The city’s continuing inability to complete a financial audit on time is unacceptable.

And the excuses need to end.

Whether it’s because of the pandemic or severe staffing shortages, the reasons do not matter for people who expect more from city government. Santa Fe needs to conduct its financial business on time. Other cities in the state are completing audits as required by law, during the same pandemic, while also spending a glut of federal dollars and likely with staffing shortages.

They get the job done. Santa Fe does not.

By contrast, the city now is late on its required 2021 fiscal year audit, despite repeated assurances from city Finance Director Mary McCoy all would be well.

That did not happen. What’s more, city councilors were informed about the missed Dec. 15 audit deadline via email just before 5 p.m. A news release went out after 5 p.m. to let citizens know.

A failure in execution in routine work was compounded by a failure in communication.

When this newspaper endorsed Mayor Alan Webber for a second term, we were straightforward: “There are clear successes, but let’s speak plainly: Webber’s first term was pockmarked with mistakes.

“Too often, even before the pandemic, he became bogged down in handling the regular business of the city. He needed to listen more, particularly to those who disagree with him. The city’s financial audit was late two years running. Not acceptable.”

It remains unacceptable.

City leaders need to focus on what is happening — or not happening — in the Finance Department, centering on these questions:

Why was the office so short-staffed? Is no one applying for jobs? How are job searches being conducted? What affirmative steps are being taken to find help — contacting retirees, calling universities for leads on financial graduates, headhunting experts at the state or county? Once candidates are identified, how long does it take from posting a job to bringing an employee on board?

The city had a successful rapid hire event recently and is bringing in additional staff for the Finance Department. That’s encouraging news, but hiring does no good if people don’t stay on the job.

Focus on retention. That starts by looking at turnover in recent months. What happens once employees start working? Do they stay? If not, why not?

With a team assembled, then focus on taking care of outstanding tasks. That actually appears to be happening, according to a brief put together by McCoy.

An audit team is being formed to handle both fiscal year 2021 and fiscal year 2022 audits, including a contracted audit coordinator who will work with the Finance Department and staff from other city departments to complete the task. An independent review is planned to assess the systems, processes and structures of the city’s close and annual audit preparation process. That’s key to making improvements.

The community can help. In the late 1990s, Santa Fe Public Schools failed financially. Its finances were taken over by the state temporarily after the district discovered a $3.5 million shortfall. Brand-new Superintendent Veronica García — who inherited the mess — formed a financial oversight task force, and community members stepped up to assist the business office.

The city’s problems aren’t overspending but an inability to complete required audits on time and to fix past mistakes. The much-heralded McHard report that detailed a city financial system in chaos four years ago did not outline overnight solutions; the problems identified are still being corrected. The accounting system has been modernized, policies have been updated and better internal controls are in place.

It’s a work in progress, but not enough progress is being made. The late fiscal year 2020 audit still contained 10 significant deficiencies and eight material weaknesses. Despite progress, the audit needs to be on time and the deficiencies corrected.

Fortunately, the situation at the city of Santa Fe has not — yet — caused its financial ratings to falter. Unlike the schools in the 1990s, the city has plenty of money. What Santa Fe lacks is a Financial Department able to deliver on-time reporting on how dollars are being spent.

Webber has said a budget details a city’s priorities. True enough. But an on-time audit offers confidence spending went according to plan and law.

There, Santa Fe falls short. Unacceptable.

(14) comments

Susan Ray

I had 10 years of municipal accounting experience when I started with the City of Santa Fe. What a mess. I spent 3 years trying to clean up my department's books, but was stymied by the Finance Director and the software systems. I've never seen such a mess. The new software is a nightmare and already needs upgrade. No one would listen to any of my ideas and experience. HR is a major roadblock. It takes months to bring a new hire on board. Employee turnover is rampant. There is not a single employee in my department when I started who is still there. Including me. I couldn't keep beating my head against that wall.

KT Rivera

The mayor the this newspaper endorsed continues to demonstrate he has no intention of fixing issues and doing what is right. One of many clues was his response to the audit findings during the pre-election forums. Alan Webber continues to raise his middle finger to general population of Santa Fe. Deplorable.

Stefanie Beninato

For a news story, this one raises lots of questions--many of which the reporter should/could have gotten from public records requests.

William Mee

The thing is this is the THIRD time the audit is late. Most municipalities are put under a State mandated consent decree by this time.

Jim Montevallo

While I appreciate the direct tone and specifics of this piece, I must say such reporting and straight talk have been shockingly absent throughout the wretched Alan years.

Your false equivalence of the "successes" to the mistakes is a grim disservice, as was your incomprehensible endorsement of the worst mayor in extended Santa Fe memory and the laughably inept rubber stamp council. You rolled over and showed stomach and we all know it.

You know as well as we that all of the incumbents bear responsibility for years of mistakes, missteps, ghastly breaches of duty, and in facts deaths and the financial shame is but one big one amongst big ones, as crude and disgraceful as it massively is.

Now that we are stuck with these small town play it safe pols and a bad, blaming, too often dishonest and incapable mayor, unless by the grace of God we can roll a recall, let this editorial be a template going forward. We need you to REPORT on THE DETAILS, and print truth to those who control our money, resources and beloved Santa Fe.

Be a strong, forthright paper and you will be richly rewarded far more than what Alan and his ilk give you. That's a promise, and a any free press should know that in their bones.

Michael Vigil

Spot on. The New Mexican needs to be responsible to the public and not the mayor and his party's advertising money.

Chris Mechels

"Webber’s first term was pockmarked with mistakes"; but the New Mexican endorsed him. Because he bought adds?? They still seem to think that the audit failure is an isolated failure, its not. Its a symptom, the "canary in the coal mine". Webber had NO management experience to point to when he ran for Mayor; he's an editor and a PR guy. The "management" at Fast Company was Taylor and Zuckerman, not Webber. The New Mexican helped to create this monster, now they would have us believe he just needs a haircut. The New Mexican is the Problem, Not the solution, and should keep their phony advice to themselves.

Heather Nordquist

HR difficulties? If only there had been a mayoral candidate with extensive HR experience.......oh, wait.

New Mexican still playing the old game of endorsing hacks. Everyone should treat their opinion on candidates with the value it has, which is ZERO.

Webber and his political hacks will continue to destroy this city with ineptitude and constant movidas.

Mike Johnson

[thumbup]Exceptionally well stated.

Mike Johnson

Interesting, just before the election, this esteemed editorial board endorsed Webber for reelection solidly and strongly. Buyer's remorse Inez?

Andrew Lucero

[thumbup][thumbup][thumbup]

Frank Chambers

Exactly my thought as I read the editorial. Mayor Webber continues, bringing in another unqualified politician as city manager. The city deserves a city manager who has education or certification in Public Administration. What cities comparable to Santa Fe don't? Las Cruces and Farmington do.

William Mee

In the Mayor's words he has the "Fab Five"---five women barely over 40, who have never supervised more than 5 people, have basketweaving degrees, and have never had a job that would qualify them for the present job. Five YES Women.

Mike Johnson

[thumbup]And qualified women need not apply, only political hacks.

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