but doing away with positions that exist is not the way to get better results.”
A graduate of George Washington University, LaPan Hill worked eight years in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services during the administration of former President Barack Obama as chief of staff to the agency’s deputy secretary.
LaPan Hill, one of the mayor’s first hires, moved back to Santa Fe last year with her husband and two children.
Webber said LaPan Hill has been “a big part of every dimension” of his administration.
“I think it’s important to recognize Jarel’s skills and talent,” he said. “This is a young woman who is a perfect example of somebody who grew up in Santa Fe, went to high school here, went off to Washington D.C., worked in the highest levels of the Obama administration for eight years but wanted to come home to raise her family. She really is committed to Santa Fe.”
City Councilor Roman “Tiger” Abeyta said LaPan Hill’s experience at City Hall gives her a unique perspective.
“I think the fact that she was a chief of staff and wasn’t contained to just one department puts her in a good position to be able to keep us moving forward,” he said.
Abeyta, who chairs the city Finance Committee, called LaPan Hill “very thoughtful.” He said she sometimes serves as a mediator if he and the mayor don’t see eye-to-eye on an issue.
“Contrary to what people think, we don’t always agree on everything, me and the mayor,” Abeyta said, laughing. “She’s usually in the room, and she can see both sides and kind of be that bridge.”
In an email, LaPan Hill said, “My aim is to keep making progress with this great team and continue to deliver better and better service to our residents.”
She added, “I take the work of managing the city very seriously. We’re on the right track in improving city services. We’ve got a great team of department heads. Now we need to keep moving ahead and, at the same time, conduct a comprehensive search for the next city manager.”
Follow Daniel J. Chacón on Twitter @danieljchacon.