City government's unclassified workforce grows under Keller - Albuquerque Journal

City government’s unclassified workforce grows under Keller

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

In June, Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller’s office announced it had made a few new executive-level hires.

Among them were Bob White and Annie Manriquez.

White, a former city attorney, had returned to serve as associate chief administrative officer. That is a new city government position that pays just over $170,000 per year.

Manriquez, meanwhile, was hired as Keller’s deputy chief of staff. She filled an opening created when the previous occupant, Justine Freeman, transferred to a newly created position as the city’s “chief impact officer.” Freeman’s new job pays about $131,000 per year.

White, Manriquez and Freeman are among 589 regular “unclassified” employees who serve at the discretion of the city’s chief administrative officer, himself a mayoral appointee. They can be fired “for any or no reason,” according to city ordinance.

Some of them are in longstanding, traditional city government roles. Think fire chief, parks director, city clerk.

But 266 – or 45% – of them are in jobs added since Keller took office less than five years ago such as performance and innovation managers, chief impact officer and civic engagement coordinator, according to a Journal analysis of human resources information obtained via a public records request.

That’s compared with the 18% of unclassified workers in jobs created during the eight years under Keller’s predecessor, Richard Berry.

The number of new city workers serving at the mayoral administration’s will has raised some questions, with one city councilor calling it “outrageous.”

But Chief Administrative Officer Lawrence Rael defends the jobs as necessary. Some, he said, are tied to the U.S. Department of Justice-mandated reform process within the city’s police department. He attributed others to the city’s pandemic response.

“The changing needs of a growing city require more out of city government,” Rael said in written responses to Journal questions.

The jobs Keller’s administration has added run the gamut. Some are linked to entirely new initiatives, like Albuquerque Community Safety. Keller announced ACS in 2020 as a third public safety department that could dispatch social workers and other civilian personnel in lieu of police to certain types of 911 calls. ACS currently accounts for 43 of the unclassified employees in jobs created under Keller’s administration, according to a Journal review.

A large portion of the new jobs are in the Albuquerque Police Department, where there are 117 people in unclassified jobs added under Keller’s leadership.

That includes 20 for internal affairs – most of them investigators – and 17 new police service aide positions.

It also includes three commanders and eight new deputy commanders.

In fact, many of the newest unclassified employees are in high-ranking administrative positions.

Under Keller, city government has two new associate chief administrative officers, three new associate directors and 16 new deputy directors, though two deputies are for the newly created ACS department.

Pay varies across the new jobs; the lowest compensated are the Parks and Recreation techs, who make about $31,000 annually.

But many pay well, with 55 of the new unclassified employees earning at least $100,000 per year.

Rael said the number of new unclassified jobs reflects the size of municipal government operations.

When Keller came into office, the city had a budget of $957 million and 5,956 funded full-time positions.

The current year’s budget is $1.4 billion and there are 6,911 jobs in city government, though many remain unfilled.

Rael said the size of the city operation “requires high-level talent to manage its many departments and work effectively.”

“Albuquerque has grown, and government leadership needs to grow with it,” Rael said.

The number of unclassified city employees in communications or marketing has more than doubled under Keller with 12 in jobs created since the mayor took office. That is in addition to eight in communications/marketing-related roles that predated Keller.

Rael attributes the mushrooming communications workforce in part to the broader media landscape – “including digital and social platforms that government didn’t use 10 years ago” – as well as the administration’s overall strategy.

“We prioritize being responsive and transparent to both the media and the public,” he said. “That can’t happen without people in place to carry out those functions.”

But some city councilors question the need for some of the unclassified growth under Keller.

Councilor Pat Davis said the police department positions can be hard to argue because APD remains subject to reform requirements.

But he said he has had concerns since Keller’s early days in office about the number of unclassified marketing and communications personnel in the mayoral administration’s reporting chain, even if their jobs are funded by individual department budgets.

Davis said the city clearly needs more workers – the vacancy rate as of this summer was about 20% – but particularly in areas like bus drivers or 911 call operators.

“I think there’s just a general sense that these (unclassified) positions more serve the agenda of the mayor than the day-to-day work of the city and you generally see them in places like marketing and not out in the street engaging directly with (the public),” he said.

Councilor Dan Lewis called the unclassified expansion under Keller “outrageous” and at a scale he did not see under the last administration.

He specifically challenged the necessity of the added upper-management and communications personnel.

“We don’t need more managers,” he said. “We need people to get things done to produce results.”

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