Santa Fe City Manager Erik Litzenberg on Tuesday announced he will step down as city manager, a position he has served in since shortly after Mayor Alan Webber took office 16 months ago.
He was first tapped as interim city manager by Webber after serving 23 years with the city’s fire department, the last five as fire chief.
Both Litzenberg and Webber emphasized at a news briefing Tuesday morning that Litzenberg’s decision to leave wasn’t because of any conflict between the two of them. In fact, Litzenberg said he would like to stay on long enough to help with his successor’s transition.
Litzenberg, 47, said that he was stepping down for personal and professional reasons.
“I don’t want to continue to watch my kids grow up and my family evolve without being more of a part of it than I have been in the last year and a half,” he said. “Whatever I do after this will certainly involve more family time and more of a part of my kids growing up.”
He and his wife have five children, two of them school-aged, he said.
As for a professional reason, Litzenberg suggested he would like to go back to work in a public safety position having “loved every second” of doing that kind of work with the fire department.
“And still when I engage in things related to fire and EMS I feel myself light up, and I feel myself get excited, enthused and lean into everything I’m doing,” he said.
Later in the day at its regular meeting, the Santa Fe County Commission honored Fire Chief David Sperling and Assistant Fire Chief Steve Moya, who are retiring.
Litzenberg acknowledged he has had discussions with the county about the job of county fire chief and it would be a job he’d be interested in taking.
“It is something that I have been talked to about; it is not a job that I have been offered or officially accepted,” he said, later adding, “I’d consider that among many other things.”
Litzenberg said he is in a position to retire from the city if he wanted to, but if he did retire he expected to continue to work related to public safety.
Another option, he said, is to finish the doctorate degree he is pursuing in fire and risk protection at the University of New Mexico. He is just a dissertation away from completing that degree.
City employees were notified of Litzenberg’s intended departure moments before he stepped into the mayor’s office for the news briefing. Department directors were told during a senior staff meeting earlier in the morning.
Litzenberg, who is making about $163,000 per year, was asked by Webber to serve as city manager on an interim basis after the former city manager, Brian Snyder, was asked to resign after it was discovered he broke policy by awarding temporary raises to a select group of city employees working on a computerization, software and technology upgrade. He was offered, and accepted, the job on a full-time basis about two months later.
Litzenberg said when he agreed to take on the job his two main tasks were to manage the transition of the Webber administration and to hire people who would help lead the city into the future. “And that’s been done,” he said of the sweeping changes that have occurred among department directors over the last year or so.
Under the “strong mayor” model of government previously approved by voters that went into effect at the same time Webber took office, the city manager is responsible for hiring all but three positions in city government: the city attorney, clerk and manager, which are hired by the mayor.
Webber said Litzenberg told him when he offered him the job that he didn’t have an interest in being city manager on a long-term basis.
“Unlike many people who, I think, seek this job for one reason or another, Erik, very much in character, found the job came to him. And the city has been enormously well served by his time,” Webber said. “I couldn’t ask for a better sidekick in this work. He’s a man of integrity and character and purpose and good humor.”
Webber said Litzenberg told him about his desire to step down about three weeks ago. He said the job search will start immediately with the hope of finding someone close by with local knowledge of Santa Fe.
“We’re going to start by reaching out to people in our community and ask them if they have great ideas for somebody they’d nominate, or themselves potentially, and then let the circle widen from there,” he said, adding that the most important thing is to find the right person for the job.