During a crowded City Council meeting on Aug. 30 (held a day early because of the state’s Aug. 31 Municipal League Conference), many citizens voiced support for opening the idle Zia Road New Mexico Rail Runner Express station.
But a handful of residents were there for a different purpose—including one group of city workers represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees—to complain about being excluded from a city committee aiming to add incentives for firefighters and police officers.
Only 30 percent of the city’s public safety workforce lives inside city boundaries. The idea is to get more living in Santa Fe, home of the state’s highest property and rental rates.
“Growing up in the ’70s and ’80s, all we saw was police officers parked in the neighborhoods,” Councilor Ron Trujillo, a co-sponsor of the committee, tells SFR. “That’s what I want to see again.”
Currently, the city allows police officers to drive their work vehicles home, which can be as far away as Rio Rancho.
Adrian Dalton, acting president of AFSCME Local 3999, says the city employees in his union—bus drivers, waste collectors, senior services workers—are never offered incentives like these.
“You have first responders and constant responders,” he tells SFR. “No one ever talks about the constant responders.”
Unlike the police, Dalton notes, about 80 percent of AFSCME members live in the city, and most make meager salaries. Dalton makes $14.75 per hour for his job as a transit operator, less than the $19.62 average hourly rate for a police officer.
“I give the people credit that negotiated their contract, but at the same time, there’s a big inequity here,” he says.
But Trujillo says he supports incentives for AFSCME workers. “I don’t see any reason we can’t put an AFSCME representative on this committee as well,” he says.
Rick Lass, the director of electoral-reform group Voting Matters, also expressed frustration—but his beef is with the city’s inability to establish ranked-choice voting, which allows voters to rank their preferred candidates. The city passed a charter amendment for ranked-choice voting in 2008.
“We won the election,” Lass, a former Green Party candidate for the Public Regulation Commission, told the councilors. “Now, it’s the law, and the city isn’t enforcing the law.”
City Clerk Yolanda Vigil has repeatedly said the city’s election machines aren’t capable of ranked-choice. After Lass spoke to the council, Councilor Matthew Ortiz gave him a memo reiterating that point. It also mentioned that the city needs approval from state Legislature to buy new voting machines.