The American flag flying outside Santa Fe’s Municipal Court building on Camino Entrada has seen better days.
It's partially hidden by an overgrown tree. The ever-present breeze flicks it endlessly into the branches. When it settles, it's easy to see strands of red fabric hanging amid the leaves.
"It's not like I don't have another flag," Court Administrator Jon Singh tells SFR, gazing up into the tree. He looks back down. "But what's the point?"
For years, the city has neglected the grounds of its Municipal Court building. Stucco is cracked, signs are faded, weeds poke through old landscaping. The paint on a weathered wooden bench is peeling. The branches on some trees hang so low that someone bumped their head and complained to Singh. It’s more evidence that the city’s ongoing landscaping maintenance problem—whether it’s weeds in medians or the state of public buildings—is a lot of hard work away from being solved.
"It's just getting out of hand. And as a court administrator, [when someone complains] I have tell someone," he says. "I came out and took pictures myself. It's all over this whole block, really."
While the Police Department's grounds just south of court aren't quite as bad, they're far from the neat-and-tidy appearance that might be expected.
"This has been like this for probably about two or three years," Singh says. "They won't come out and do anything. [We've sent] emails—the judge, me …"
Outside court that day, Municipal Court Judge Virginia Vigil tells SFR there have been repeated requests for help from the city, including a recent one.
In a later phone interview, Vigil says she feels the court has a good working relationship with City Hall. She says the complaint Singh mentioned was at the top of her mind when SFR spoke to her earlier.
Asked whether the court grounds look the way she'd prefer them to look, Vigil says, "I've only been here about a year and a half and I don't know that I have the history to answer that question. … I don't want this to seem like Municipal Court against City Hall."
Vigil says she's seen work crews around and feels as though the city has a long list of work to do and not many people to do it.
A while back, city crews showed up to clear out the median in the parking lot so vehicles could pull all the way into the parking spots. And recently, crews spent some time tending to the Police Department's Internal Affairs offices just north of the court building. The halls of justice look fine on the inside, Singh says. He no longer has a full-time custodian, but does get help for a couple hours each morning and afternoon.
"I don't have too many problems with the custodians themselves," Singh says. But he can't figure out why the city can't get the court's grounds squared away. "We're a long way from downtown," he muses.
Not such a long way that the court facilities have been forgotten, though, says city spokesman Matt Ross.
"The staffing shortages that put us behind the ball on weeds and parks maintenance resulted in some city facilities … falling below what we'd like to see at our public buildings," he tells SFR in an email. He counts the Municipal Court and Police Department buildings among them.
The city's budget for this year included money for new maintenance workers, both full-time and seasonal. The city just filled two dozen seasonal positions. Ross says those crews also take care of landscaping at city buildings.
The new positions mean more bodies and the ability to catch up on work that's been put on the back burner. "They can't do 100 percent of the work overnight, but they expect to be at the municipal court this week," Ross said on Monday. When SFR cruised by on Tuesday afternoon, some work had already begun.
Ross says crews will "continue to work through the list of city parks, medians, trails and facilities until they have gotten back on top of the maintenance challenges."
Just maybe, Singh can soon hoist that new flag.