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Santa Fe council extends emergency order, city manager’s purchasing power

Practicing social distancing, the Santa Fe City Council held a “virtual” meeting Wednesday that was broadcast on YouTube and the local government access TV channel. (T.S. Last/Albuquerque Journal)

SANTA FE, N.M. — The Santa Fe City Council unanimously passed an ordinance Wednesday that extends the city’s emergency order another 60 days and gives the city manager more power to approve contracts during urgent times.

The vote came during a “virtual” council meeting held with councilors at home as a precaution against the coronavirus pandemic and streamed on YouTube. Some speakers were hard to hear, and councilors couldn’t always hear what people who spoke telephonically said during the public comment portion of the hearing.

The ordinance extends the city’s emergency order up to 60 days and allows City Manager Jarel LaPan Hill to bypass the regular public process and approve contracts up to $200,000 during the emergency period. It can be any contract and doesn’t have to relate to the COVID-19 response effort.

Mayor Alan Webber said the ordinance will help get contracts awarded quicker, which is key as city business is hampered by the pandemic.

“This measure is to streamline our process during this emergency so that contracts of all sorts that could otherwise get clogged up in our system or require extra effort by our city department heads to get them through the process,” Webber said.

Councilor JoAnne Vigil Coppler had some reservations about giving the city manager that much purchasing power and said the public should still be involved.

“There are people who want to know where their taxpayer dollars are going,” Vigil Coppler said.

Anyone who wanted to speak during the public comment portion of the meeting had to send an email the city ahead of time, and were then called during the meeting. Both women who spoke were against allowing the city manager to approve higher contracts.

“I ask you not to act on behalf of the city of Santa Fe without citizens’ knowledge,” Lydia Clark said. “The city manager should not have sole power to make these determinations. It should be the governing body as a whole.”

Although people watching on YouTube could hear what people calling in were saying, the councilors and Webber could not. Councilor Michael J. Garcia suggested that councilors watch the video after the meeting to hear the comments.

The ordinance also allows remote participation in city meetings; allows the city manager to limit public attendance, provided there’s other means to participate; and allows for the city manager to cancel city meetings to “preserve public health.”

The council also unanimously approved transferring $500,000 from the Railyard Fund to the General Fund to support the response to the pandemic.

City Hall and most other city government buildings were closed to the public starting Wednesday. Essential staff will still be working, the city announced Wednesday, and most city services are available by phone or email.

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