Stuck in a snowdrift? Slipped on the sidewalk? The Weather Gods bear the blame, but City of Santa Fe Public Works Director Robert Romero takes the flak. Romero, a Santa Fe native, took the job in 2004, after serving several years as city engineer. Given the constant gripes about unplowed streets, we gave him the chance to defend himself.
SFR: I would imagine angry calls are an occupational hazard.
RR: Angry calls, angry e-mails, angry blogs. I don’t read ’em, but I hear about the nasty things people say. We’re not perfect, but we’re getting better every day.
One blogger just called for the City Council to replace you because the snow wasn’t all plowed. Did anyone take that seriously?
No, no, no. The Council is fully aware of our practices and they know that we’ve worked hard. I don’t
really take any of this stuff to heart. I work my butt off every day. Some councilors called about areas of concern, and we addressed it.
So if one councilor calls you to have a street cleared, do you treat that as though the whole Council has set a new plowing policy?
No. I take a councilor’s calls the same way I take anybody from the public who calls. Our priorities are already established and on our
I was just looking at the map you have there. How do you decide which streets to serve?
Our highest-volume roads are our top priorities. It’s a living document. Say we left Rodeo Road off for some reason. If somebody came to us and said, ‘This should be a priority one, not a priority three,’ we could evaluate it and take it back to the Council. Without having hundreds of plows, it would be almost impossible for us to get to every major street.
Do you think the complainers are mostly transplants?
Most of the complaints seem to be from people who’ve moved here recently: ‘I just moved here from Boston; I just moved here from Chicago; I just moved here from somewhere.’ I can’t really compare whether they do it better over there or we do it better here. When things are running smoothly, nobody calls me.
Who plows your road?
I live in Nambé. The county plows my road.
How do you feel about the job they do?
I’m not one who complains too much. I have a four-wheel drive, so I’ve never had a problem getting into town, unless it’s 6 o’clock at night and people are sliding all over the place.
How does this winter stack up against past winters?
I would consider it one of the larger storms we’ve had in the five years I’ve been on board. The big storm three years ago—we got 30 inches in some parts of town, 18 inches in others. Temperatures never got above freezing for two months. We have changed the way we do business since that storm. We used to only have six trucks. Now we have 12 trucks. We’ve probably spent close to three-quarters of a million dollars on equipment in the past couple years. They used to do three eight-hour shifts. Now we have two 12-hour shifts, so we have 15 people on for each shift. We have twice as many people out there, with the same workforce we’ve always had. My goal is: I want every piece of equipment out there fighting these storms. I don’t want anybody to think we’re saving money by not doing overtime or anything like that.
Did storms affect your holiday plans?
Oh, I work 24/7, practically. I always have my phone on. It’s just part of the job. I got a call today; somebody asked if we could clear a tennis court. We said no. We want to make sure people are safe and can get where they need to go before we start clearing tennis courts.
If the city budget takes a hit, will you be able to take care of the streets?
The Council will have to make some tough decisions. So far they’ve said they’re not going to do anything to health and safety. When it comes to this time of year, having plows up is as important as having policemen out there.
What’s on your wish list?
If we had more trucks right now, we wouldn’t have enough staff to man them. Our yard’s on Siler Road.
If we had a location with a pile of salt somewhere near the downtown area, we wouldn’t have to drive down Siler Road [to refill the trucks].
What can the average person do, since you can’t do everything?
We hope that they’d be patient with us. I’m not advocating this, but I know there’s some residential areas where they hire somebody to plow their streets. Use public transportation. And use your head.
Global warming: scary or helpful?
Ha ha. I’m not an expert on global warming, so I don’t have a comment on that.