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Commission: Make mayor full-time

SANTA FE, N.M. — A citizen advisory committee tasked with making recommendations about Santa Fe’s governing charter wrapped up its work Wednesday by making minor changes to a final report that includes a controversial proposal to expand the powers of the city’s mayor.

The Charter Review Commission is tentatively scheduled to present its report to the City Council on July 31. The council will then review the proposals and decide whether to put any of them before city voters for consideration.

The amendments proposed by the Charter Commission for a strong mayor system would require that Santa Fe’s mayor work 40 hours a week and prohibit him or her from holding another job. The mayor would also have more hiring and firing powers, and vote on all matters that come before the governing body, instead of just when there’s a tie or when more than a majority vote is required.

Commissioner Steven Farber, often a dissenting voice on the panel, issued a separate report to express “strong opposition” to the idea.

Farber’s report said the proposal radically restructures city government and the “consolidation of such enormous power in the office of the Mayor” would eliminate the checks and balances that exist within the current system, and could lead to an autocrat and political patronage and favoritism.

Farber said the strong mayor idea hasn’t been fully researched and analyzed, and the proposal would be confusing on the ballot.

He also said the proposal “was essentially presented at the last moments of the Charter Review Commission’s process” and hasn’t been subject to enough public debate.

The commission’s report said the strong mayor will “reform and improve the governance and administration of Santa Fe.” It would allow the City Council to focus its attention on legislative and policy matters, and “eliminate the involvement of council members in details of city administration,” according to the report.

It would also eliminate “the inherent conflicts” that can occur when the needs of a particular council district differ from the city as a whole, the report said.

The strong mayor system would take effect starting with the 2018 municipal election if approved by voters.

According to city documents, the total fiscal impact of the proposal to pay a full-time mayor $150,000-$170,000 a year is $225,000 to $255,000, including benefits. The mayor now typically makes about $30,000 a year for a position formally classified as part-time, although it’s not been uncommon for mayors to work full-time or close to full-time hours.

The proposed amendments would also give the mayor sole authority over firing the city manager, city attorney, city clerk and city department heads, although he or she would continue to need the city council to confirm choices for city manager, city attorney and city clerk. The mayor could select department heads, now usually done by the city manager.

Other recommendations

The commission report also contains six other recommendations. They are to:

• Create an independent commission that would draw boundaries for the four city council districts and allow the possibility of redistricting to occur more than once every ten years. The city council currently decides on the boundaries every decade when a new federal census comes out.

Some observers felt the redistricting map approved by the council a few years ago was political, as it moved one longtime councilor out of his district and into the district of an entrenched colleague.

• Ban or limit campaign contributions from companies and contractors doing business with the city.

• Limit campaign contributions, which is already a city law but would be more permanent if included in the charter.

• Require the city to disclose detailed reports on the purpose of all tax and bond measures.

• Add language to the city charter emphasizing the protection of water resources and the importance of neighborhoods.

The commission’s report also makes note of the fact that Santa Fe city government still hasn’t implemented a ranked choice voting scheme approved by voters in 2008.

Proposals nixed by the commission included setting term limits for elected officials, mandating that possession of small amounts of marijuana should be law enforcement’s lowest priority and switching municipal elections from March to the fall.

The Charter Commission convened in December 2012. Since then, the group has held 16 meetings and considered over 30 ideas to amend Santa Fe’s charter, according to the report.