Government officials to assess whether ‘strong mayor system’ is a good fit for Santa Fe

January 10 — When Alan Webber was elected mayor almost four years ago, he took the reins not only of town hall, but also of a new form of governance, which featured a model of mayor. strong ”full-time and included expanded powers over its predecessors. never appreciated.

But nearly a decade after the city’s latest charter review board pushed through those changes, and with another panel likely to be appointed later in 2022, officials are taking stock of the structure of the city. local government – assessing what worked, what didn’t and what is still needed. .

“We are only at the beginning,” said City Councilor Carol Romero-Wirth, who also served on the charter review panel. “This is the start of this conversation, but there will be other conversations about whether it works and what structure would improve it.”

The city’s charter review board is supposed to meet every 10 years to discuss potential changes to the document. Ten years ago, he passed Charter Amendment 9, which shifted Santa Fe from a city manager / city council system to a plan that places much more power in the hands of the elected chief executive of the city. The charter change also made the mayor a voting member of what is now called the Board of Directors.

Before that, the mayor only voted in the event of a tie.

The changes gave the mayor of Santa Fe the opportunity to set a legislative and political agenda, but also gave the office a makeover – from a largely ceremonial part-time role to one that offered the power to ‘hire and fire three essential city employees: the city manager, city attorney and city clerk.

The process of interim resentment by the mayor, council and agencies in city government persisted long after the change took effect in 2018. Growing pains were evident during Webber’s first term.

While Webber acknowledges that some uncertainties remain, he said it’s clear that a full-time mayor is something Santa Fe sorely needed.

“It’s hard for me, after spending four years as mayor, that Santa Fe, as the capital, hasn’t had a full-time mayor so far,” he said.

While Romero-Wirth said she believed the changes were “critical” to moving the city forward, she said the debate over whether the most recent charter amendments went far enough or needed to be reduced would likely be crucial when a new commission is formed. A key issue, she added, is the presence of a mayor as a voting member of the board.

“At the moment, we don’t have an executive that is completely an executive or a board that is completely a council,” Romero-Wirth said. “We have this hybrid. I think that’s the conversation a new charter commission will need to have. Do we like this hybrid? Does it work for us? “

Councilor Michael Garcia agreed that a separation of powers was worth exploring.

“If you look at a lot of other governments, the only legislative power [the executive] a, is to have this tiebreaker of a vote, “Garcia said.” I think this is something we need to consider as we explore the review of delegated powers to the mayor’s office. “

Patricio Serna, who chaired the review panel that approved the charter changes, said a system similar to Albuquerque’s – in which the mayor does not sit on council but has a veto – has been discussed but ultimately tabled. He noted that the Santa Fe City Council remained central to political discussions and said the main reason for the changes was the need to build “continuity” and “leadership” through a stronger CEO.

“The city council still has a lot of power,” Serna said. “I think it’s working well. We’ll have to give it more time, of course.”

Webber calls the current structure a mixed government model rather than a strong mayor system.

“There is a full-time mayor, but it’s still a mayor / city manager form of government,” he said. “While the public thinks the mayor is where the money ends in terms of the charter, he often stops with the city manager. It’s an interesting twist.”

The question of what potential changes a charter review board might propose arises in the context of the actions taken during Webber’s first term. Since taking office, Webber has made various structural changes to the day-to-day functioning of government, reorganizing the city’s various agencies into three new super departments. City council approved the changes in September 2020.

As part of the reorganization, police, fire, emergency management and community services were placed under the direction of community health and safety. Planning and land use, arts and culture, affordable housing, economic development, tourism and recreation have been transferred under a new umbrella called the Department of Community Development. And voter and council services were transferred to the city clerk’s office to create a community engagement service.

“It was a conversation that was gradually developing about the right way to bring together more effective clusters for better service delivery to the city,” said Webber, describing the thinking behind the changes.

Councilor Chris Rivera, elected to the board in 2012, said he didn’t really notice a difference between the way the government worked before Webber’s reorganization effort and how it works today, although he said : “I think it is still a little early” to make a final decision.

“For me, not a lot of real changes,” he said.

Former adviser JoAnne Vigil Coppler has been one of the most vocal opponents of the reorganization of departments, citing timing issues around the burgeoning COVID-19 pandemic.

Defeated by Webber last November in the mayoral race, Vigil Coppler said it was difficult to assess the effects of Webber’s reorganization effort because there was “nothing to measure it.”

“When you do a reorganization, you study it, you set up, I guess focus groups, you see what works, what doesn’t,” she said. “If you are combining several departments, you must be asking yourself, does this make sense? “

Webber said the city has already started to see “significant benefits” from the reorganization plan, noting how different city offices have come together to help provide services during the height of the pandemic.

“I think change is always difficult,” said Webber. “I think reorganizing any organization, any institution, is going to be difficult.”

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