Today SFR published an interview with Santa Fe's new mayor, Javier Gonzales.
Space restrictions caused us to trim the interview for print.
But we don't have space limits on the web. Gonzales is the city's top official, so we thought it valuable to get his complete responses into the public record.
Here's a fuller version of the interview, edited for clarity:
What are your first priorities?
Internally, it really is about we’re in a budget cycle right now. You know, last week was assembling the city committees and getting that organization in place. Over the next several weeks, we’re going to really have to roll up our sleeves and put our arms around the budget, make sure that we, you know, are very clear in the revenues we expect and certainly how we allocate the resources. Making sure that we do it based on outcomes that the public can expect from the city, whether it’s the delivery of more services in our parks, after-school programs, fully funding the police department now that the annexation has come in.
Externally, I’m starting to assemble the teams at City Hall to focus on the broader initiatives. I want to focus on a economic plan that diversifies Santa Fe’s economy with particular focus on creative industries like film, software development, particularly in the area of gaming software. Which means we have to pull in the Santa Fe University [of Art and Design] or the community college to be a part of that discussion, so we have the work skills that are being delivered to be able to help grow our economy in those areas.
This morning, I had a great meeting with the [Santa Fe Public Schools] Superintendent [Joel Boyd] and [First Judicial District Court] Judge [Mary] Marlow to talk about what the city can do to support the schools’ efforts and the families' efforts of kids who are either failing out of school or falling behind and how we can work in partnership to make sure that we can keep our kids in school and provide them a pathway to graduation.
We are going to be creating very soon an energy task force to develop an energy strategy for the city. There will be councilors involved in that as well as community members.
For that energy task force, do you plan to look at potentially municipalizing power in Santa Fe?
Yeah. Look, it’s certainly going to be in the purview of the task force. The dialogue around the municipalization of the utility is something that they should be talking about and determine whether now is the time to look at that or whether there are other things that we can do.
There’s a number of things we can do as a city even before, you know, there’s discussions of acquisition of a utility. I think the public expects the city to behave with a green mindset and that we’re able to show deliverables before I think they’re going to seriously consider looking at some kind of municipalization. So we have work to do.
What is the city looking for in a new police chief? And can you talk about the scope and process for a search for a new police chief?
I clearly am intending to go in a new direction at the police department. I think Chief [Ray] Rael hit on a number of areas that we needed to hit in terms of goals: reducing burglary rates, staffing up the police department. I think those are all important. But when I look to the future of Santa Fe, I want a chief who is really a strong visionary, a forward thinker in what we can do to be more engaged with the public. And I think that engagement needs to come in working with the nonprofit agencies that are combating domestic violence. One of my key focuses is to reduce domestic violence in the city.
I want a chief that is developing engagement policies with our schools, particularly around truancy issues and making sure that our schools are also safe. I want a chief that can develop engagement with neighborhoods, so we can continue to drive down burglary rates. And certainly one that can motivate a police force that is under a lot of stress. Those are all qualifications that will take certainly a unique person to fulfill.
I will have a committee that’s made up of a member of the City Council, a member of the Police Officers Association, a member of the nonprofit community—ideally the folks from Solace because domestic violence is an area that I want to see reduced or eliminated. I’d like someone from the business sector that’s involved in this process, possibly someone from the downtown area. I want it to really have the eyes of the community that are at the table when evaluating the applications.
The city for the past couple of years has been pumping tens of thousands of dollars into the Santa Fe Resource and Opportunity Center. Do you have any thoughts on that at all—whether the city should change its approach?
[Context: On winter nights, the Center serves as Santa Fe’s only emergency homeless shelter. The city has been attempting to turn the ROC, located at the old Pete’s Pets building on Cerrillos Road, as a one-stop shop where homeless individuals can access services during the day. But walk by there on any given day, and you might homeless individuals waiting outside for the building to open.]
By all accounts, at least visiting who were involved early on, there was an expectation that the city would purchase the building and the nonprofit agencies, and the community would be able to help provide funding for operations and treatment. And that hasn’t necessarily materialized. I want to determine really what the cause of that is and understand to get the nonprofit communities more involved in providing the services. So I think that there’s an assessment that needs to be done certainly on my part.
Do you plan on continuing Coss’ policy of attempting to end homelessness in the city?
I think that there are funding issues that we need to be very clear about in terms of what it’s going to take to properly allocating funds. For me, a lot of my priorities have focused on the youth, and there are many of them that are homeless. And so I want to particularly see some funds that would make their way to Adelante and some of the others that are helping the youth in our community who find themselves homeless to find their way into homes.
I want to work with the housing authority to determine how we deliver transition housing and temporary housing for many people who just need that place for a short period of time until they get back on their feet. And then, of course, with the behavioral health services in Santa Fe that are focused on mental health, we have to have them at the table. So, a lot of it is about coordinating effort between the city and multiple agencies that are out there, making sure that we’re connecting the dots and that we’re using the resources as effectively as we can to diminish or eradicate homelessness in the community. Having said all that, my priorities and focus will continue on that, but really with an emphasis on the youth in the community. By no means should that be viewed as walking away from Mayor Coss’ commitment to eliminate homelessness in Santa Fe.
Between April 2007 and April 2012, City Council called an executive session in over 66 percent of its meetings. By comparison, Las Cruces held closed sessions in 30 percent of its meetings between 2009-2011. Other jurisdictions, such as the county, go into executive session at higher rates. Do you think Santa Fe’s City Council should try to reduce the amount of executive sessions it holds?
[Context: Executive sessions are secret discussions held by legislative bodies in which the public cannot scrutinize what is being discussed. Often, city council will justifiably call executive session to discuss its legal strategy for a court case. But the frequency with which Santa Fe City Council has called executive sessions has led to questions of whether the body has abused that authority.]
Well, I think that they should only go when there’s an absolute need and a requirement to go into executive session. As I did in the last executive session, it’s important to notice what’s going to be discussed in executive session so at least the public is familiar with the discussions that are going on—even if there’s no action being taken. I want to see more transparency in the noticing of executive sessions and only go in when there’s an important need to do it. Hopefully, as we go in the future, regardless how many times there will be [an executive session], there’s a transparent process that allows the public to know why we’re in executive session.
You said during the campaign that the city has the right to regulate the flow and movement of marijuana in the community. Any plans yet on how to do that?
I think that was related to the discussion of legalization and why I supported it. Obviously minus any laws that legalize it, there’s limits, but my focus in the new police chief will be to see the development of our narcotics unit that’s very aggressive in stopping the drug trade in Santa Fe.
Might we take that as a signal that there’s going to be tough enforcement by SFPD of anyone possessing marijuana. Or are you talking more about going after dealers?
I’m going after dealers. Look, we have to provide a lot more education to the youth that find themselves using it. But certainly the dealers that are profiting off the sale of illegal drugs in Santa Fe—there’s going to be a lot of aggressive enforcement in that area.
And that does not apply to somebody who maybe has a quarter ounce and is caught by the police?
I’m opposed to any mandatory minimums, especially when it comes to our youth where a very light amount is found. But I do think that working with the court system to provide education programs is going to be first and foremost. My focus is going to be on the people who are profiting off the sale of illegal drugs.
Has Mayor Coss given you any important advice?
His advice has just been, ‘Look, make yourself as accessible as possible.’ And try and be a part of as many community events as I could go to. Certainly when he said it before I took office, it seemed like an easy thing to do. A week into office, I am amazed at just how much activity is going on in the city as the invites come through the mayor’s office with requests for me to participate in events.
SFR wondered whether Gonzales has any plans to make up for the loss of so-called hold harmless payments the state makes annually to cities. During the 2013 legislative session, lawmakers passed a tax package that cut state payments to cities. The package also allowed for more lucrative incentives for television shows shooting in the state. The loss in state funds begins in 2015. Gonzales was criticized during the campaign for his support of the package in his role as chairman of the Democratic Party.
One of the provisions that came out of that bill was the growth and that incentive on film and TV. And one of the areas we need to focus on increasing our gross receipts revenues are going to be on film and TV. And if we’re able to do that we’ll be able to overcome the shortfall that the hold harmless did away with. So we’ve got to focus on growing our revenues that are taxed, particularly in the area of that incentive, which was in film and TV.
Secondly we are getting involved with the Municipal League. We’re going to form our own tax working group in the city that will focus on legislation that will bring about more tax reform that would prevent the cities across the state from being caught up in any type of tax legislation that the state’s working on.
Outside PACs spent tens of thousands in support of Gonzales’ campaign—despite that he took $60,000 in taxpayer money to run a publicly financed campaign. Public financing is meant to keep outside or profligate spending out of campaigns, but the US Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision allows corporations, unions and individuals to spend unlimited amounts in elections as long as that spending isn’t coordinated with candidates. The outside spending gave Gonzales an advantage over other candidates who didn’t have outside support, illustrating the loopholes in the city’s public financing code. We wondered whether he’s going to try to tighten up the public financing code.
Yeah. Councilor Ives is working on a piece of legislation that I’ll be working with him on that helps tighten up the public finance code to identify ways either to create more barriers for entry by outside groups or to develop a more equitable playing field which means looking at providing more funds to campaigns that don’t have the benefit of outside groups participating.
Final question: I remember you mentioned the traffic in Santa Fe and sometimes it’s maddening to drive down St. Francis Drive. Any plans to address the traffic issues in the city?
Right now, we’re going to revisit our whole bus transportation system. Look at the routes that are currently in place. Making sure they’re the most sufficient routes as possible. Look at the use of technology to allow riders just better tool sets so that when they’re on the bus they can make some quick decisions on how to get from one point to the other. We’ve got to start with some of the basics first that will encourage more ridership of our bus system.
We have to look at redeploying our job centers closer to where people live, which is on the Southside, and trying bike paths and walking trails. Those are all things that will help us in the next five to 10 years in reducing the traffic that’s on Cerrrillos and on St. Francis in the mornings and evenings.