Things are changing at the Santa Fe City Clerk's Office. But they'll be changing with Yolanda Vigil still at the helm.
The diminutive clerk with a this-too-shall-pass demeanor and decades of experience running city elections will return for one more year, provided Santa Fe's governing body approves a contract extension proposed at Wednesday night's meeting.
Vigil will earn $100,500 if the City Council signs off on her agreement with Mayor Alan Webber. She also makes more than $73,000 a year in retirement, and has for the past dozen years. Vigil quit as city clerk in 2005 and was rehired months later for the same job. That was prior to the state's return-to-work ban that stopped the practice of "double-dipping" that describes Vigil's situation.
She'll top $173,500 this year in combined compensation from the city and the state retirement fund. The Public Employees Retirement Association has an unfunded liability of nearly $5 billion.
"I don't make light of it, but I don't think it's fair to single Yolanda out," Webber tells SFR in a phone call. "She's been doing this job and has a lot of knowledge."
"When I was thinking about whether or not to consider her returning, I didn't do that calculation to be honest," he says. Before he was elected mayor in March, Webber ran unsuccessfully for the 2014 Democratic nomination for governor.
Vigil was in a meeting when SFR called Tuesday afternoon.
While she has decades of experience in the City Clerk's Office, her job is likely to change. Webber says the city is seriously considering consolidating its election with county and statewide contests in November instead of holding its own balloting every two years in March. City Councilor Carol Romero-Wirth is spearheading the research into what the mayor calls "rationalizing" the election process.
That change would mean much of the work would be done by the Santa Fe County Clerk and not by Vigil. The city's ranked-choice voting system would need to be meshed with other elections, though, likely requiring attention from the city clerk.
"I think in general it makes sense to rationalize the electoral process. It's good for voters and it promotes higher turnout and puts a focus on elections," Webber says. He and Romero-Wirth are digging into whether such a change could be done with a simple vote by the governing body or whether it would require voters to approve a change to the city charter.
Webber says he didn't have an issue with the late returns in the election that sent him to the mayor's office in March. Frustrated citizens and candidates, including Romero-Wirth, waited until just before midnight to learn the outcome of the city's first ranked-choice election.
After ordering a review of the balloting after he took office, Webber says the fault lies not with Vigil, but with a state law that required election judges to close a polling place completely before delivering data cards to City Hall for tabulation. Since ranked-choice voting needs all such memory cards to run results, the city was waiting on the card from a lone polling place for hours.
While the city's other voting centers delivered relatively timely results and data cards, the mayor says the delay is a systemic one. Regardless, he says, the Legislature has since changed the law to allow data cards to be transported earlier for counting.
"Yolanda and I have been meeting over the last few months to talk about what the city clerk's job is and what the future of it is," Webber says.
With the potential for election responsibility being greatly diminished, the mayor sees the job as more of a clearinghouse for city information, including a revamp of Santa Fe's at times labyrinthine city website. Some pages promising agendas or other information run into a dead end, while key data lies hidden behind a maze of links and menus.
Webber would like to see more city data readily available to entrepreneurs to build applications to better serve residents. "She has a substantial knowledge of city government and how it works," the mayor says.
Vigil's one-year contract term was negotiated. "What she and I concluded was making an appointment for one year and see how it fits her going forward," he says.
Naming the clerk ends the first round of Webber's executive team selections using new powers voters granted to the mayor under the city charter. Earlier, he named Erik Litzenberg as city manager and Erin McSherry as city attorney.