UPDATED: Gubernatorial Discomfort

City Council grapples with upcoming governors' conference; mayor focuses on city finances

To hear the mayor and the city's tourism director tell it, the National Governors Association summer meeting in July is a showcase event.

Randy Randall, who leads the city's tourism and convention efforts, told the governing body Wednesday night that he'd ballpark the value of the publicity Santa Fe will receive from media coverage during the three-day event at somewhere between $3 and $5 million.

But the City Council, which over the past two meetings has unanimously approved a special alcohol permit and waived more than $200,000 in fees and costs for convention center use as well as police and fire overtime, seems skeptical—in word if not in deed.

The conference has a fair bit of secrecy surrounding it, and as the July 19-21 event approaches, the City Council has bridled somewhat at the lack of details.

For example, the special alcohol permit doesn't cite a location for the closing party, only that it's on city property. The NGA's agenda for the meeting mentions an event called "La Noche de Fuego," indicating that it will be an outdoor affair. Context clues, including the fact that it's city property, the semi-pro baseball team is called the Fuego and the left field line at Fort Marcy ballpark is also home to Zozobra, would seem to be fairly large hints as to what's in store. A reception at the governor's mansion, just north of Fort Marcy, immediately proceeds the event.

Thursday, SFR got ahold of an email sent to Fort Marcy neighborhood residents by Kiwanis Club Zozobra Chairman Ray Sandoval, in which he confirms that his group, which produces Zozobra, is under contract for the July event.

"I wanted you to hear it from me first," Sandoval writes. "And I wanted to be sure you knew about it because we know the neighborhood intimately. Although we could not bring you into the planning process, I hope that after our years of working together, we were able to bring in your point of view to the organizers."

One neighbor SFR spoke to was less than enthused about the prospect of a pre-enactment of the massive event, though a scaled-down Zozobra would be likely only a fraction of the fall attendance for the big event.

Sandoval tells SFR the Kiwanis' contract with the governors group specifically prohibits him from sharing details about the event.

Wednesday night, the party was a relatively minor concern. Another request in front of the City Council tallied the city's donation to the NGA at almost $216,000 when free use of city facilities and employee time was taken into account. Councilor Renee Villarreal seemed surprised by the amount.

"Was that a negotiation item that the state was asking us for? Because when I had our preliminary meetings to just let us know that this event was coming … there was never a comment made that they would expect us to have any waivers," Villarreal asked Randall, who explained that the city's donation of convention center space was an assumption made by the host committee, of which he's a member.

Randall said later that the host committee had specifically asked the city not to try to fundraise to cover its costs. The state of New Mexico has reportedly agreed to cover a portion of the city's expenses, though councilors seemed somewhat doubtful that the city would see a reimbursement.

“I’m not opposed to this event, I know it’s going to bring in revenue as it relates to tourism,” Villarreal told Randall and David Carr, the sales director for Tourism Santa Fe. “That was a promise made [by the state] and I hope they keep it. … I think it’s going to require more than we’ve ever done before because of the security necessary.”

The mayor, meanwhile, is fresh off what he called a useful trip to Boston for the US Conference of Mayors annual meeting. For what it's worth, he did not sing the city's praises for any significant amount of time. It wasn't immediately clear how much the conference cost the city of Boston to host.

Webber's focus Wednesday, however, was on an afternoon press briefing in which he and City Council Finance Committee Chairman Roman Abeyta unveiled a 10-point plan meant to formalize the city's response, in part, to both the McHard accounting analysis and the city's annual audit, which the Office of the State Auditor expects to release late this week. The McHard report, issued before Webber took office, was scathing. And indications from the mayor and city staff are that the annual audit, which was thrice delayed, won't be any better.

“These are both tough assessments of the city’s financial practices, but I think they’re very honest,” Webber told reporters.

The plan includes more robust risk assessment for the city, with three "forensic-style" audits by an outside firm, according to a city document, including performance and compliance audits as well as an actual forensic audit to examine unexplained pay increases, travel reimbursements, vendor lists and other easily manipulated financial transactions identified in the McHard report.

Other notable points of the plan are a reorganization of the Finanace Department. The city has created a controller position to better handle both day-to-day financial reporting and regulatory compliance, as well as to oversee the annual audit. An assurance officer will further backstop the city's compliance with financial regulations and to suggest changes in city financial procedures.

Webber and Abeyta said the city will begin providing quarterly financial reports to the Finance Committee instead of annual ones. Once the controller position is up and running, the pair expects monthly reports.

The city will also try to do a better job of policing its stuff. In financial parlance, it's called capital and includes everything from vehicles to office furniture. The McHard report revealed Santa Fe doesn't meaningfully track much of its capital inventory.

"It's, I think, not the only 10 points we're going to do, but it's a demonstration of our commitment to change," Webber said.

“I think we have the right group,” on the City Council, Roman Abeyta said of his colleagues, adding he thought the mix of seasoned councilors and new faces—there are three—to steer the city through what’s bound to be a difficult adjustment to a more stringent financial course.

Evidence of rocky shoals was immediately evident at Wednesday night's meeting, when City Councilor Mike Harris bristled at the removal of an agenda item for design of a new fire station by staff. The purchasing department apparently misapplied an old set of local preferences to the design contract, rendering it potentially illegal in the eyes of the city attorney.

“Mayor, I’m very concerned with the situation,” Harris said after questioning city staff, “… especially in purchasing and finance.”
The councilor pointed out that the city’s Finance Department is still without a permanent director and its purchasing manager, Robert Rodarte, is on paid leave. Harris said the city hired a firefighter cadet class anticipating a larger facility, and the botched contracting process could set the city back a dozen weeks or more.
“We’re three months out and that’s three months lost,” Harris said.

"Point taken," Webber said, before the governing body put off the contract award until at least its next session at the end of June.

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