Conference attendees got an earful earlier today when former Santa Fe Mayor Sam Pick colorfully explained his thoughts on a proposal to give more political powers to the city’s mayor.
Pick, who served as mayor in the 1980s and early ‘90s during a period of unprecedented growth for the city, is against strengthening the mayor’s powers, to say the least.
“As far as being a full-time mayor, I don’t know what the hell he would do!” Pick explained to a jovial audience in a panel at the Neighborhood Law and Policy Conference. “What the hell are you going to do if you have a city manager making a couple hundred grand a year taking care of business, if you believe in that system?”
He detailed his support of current Santa Fe city
government structure, which offers a “weak” part-time mayor, a part-time city
council and an appointed full-time city manager, who essentially serves as the
top position in city government. The "strong mayor" proposal would give the mayor more control over the city manager, city attorney and city clerk while making the position full-time with a larger salary.
Pick argued that the city manager’s separation from the elected body makes city government less political.
“You’ve got to understand what local government is,” he said. “It’s a civic commitment. It’s not political. It’s keeping the streets clean, it’s keeping the libraries open, it’s paying for the police and the fire and the planners and the parks. That’s what it is.”
If the elected city officials do those jobs well, Pick maintained, their “long-range visions take care of themselves.”
“Our long-range visions are the same crap every four years,” he said. “Everybody should have a job. Everybody should have a house. When you have a healthy community, you’re going to have a house and you’re going to have a job. Don’t out-think the room!”
Yet other former and current city officials on the panel argued that the existing city government structure is already political. Currently, the city council has the power to fire the city manager by a simple majority vote. Former City Manager Robert Romero said that he once had a councilor tell him that “they were the fifth vote.”
“It’s tough waking up everyday and knowing five votes, you’re going home,” Romero said. “I don’t know how the others felt, but I know I felt it at times.”
Pick also criticized the current city council and mayor for weighing in on social issues.
“They want to tell me who to marry,” he said. “They want to tell me what wars to fight. They’re going to work on Los Alamos [National Laboratory] cleaning up [nuclear waste]. They’re going to tell me what pipelines to build. And when you start doing all that, you’re going to have a divisive community!”
Pick ended his rant with more chuckles from the audience.
“I’m irrelevant now,” he said. “I haven’t been mayor in 15 years. But it hasn’t changed. Don’t tell me how to brush my teeth! I don’t need that!”
Current City Councilors Chris Rivera, Ron Trujillo and former City Councilor Karen Heldmeyer expressed a general agreement with Pick’s philosophy of local government, though Heldmeyer argued that LANL's nuclear waste affects local constituents and Trujillo defended his vote in favor of same-sex marriage for the same reason.
Former Mayor Debbie Jaramillo, who is just as outspoken as Pick but in many ways his political opposite, was scheduled to speak at the conference on the same issue but didn’t show up.