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City charter changes discussed

SANTA FE, N.M. — The public discussion of possible additions to Santa Fe’s governing city charter got off to a somewhat lackluster start Tuesday evening with a smallish turnout at a special City Council meeting at the Genoveva Chavez Community Center.

The resulting discussion focused more on clarifications than opinions. Generating the most discourse was a controversial proposal to expand the powers of the city’s mayor and to make the position a full-time job. Any charter changes would have to be approved by city voters.

Councilors pondered questions including how, or if, a salary proposal for a full-time mayor should be included on the ballot, how the responsibilities of a strong mayor would mesh with those of the city manager, if the city can afford an annual mayoral salary of roughly $150,000 – an estimate compiled by city staff – and what other city government systems Santa Fe could look to for guidance.

A charter amendment recommended by the advisory Santa Fe Charter Commission would require that Santa Fe’s mayor work 40 hours a week and be prohibited from holding another job, 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 for certain matters.

Charter Commission member Daniel Werwath told councilors on Tuesday that a stronger executive branch is a logical step for a city of Santa Fe’s size and organization. He also said he’d like to see an elected Santa Fe official speak for the entire city instead of smaller district constituencies.

Santa Fe’s current mayoral system means the executive has a measure of accountability to residents that isn’t commensurate with his or her powers, Werwath added.

“For me, it’s an issue of effectiveness and that can be done through strong leadership,” he said.

Under the existing set-up, the mayor makes $30,000 a year for a job officially classified as part-time.

Opponents of a stronger mayor have argued, among other things, that the proposal radically restructures city government and could eliminate the checks and balances that exist within the current system, leading to an autocrat and political patronage and favoritism.

No council members really tipped their hands on how they feel about the idea on Tuesday, although current Mayor David Coss and Councilors Peter Ives and Rebecca Wurzburger are sponsoring the resolution that would set the proposal in motion.

The city will hold at least two more public hearings on the charter amendments: Oct. 3 at the Santa Fe Public Schools administrative building on Alta Vista Street and Oct. 15 at City Hall.

A vote by the City Council on what charter proposals to put on the ballot will likely take place within the next couple months. The public will then weigh in during a “special” election held concurrently with the regular municipal election on March 4, 2014.

Other proposed charter amendments under consideration include the creation of an independent commission that would draw boundaries for the four city council districts, instead of having the council do that job; a ban or limit on campaign contributions from companies and contractors doing business with the city; a limit on campaign contributions, which is already a city law but would be more permanent if included in the charter; a requirement that the city disclose detailed reports on the purpose of all tax and bond measures; the addition of language to the charter emphasizing the protection of water resources and the importance of neighborhoods; a codifying in the charter of the city’s audit committee; and a provision requiring runoff elections if any one candidate doesn’t earn more than a certain percentage of the popular vote.

Nearly 20 people attended Tuesday’s meeting, and four spoke during a brief public hearing.