Greg Shaffer’s first job with Santa Fe County came in 2004, when he worked as an assistant county attorney. After 18 years and several stints inside and outside county government, he’s now taken over for former county manager Katherine Miller, who announced her retirement in April.
Shaffer likens the position of county manager to that of a chief administrative officer but for the local government that encompasses nearly 2,000 square miles. He’s responsible for personnel management, fiscal management and executing policy decisions ordered by the County Commission. He also oversees operations of the county, working with 739 current employees in various departments, like public safety, public works, housing services, human resources and more. The county is expected to approve a $430 million budget for fiscal year 2023 and he’ll oversee expenditures, including filling chronically vacant jobs.
Shaffer, whose first day as manager was May 9, grew up in small-town Pennsylvania. He graduated from Pennsylvania State University before earning a law degree at New York University. Prior to moving to New Mexico in 2004 with his wife, he worked for the national law firm Kirkpatrick and Lockhart LLP. After working as an assistant county attorney he served as general counsel for the state’s Department of Finance and Administration. Shaffer returned to serve as the county attorney in 2014, then took a judgeship with the First Judicial District Court in 2017. He bounced around the county government after leaving the bench, then found his way back to the county attorney’s chair in 2020.
Shaffer sat down with SFR recently to discuss the county’s ongoing issues and how they’re being addressed. His responses have been edited for clarity and length.
SFR: What are some things you think need prioritizing?
Greg Shaffer: In the behavioral health space…we would like to prevent folks from coming into our jail, who are there primarily because of behavioral health issues, whether it’s substance use disorder or some other behavioral health challenge. If they come into the jail, obviously we need to have everything necessary within the facility to treat them medically as well as mentally. Then the last component of it is what services can they be provided and wrapped around with when they leave the jail to help avoid a repeat of that cycle and help, hopefully, put their life on a trajectory that they’re able to better manage those challenges…
Can you speak to the issues facing the detention facility and sheriff’s office in hiring new employees and how can those be tackled?
You have to have competitive salaries and benefits and you need to market as well the other aspects of the job that make it a great place to work. Finally, you’re mindful of the demands that those jobs place on people and you’re trying to also monitor the amount of overtime that needs to be worked, because that too can become a vicious cycle…For example, one of our critical needs is in the area of emergency communication specialist, or 911 dispatchers. It’s another chronic problem that is impacting everybody in the state and nationwide. The minimum qualification is you have to have a high school diploma and you have to be 18…For an entry level position coming out of high school, it’s [$17.35 an hour], plus benefits, plus retirement and there’s a scale that increases over time.
There’s been a lot of discussion about the county’s sale of land designated as open space on South Meadows Road. What’s that $1.7 million supposed to go to?
It was always going to be invested in the open space and trails program. In the presentation that was given to the board last week, we suggested that it be invested in the next phase of the Santa Fe River Greenway Project, which is our No. 1 open space project.
What’s happening with the new water system in the northern part of the county that came about as part of the Aamodt settlement? What other services does the county hope to provide in the future?
The Pojoaque Basin Regional Water System is currently under construction…As that construction is ongoing, the county will soon be working to identify exactly where distribution lines should be run—the initial distribution lines…So we’ve also constructed the water line toward Eldorado and from Eldorado to Cañoncito and I believe that will be coming online shortly with the water connection to Eldorado.
How is the county helping to alleviate the affordable housing crunch in the region?
In the county, there’s a requirement that a certain amount of new housing has to be affordable and sold to individuals at certain income levels. Over and above that, by providing more market-rate housing, you’re also helping make all housing affordable—just supply and demand. So we need more housing in general. It needs to be sustainable. You need to have the water and infrastructure to support it, but you need to have more housing.
In the face of extended drought and climate change, what should the county’s strategy be for [wildfire] prevention, and what’s the best way for the county to work with other agencies?
One of the areas of focus has to be helping communities create defensible space around homes and other buildings…The Board of County Commissioners is slated to hear an ordinance at its next meeting that would authorize it as a board, by resolution, to have free solid waste days. The primary impetus is for green waste, so we can provide the disposal of the green waste and it helps alleviate some of the cost of cleaning up your property…Relative to the other challenges is continuing to strengthen our relationships with other governmental entities so we’re in a position to provide mutual aid to each other and support each other.