Women are leading city through pandemic and its disruptions - Albuquerque Journal

Women are leading city through pandemic and its disruptions

Women in charge in the Keller administration include, from left: Carol Pierce, Family and Community Services; Shelle Sanchez, Cultural Services; Monica Mitchell, economic developer; Donna Sandoval, city controller; Emily Jaramillo, AFR EMS; Lisa Huval, Housing and Homelessness; Sarita Nair, CAO; Michelle Melendez, Equity and Inclusion; Justine Freeman, deputy chief of staff; Carolyn Ortega, Animal Welfare; Cecily Barker, APD; Nyika Allen, Aviation; Jeannette Chavez, risk manager; Anna Sanchez, Senior Affairs; Mariela Ruiz-Angel, Community Safety. (Courtesy of city of Albuquerque)

In March 2018, in honor of Women’s History month, I wrote an UpFront column

on the fledgling Mayor Tim Keller administration ensuring close to half of his top administrators were women, and that many were women of color. The column reflected their hopes of bringing different voices to the table, of capitalizing on female collaboration, of making a difference.

Three years later, who knew they would have to do all that in a global pandemic? Better yet, who knew their perspectives would help ensure people kept their jobs and had a better shot at balancing their lives through an economic downturn, business shutdowns and health crisis?

As we mark International Women’s Day on Monday, there is no question that all lives have been seriously affected by a year of living with COVID-19 – and that includes the women in charge of running a city of more than 600,000.

This time around, rather than walking into the conference room at City Hall, 11 city administrators logged onto Zoom to share their experiences navigating the pandemic. They share that as the virus has ravaged our communities they, too, have had to care for elderly parents. Had adult children move back home. Had to supervise online learning for their younger kids. And all while being deemed “essential” workers who had to deliver day in and day out for their employer and constituents – you and me.

The mayor says, “There’s no doubt bringing a team of diverse leaders into my administration has strengthened our city, from our agility in problem-solving to the wider range of needs we can meet in our services to the community.”

It should be noted here that 600 women are suing his administration over alleged gender pay inequity, the claim being they are paid $3-$6 an hour less than male counterparts for the same duties. Keller says in response, “We are working hard on legacy pay inequities, because having representation isn’t enough. The playing field won’t be level until women, and especially women of color, earn fair wages compared to their male counterparts.”

No layoffs, new services

Sarita Nair, the city’s chief administrative officer, says these women in key decision-making roles understand many of their employees and constituents are “parents, single parents, (who) live check to check, (and struggle with) income and health care.” So it is little surprise to learn that of the around 6,000 people employed by the city, not one has been furloughed or laid off during the health crisis.

All emphasize that does not mean city employees have been staying home. Instead, they have been redeployed to ensure the public gets needed services.

Shelle Sanchez, director of Cultural Services, says her crew approached the pandemic as a “lesson in core values, caring, service and constant reinvention.” Her team not only has kept the BioPark running even though state health orders shuttered its doors, it also redeployed public art and special events staff to wherever they were needed, including the Emergency Operations Center.

Ditto for those who work for Michelle Melendez, director of Equity and Inclusion. She helped her team target those front-line workers and people of color disproportionately affected by the pandemic – including those with low-barrier access to testing and vaccines.

A real-life example of the nuts and bolts they put together? With so many buildings closed, they got portable restrooms and hand-washing stations installed along Central Avenue to help maintain public hygiene.

Lisa Huval, deputy director of Housing and Homelessness, led her team in real time to figure out how to screen, test and provide safe places for congregate living. They have added wellness hotels to their responsibilities, segregating older individuals with underlying conditions from families with children.

Anna Sanchez, director of Senior Affairs, said the isolation many feel during this pandemic “is a window into homebound seniors’ ” lives. She was particularly gratified when Transit employees pivoted to step in with their knowledge of city routes to help get food to the homebound.

Nyika Allen, director of Aviation, embraced the idea that the Sunport “could not shut down” – even though “COVID moved via the airport.” She says her team has been innovative in using robotics and disinfecting procedures so the “airport is a safe place to be.”

Justine Freeman, the mayor’s deputy chief of staff, says turning community centers into child care hubs and tutoring centers for children of essential workers has helped keep the city running.

Emily Jaramillo, EMS deputy chief for Albuquerque Fire Rescue, can testify to that, with her first-responder family relying on the centers for child care while she was busy helping her team ensure all 911 calls were answered by firefighters with adequate protection against an invisible foe.

Carolyn Ortega, director of Animal Welfare, made sure shelters kept the doors open as pet owners struggled financially and with myriad living arrangements. And she had them take their show on the road via a mobile vet unit.

Synthia Jaramillo, director of Economic Development, worked with her team and local businesses “to keep the bottom from falling out” so there will be a business sector when we discover the new normal.

And Mariella Ruiz-Angel, coordinator of the new Albuquerque Community Safety Development department, pushed community involvement via technology, getting hundreds of participants on Zoom meetings. Nair says that expanded community engagement is one change under the pandemic that will stay.

While there is no argument the last year has been an awful one, filled with too much pain and loss, it has also been one in which many of our neighbors have stepped up to get us through it. That includes the women in leadership for the city of Albuquerque. As Huval says, that’s “been a blessing – and overwhelming.”

Shelle Sanchez adds, the “collaboration, community, cooperation associated with this administration – we show up to help get things done.”

UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column.

Home » Blogs » Women are leading city through pandemic and its disruptions

Insert Question Legislature form in Legis only stories

Albuquerque Journal and its reporters are committed to telling the stories of our community.

• Do you have a question you want someone to try to answer for you? Do you have a bright spot you want to share?
   We want to hear from you. Please email yourstory@abqjournal.com

taboola desktop

ABQjournal can get you answers in all pages


Questions about the Legislature?
Albuquerque Journal can get you answers
Email addresses are used solely for verification and to speed the verification process for repeat questioners.
'Two Sinners and a Mule' filmed across New Mexico
ABQnews Seeker
"Two Sinners and a Mule" is ... "Two Sinners and a Mule" is currently available to rent or buy on streaming platforms.
NM breweries feted at World Beer Cup, Craft Beer ...
ABQnews Seeker
New Mexico breweries keep crushing it ... New Mexico breweries keep crushing it at national and international competitions with their craft beer creations and branding concepts.
Rick Wright: First visit to Unser Racing Museum on ...
ABQnews Seeker
Until Friday, some 18 years after ... Until Friday, some 18 years after it opened and three days before its permanent closing, I'd never visited Albuquerque's Unser Racing Museum. Now, I ...
New office will supplement the Albuquerque Film Office's online ...
ABQnews Seeker
On May 12, the Albuquerque Film ... On May 12, the Albuquerque Film Office opened a new space in Downtown at the Albuquerque Convention Center facing Civic Plaza.
Sheehan Winery, New Mexico United team up with a ...
ABQnews Seeker
The collaboration wine line named Vinos ... The collaboration wine line named Vinos Unidos features a cabernet sauvignon, a dry rosé made from cinsault grape, and a sweet white wine named ...
Celebrate suds with a week full of events for ...
ABQnews Seeker
The 2023 ABQ Beer Week kicks-off ... The 2023 ABQ Beer Week kicks-off May 25 and runs through June 4. Several breweries and local retailers will have new beer releases and ...
NM Wine Festival brings vino, music and more to ...
ABQnews Seeker
The New Mexico Wine Festival runs ... The New Mexico Wine Festival runs noon to 6 p.m. Saturday, May 27, through Monday, May 29, with events in Albuquerque and Las Cruces.
Wall Street Journal editor gives advice to New Mexico ...
ABQnews Seeker
MONTEZUMA – Don't rush ... MONTEZUMA – Don't rush life. Know that your career will take twists and turns. ...
New Mexico-filmed coming-of-age comedy 'Primo' to stream on Freevee
ABQnews Seeker
The entire first season will drop ... The entire first season will drop on Friday, May 19, on the new streamer: Freevee.