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Santa Fe's next mayor will make six figures
Matt Grubs

Not Bad for Government Work

Salary commission votes to pay next mayor $110,000

May 24, 2017, 9:55 pm

In a raucous but relatively brief final meeting Wednesday, the city commission tasked with setting the next mayor’s salary decided on $110,000 for a year’s worth of full-time work. The pay will take effect when the next mayor is sworn in on March 12, 2018.

The commission opted to bump the number above a proposed $100,000 salary, but its final decision was still well below the circulated range of $145,000 to $175,000.

“We knew that that was a higher range, and we wanted the public to react to it. I think we thought it genuinely reflected surrounding jurisdictions, took into account the other city employee and county data as we were instructed,” Commissioner Bill Smith told SFR after the meeting. “And we listened and we adjusted course.”

There was plenty for the seven volunteer commissioners to hear. A crowd of about 30 people was largely and vociferously against higher pay for the next mayor.

Several waved black signs with “NO!” printed on them.

“I’m totally ashamed of you,” said Roger Rael, who earlier in the day asked the state Supreme Court for an emergency injunction to prevent the commission’s decision from taking effect. The court hasn’t addressed the matter.

Rael and others frequently called out to commissioners as they debated.

“This is completely unconscionable,” Jim Williamson told commissioners. “Our assets need to be used to build roads and parks. … Unless you’re well-connected, you’re out of luck. It shouldn’t be that way.”

Michael Gallegos, who retired from the human resources bureau at the state’s General Services Department, told commissioners they’d cherry-picked cities in neighboring states that paid their mayors higher salaries.

“Those are high outliers that you have up there,” Gallegos said, noting afterward that the mayors of Boulder, Colorado; Tucson, Arizona; and San Antonio, Texas, make less than Santa Fe’s next mayor will.

“We ask that you not pay a mayor of a city of 70,000 people more than the governor of an entire state,” activist Loveless Johnson III told commissioners.

He got his wish.

Santa Fe’s next mayor will make exactly as much New Mexico’s governor, though minus a taxpayer-funded place to live on the swanky north side of town.

Voters approved both the concept of a full-time mayor and a structure for determining the mayor’s salary in a 2014 amendment to the city charter. The ballot language said the mayor would make $74,000 until and unless an independent salary commission decided otherwise.

Commissioner Stephen Hochberg criticized the ballot language.

“I do think that it was poorly worded and that people could in good conscience say they didn’t understand,” Hochberg said during debate.

Others were less diplomatic.

“This commission was handed a steaming plate of dog crap by the city council,” said Fred Flatt, whose wife Linda Wilder Flatt sat on the salary commission. He was one of just a handful in the audience who praised the commission’s work.

“This is representative government at work. It’s fine. It’s what it’s about,” said Commissioner Smith, who runs the Santa Fe Community Foundation.

Paul Hultin, a local consultant who advocated for the change to a full-time mayor, chaired the commission and said Wednesday’s meeting was “by far” the most contentious. He defended the commission’s actions as well as its methodology in arriving at a number: “We were given a job to do by the ordinance. We followed that and we were given some discretion and we listened to the other board members, which resulted in a compromised and I think a good result for the city.”

The commission will return in a year to reexamine its decision. While the group was powerless to change the structure of city government, several commissioners worried openly at multiple meetings about the recent creation of a deputy city manager position that stands to pay more than $132,000 next year. Both Smith and Linda Wilder Flatt criticized the city’s pay scale as top heavy.

With benefits such as a pension and health insurance added in, the next mayor’s $110,000 salary will cost the city $154,000.


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