Newly appointed City Clerk Kristine Bustos-Mihelcic has a big job ahead of her, transforming the office under an intense spotlight.
The high-profile job, held by Yolanda Vigil for nearly 30 years, is changing. The clerk’s office had been charged with record-keeping, preparing City Council packets, tracking ordinances after adoption, taking applications for carnivals and circuses, and issuing special-use permits and liquor licenses — all while overseeing city elections. That responsibility changed when state municipal elections were moved to November.
Under Mayor Alan Webber’s reorganization of city government, the clerk’s office is being envisioned as a point of contact for citizens. As such, Bustos-Mihelcic will be heading up the Office of Public Engagement, uniting the Department of Constituent and Council Services and the City Clerk’s Office.
It’s a hometown success story for a young woman brought up in Santa Fe. A Santa Fe High and Eastern New Mexico University graduate, Bustos-Mihelcic worked as a spokeswoman for Santa Fe County for a number of years before moving over to the city.
Despite her qualifications and hometown credentials, the actual path from appointment to approval of a proposed contract was bumpy — with a few lessons for how city leaders can remain accountable to taxpayers while respecting employees.
When Webber presented the appointment for approval last week, there were questions. That’s part of a councilor’s job, although the motivation for questions should be out of desire to protect the city’s interests and less to put a spoke in the mayor’s plans. Sometimes, lately, it’s difficult to tell the difference.
For Bustos-Mihelcic, the end result was that her contract was picked apart in public. It was embarrassing, although considering what she will be paid — around $111,000 a year — she will hold up. Still, she didn’t deserve to be embarrassed in a manner that other senior officials didn’t face when the council approved terms of their employment.
The concerns of Councilors JoAnne Vigil Coppler and Michael Garcia took a long time to hash out. The council ended up taking out $4,000 a year of pay from what had been a salary of $115,000 and amending a severance package in the contract. The city clerk’s position — along with that of city attorney and city manager — is one of three at the city that includes severance pay.
By the time the long debate was over — and the offer approved unanimously — it wasn’t even clear Bustos-Mihelcic would take the job. She later informed the council she was taking the position, but at $100 less than the salary offered — $111,220. In all, there was a lot of commotion about very little.
We wish Bustos-Mihelcic well in her new job. She needs to hit the ground running to bring people together to discuss policy and improve city services. The clerk’s office could be a place to bring people together. Communication will be key.
It’s a balancing act, too, with Bustos-Mihelcic having a number of bosses: the mayor, councilors and city residents. Priorities will matter, and it’s never a bad idea to put the people first and let the others wait their turn — even the mayor and councilors. That way, the community will be engaged and the clerk can avoid being a flashpoint in any ongoing tug of war between mayor and individual councilors.