Now that Alan Webber has addressed the city manager position with the hiring of John Blair — a move that matters most to the mayor’s overall operation of the city — his next job is to find a police chief.

That’s the search that should matter most to Webber’s constituents. There’s no way to overstate the importance of a police chief in this community, or any community. He or she runs an operation whose employees carry guns, keep the peace and, really, set the tone for a city’s sense of itself.

If the police department works as it should, chances are the community feels better about itself. If it’s undermanned, poorly managed or unable to respond to the realities of a place with vastly different needs in vastly different areas, the chief executive, Webber, is in for a very long four years.

So, obviously, it’s a huge hire for the mayor, who bids farewell to Chief Andrew Padilla this week.

And Webber’s decision is one constituents should follow closely.

It’s time for the city, which loves to trumpet transparency but evinces precious little of it when it comes to hiring top administrators, to let the public kick the tires on a search for a new chief.

Granted, there are plenty of ways to do that, but it comes down to this: Once finalists are selected, put them through a wide-open interview process that includes a variety of sessions with the public — not just Webber, Blair and members of the City Council.

Have the hopefuls meet with police critics and police supporters. Get their thoughts on community policing — not merely the window-dressing platitudes but the actual mechanics of making it happen. Let the officers and staff of SFPD ask questions. The right kind of candidate, one who’s done homework, likely will know exactly what he or she thinks about appropriate staffing levels — a number Padilla and the Webber administration have danced around but never addressed, even before the challenges brought by the coronavirus.

Would that kind of meet-and-greet cattle call turn off some prospective candidates? You bet.

And so what? Santa Fe cops and the people they serve need a leader who’s not afraid to take on all comers. That’s the job.

Webber has said he wants a top-flight police department, and he’s ponied up more money to keep officers, not that he or the city had much choice.

Since he’s been mayor, the city also has created an Alternative Response Unit, a team that deals with calls that deal with mental health issues and homelessness. It was a smart move, and one a new chief should call for in the budget.

But in a city where crime is by no means mundane — there have been eight homicides in Santa Fe this year, including the fatal shooting by police of a suspect in a tourist-heavy area of downtown — the new chief has a chance to mold a better, smarter, more flexible department.

Is the right candidate currently employed by SFPD? It’s possible. But there’s no harm in looking beyond Santa Fe or New Mexico.

Finding the right leader, not merely a familiar face, is critical. If nothing else, the city deserves a search more involved than merely selecting the top square on the current organizational chart, as was the case when Webber selected Andrew Padilla early in his first term.

Webber convinced voters he deserved another term by promising smart, innovative leadership. This is his chance to put words into action.

(8) comments

Lupe Molina

They need to reach as far outside of this department as possible and expect additional turnover in the short-term. SFPD needs a complete overhaul.

Khal Spencer

We don't know that. All we know is what we read in the paper, not who is trying to bubble up from within the P.D. I'd look at all the resumes in an unbiased manner.

Francisco Carbajal

One the most difficult issues to comprehend and understand in today's police culture works is how it blends itself in a small diverse community like Santa Fe and its surrounding villages & pueblos. Everything is relevant which is an integral part of a complete and whole holistic community. Within the City of Santa Fe Police Department, you have many of our police officer's (Boots on Ground) that do care about what happens to their community that they serve on a daily and nightly basis. They are vetted into their community public safety, health and welfare interests 150%, because their own families live with them and are also generational-driven with NM culture, traditions, value system, customs, and religion attribute's. This is not the City of Albuquerque or Rio Rancho. These local police officers are connected and still have some old-school attributes with other generational families throughout the Northern part of New Mexico. Many of our SFPD officers want to retire from the SFPD one day and move on too! These police officers are culturally competent and culturally sensitive to what the social fabric of Santa Fe is all about. I see it daily and they show it with dignity and grace. Yet, the lack of keeping a positive communication line and open-door policy between them and the Office of the Mayor is a different story. The sad part of Mayor Allen Webber's dishonesty and not keeping a promise for their safety from harm and danger (relating to addressing their officer-safety network and "Thin Blue Line" support), he will fail for the next four years. Lastly, I think regardless who is selected for the next Police Chief, the local community will be watching it like a hawk and the current Mayor will be held accountable and responsible of its selection process.

Chris Mechels

Going ignored, as usual, in this piece, is that the Mayor DOES NOT hire the Police Chief, that's not part of his powers. He appoints, with the consent of the Council, the City Manager, who would hire the Police Chief as part of his job.

So, how did Webber become a Dictator; because the New Mexican, and others, refer to him as having powers which he does not have per the Charter.

We really MUST get rid of this Strong Mayor model, its dangerous as it allows power freaks like Alan far too much latitude. Perhaps a "Lessons Learned" session for the Council would be time well spent. They need to take back their power.

Francisco Carbajal

Chris Mechels, like the former Mayor Debbie Jaramillo would say to an outsider: "Which bus did you get off?" And/or Charlie would say to the people: "Wake up and smell the coffee!" Evidently, in your situation of not understanding the culture and politics of Santa Fe, you missed both of the above sayings. Lastly, when the new Charter was implemented for the City of Santa Fe back in the day, where were you? AWOL.

Barbara Harrelson

It's hard to believe that you glossed over Webber's "process" for selecting a city manager, giving him a free pass for NOT posting the job and doing a nominal search before selecting a person with questionable credentials for this position that is so important, as you note, "to the mayor's overall operation of the city."

Khal Spencer

Would be even nicer if the Mayor published the process and the desired bona fides without the New Mex having to dig.

Rachel Thompson

It would be great if one of your reporters could be assigned to find out what the process will be for finding a new police chief. What kind of a search will take place?

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