Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
In June of 2020, Mayor Alan Webber told a large crowd at the Santa Fe Plaza the city would be forming a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to address the issue of controversial monuments in Santa Fe.
A lot happened in the year that followed: concepts for a commission were drafted and scrapped, protesters tore down the 152-year-old Soldiers’ Monument at the center of the Plaza and centuries-old divisions in the community came roaring to the surface.
Many of the monuments, which include the Don Diego de Vargas and Kit Carson memorials, depict figures long derided for their brutal treatment of Indigenous people in northern New Mexico. Many locals, though, have argued the monuments are part of Santa Fe’s heritage.
And yet, a process for reconciliation between sides – now dubbed the CHART process – is still waiting to get underway. Even after it starts, the process is not expected to be complete for another several months.
City councilors in January approved a model for the CHART process, in which a series of community roundtable discussions will be held to create recommendations for the City Council. City officials are in the process of selecting a consultant to help facilitate the meetings.
However, reports about the process since have been slim. It’s been nearly two months since city officials provided an update regarding the CHART process, leading to concern among many that the process is taking too long and lacking transparency.
Webber’s office has come under fire for not moving quicker on forming a commission, with many citing the delay as a contributing factor to the protest that destroyed the obelisk. Webber has since said that he should have moved quicker.
And while progress has been made, it’s still unclear exactly when community conversations will get underway.
“It needs to be done before the end of the year, which means that we’re running out of time,” Councilor Chris Rivera said. “The longer we take to start, the longer it’s going to go into next year.”
Councilors have also said that, like others in the community, they have received few updates on the process since the bid process for a consultant began.
Councilor JoAnne Vigil Coppler, who’s running against Webber in this November’s mayoral election, said she wants an update on the hiring of a consultant.
“The sooner that you can come to consensus about something so important to our community, the better people feel,” Vigil Coppler said. “When you don’t do that, you continue to have speculation.”
Webber told the Journal that City Clerk Kristine Bustos-Mihelcic and Arts Director Pauline Kamiyama have been handling the process thus far and that he’s remained unattached to prevent any perception that his office is manipulating the process.
Bustos-Mihelcic told the Journal via text that the contract with a consultant will begin moving through the committee process “in the coming weeks.”
Webber said it’s not unusual for the city’s procurement process to take a long time.
“I’m very aware – painfully aware – how long it takes things to get through our procurement process,” Webber said.
When asked how he thought the city addressed truth and reconciliation the past year, Webber said the COVID-19 pandemic was an “overwhelming concern” that demanded a lot of attention from city officials.
Meanwhile, the remnants of the obelisk remain encased in a large gray box in the center of the Plaza. Community members and city officials have discussed possibly beautifying the box in some way to make it less of an eyesore.
However, the city Arts Commission, tasked with providing recommendations to the city, voted Wednesday no beautification of the box should take place. Instead, they said a sign should be put up explaining the CHART process and the reason why the box is there in the first place.
“We can’t try to beautify something that’s painful,” Arts Commission member Alex Hanna said. “That sort of disguises the issue.”
The mayor’s office will decide whether to implement the commission’s recommendations.
And based off many of the heated arguments made by members of the public during the Art Commission’s meeting Wednesday, the issue of monuments is still as divisive as it was when Webber made his speech on the Plaza nearly a year ago. As the months wear on, many say reconciliation between sides is not only beneficial, it’s a necessity.
“I think it has to (be possible),” Rivera said. “The only way we can move is forward.”