A divided Santa Fe City Council passed a resolution Wednesday to consolidate city government. The proposal was postponed at an August 26 council meeting on the grounds that it did not include a financial impact statement.
Councilors Chris Rivera, Carol Romero-Wirth, Jamie Cassutt-Sanchez, Signe Lindell, Roman Tiger Abeyta and Mayor Alan Webber voted in favor of the measure Wednesday night; Councilors Michael Garcia, Renee Villarreal, and JoAnne Vigil Coppler voted against it.
The proposal will consolidate most existing city departments under the umbrellas of three new departments: Community Development, Community Health and Safety, and Community Engagement.
Representatives of the city employee unions spoke out against the measure, questioning the timing of a reorganization in the midst of a financial crisis spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic, and saying employees felt their concerns had not been heard.
In response to nearly 20 minutes of questioning from Vigil Coppler about the impacts of the reorganization on first responders and the elimination of a leadership position in the Santa Fe Fire Department, Webber turned to recent unrest about police violence to defend the reorganization.
"What we have is a failure of imagination around the subjects of public health and public safety being two sides of the same coin," the mayor said, citing a recent example in which an Albuquerque man diagnosed with bi-polar disorder was shot and killed by police.
"We know that all over America we are asking the police department and the fire department frequently to do things when they are not necessarily the best responders. We ask them to do too many things, we ask them to do them alone," he continued, positing the creation of the Community Health and Safety Department—which would consolidate the Community Services Department, the Police Department, the Fire Department—as Santa Fe's next steps toward a better equipped community response program.
The final version passed with an amendment by Villarreal to include gender neutral language.
An amendment by Garcia to include a mandatory review and survey of city employees at six months and one year after the reorganization kicks in failed.
Council members also approved a measure to contribute $50,000 to a $500,000 Local Economic Development Act grant from the state awarded to Savant X, a software development company working in quantum computing and artificial intelligence technologies.
The tech company, which works with entities in the nuclear, military, healthcare and utilities industries, plans to relocate its headquarters to Santa Fe after conducting a site search that included locations in Idaho, Utah, Oregon and California.
Savant X CEO Ed Heinbockel said the company has already hired three New Mexicans and chose Santa Fe due to availability of local talent coming out of local universities, Sandia Labs and Los Alamos National Laboratories.
Office of Business Growth Manager Fabian Trujillo said the company plans to create 120 new jobs with an average annual salary of $97,000. Over the course of 10 years the company is expected to generate $28 million in net benefits for the state and $5 million for the City of Santa Fe.
Jay Coghlan, executive director of Nuclear Watch New Mexico, raised concerns about Savant X's involvement in commercial nuclear technology, calling it a "dead and dying industry." He also said he opposed the company's development of military technology.
"I don't think this is the appropriate company for the City of Santa Fe to invest in," Coghlan said.
Heinbockel agreed nuclear is "by every metric a dying industry," telling the council, "it's not a growth business for us. The industry came to us to help them operate as safely as they could. We've helped them along the way but we have moved far beyond that."
In terms of the military, he said, "one of the reasons America is a great nation is we have a strong defense and strong military. There are a lot of bad people in the world and we really believe in supporting the war fighters…if we can provide them with tools to keep them safe and bring them home, I think that's a wise thing to do."