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Panel: Make SF mayor full-time

SANTA FE, N.M. — Job would entail more power with pay up to $170K

A city advisory group voted Thursday to expand the reach of Santa Fe’s mayor.

The Charter Review Commission is recommending changing Santa Fe’s charter to provide for a full-time mayor who votes along with the rest of the governing body – currently the mayor only votes to break a tie – and has more power over firing the city’s top officials.

Proposed amendments approved by the commission would direct the mayor to work at least 40 hours a week and would prohibit him or her from holding an outside job.

The mayorship is officially a part-time position, although many Santa Fe mayors have traditionally worked full-time or close to full-time hours. According to city documents, Santa Fe would need to pay a full-time mayor a salary of $150,000 to $170,000, with the total fiscal impact of the position estimated at $225,000 to $255,000.

The amendments approved by the commission would also give the mayor sole authority over firing the city manager, city attorney, city clerk and city department heads.

The mayor would continue to need the city council to confirm his or her choices for city manager, city attorney and city clerk – the current practice – but could select department heads, now usually done by the city manager.

The mayor would also direct annual budget preparations and spending priorities, something currently done by the city manager.

It appears that despite the mayor’s expanded role, the commission envisions Santa Fe retaining a city-manager type employee who would continue to manage most day-to-day operations.

The commission is suggesting Santa Fe hold off on implementing the amendments until after the 2018 municipal election.

Commission Chairman Patricio Serna noted that Santa Fe city government has gone through nearly a dozen city managers over the past couple decades. He said it’s a dysfunctional way to operate local government and is a disservice to the people of Santa Fe.

“Something needs to be done to alleviate the situation and I believe this is a start to alleviate the situation,” Serna said.

Commissioner Houston Johansen said the amendments will bring the reality of the mayor’s office closer to public perception. People now think the mayor has a lot more power than he or she actually does, and demands are placed on the office that can’t always be directly addressed, Johansen said.

However, Commissioner Steven Farber speculated that concentrating more power in the hands of the mayor would create an autocrat.

He said the proposal takes away the checks and balances that exist within the current system and increases the potential for political patronage.

Farber also said the amendments leave too much ambiguity between the mayor’s duties and those of the city manager.

“I think this is not in the long haul going to be a good change,” he said.

Commissioner Jack Hiatt said that, although he agrees that the current system would benefit from some changes, he doesn’t think the city has enough money to formally pay a mayor for full-time work.

The Charter Commission was convened in December to discuss possible changes to the city’s governing charter. The commission is scheduled to submit a full report of recommendations to the city council next month.

The city council will then review the proposals and decide whether to put them to a public vote.