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Editorial: Keller wasting political capital on $75K mini mayor

There’s a vice president in Washington, D.C., and a lieutenant governor in Santa Fe. So maybe Mayor Tim Keller is on the right track in creating an “assistant mayor” position for the city of Albuquerque. Then again, maybe not.

Keller announced earlier this month that he hired Albuquerque native Gary Lee as the new “assistant mayor.” Lee, who worked for President Obama for 10 years, is earning $75K a year, though with benefits taxpayers are probably paying closer to $90,000 for the honor of having a Keller mini-me.

Not surprisingly, the move is eliciting an “oh, brother” response from some. In Thursday’s Journal, some Speak Up writers called the move out as ridiculous. “Is the mayor splitting his salary with his new assistant mayor?” asked DP.

“We’ve never had need for such (a position) in the past, nor do we need one now,” wrote JSD. “Mayor Keller, you’re just like the rest of the Democrats, spend, spend, spend! Odd how you always find the bucks when it’s something you want. We elected YOU to do the job, nobody else. I guess an assistant leaves you more time for photo-ops – right?”

The decision to hire an “assistant mayor” does come off as tone deaf, particularly coming on the heels of a gross receipts tax hike the mayor and Council rammed through to raise $51 million, purportedly because of a $40 million budget deficit that miraculously disappeared after the tax-increase ink had dried. Throw in that, just before creating the junior mayor position and just after the tax increase, Keller hired Alan Packman, who played a key role in running his mayoral campaign, for another $75,000-a-year exempt job at the city.

Yes, the assistant mayor job is a “re-purposed position,” not one created out of thin air. Assistant to the mayor was converted to assistant mayor, although Lee is making $13,000 more than his predecessor, who moved to a different job at the city.

Keller spokeswoman Alicia Manzano says the additional pay Lee is receiving is because he’s an attorney, worked in the Obama administration and is taking on an expanded role. So what, exactly, will the assistant mayor do? The same things as the assistant to the mayor – ensuring he’s on time – in addition to more policy related things, such as assisting with policy initiatives to carry out Keller’s vision for the city.

“My goal is to bring in and implement some of the systems I saw at the White House to Albuquerque City Hall,” Lee says. In announcing the appointment, Keller notes “Bringing home-grown talent back to the city is important as we tackle the challenges ahead.” Bringing home-grown talent back to Albuquerque is important, but it would be more impressive if Lee had come home to work in the private sector or was serving in an already established top city leadership position. Serving as a glorified babysitter is beneath Lee.

While serving at the White House, Lee was part of Obama’s legislative affairs team that helped pass the Affordable Care Act. After serving in the White House, he was awarded a Fulbright research scholarship in Korea. Nevertheless, Albuquerque residents are right to question the creation of this position.

Packman, meanwhile, began working for the city in August, and because he’s an at-will appointee of the mayor, no competitive process was required. He is a constituent services integration specialist in the city’s Department of Technology and Innovation. Manzano says Packman will try to build technology and integration services for constituent services, including making the city’s 311 information line more efficient and effective. Manzano says he has information technology experience.

Packman may be the best IT guy in the world, but he was also responsible for Keller’s in-kind contribution debacle that has the new city clerk re-writing campaign contribution rules. That extremely bad advice aside, Keller won, and so this looks like taxpayer dollars are being used to compensate Packman for a job well done.

Keller received a clear mandate, garnering 62 percent of the vote last November. It’s a shame he’s squandering that political capital on questionable political appointments like this.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.