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Tuesday, January 30, 2018

The City Hall Beat: Alligators Update Department Director Drama, The ART Boondoggle And The Mayor-Council Clash, Plus: Rio Rancho Mayor Race Gets Going 

Mayor Keller has been on the job for about two months now and our Alligators deep inside City Hall are getting active. One of them writes:

Is Mayor Tim Keller having a hard time finding department directors for his administration? 

The city website lists job openings for several department director positions, including two that had previously been announced as filled: Economic Development and Animal Welfare. This could mean a number of things. No doubt, Mayor Keller’s requirements are high, with many of his top personnel holding doctorates, juris doctorates, CPAs, MBAs or multiple degrees. But are they too high?

It could also mean that current “acting” directors like those for Senior Affairs, Aviation and Family and Community will be shown the door or moved to lower level positions. They all served under Republican Mayor Berry, and are most likely being kept only until their replacements can be selected. One vacant director job not being advertised is for Cultural Services, which operates the city’s libraries, museums and the BioPark. Even though Mayor Keller has not yet announced a director for Cultural Services, Dr. Shelle VanEtten de Sanchez has been introduced in community and social settings around town the past few weeks as the new director.

As for that hot seat at Animal Welfare, Keller has named longtime City Hall bureaucrat John Solday as interim director. A nationwide search is being conducted for a permanent director. As for economic development, longtime econ player Fred Mondragon was also named by Keller as an "interim director."

The Gators confirm that the new administration is having some difficulty filling positions citing, for example, the vacancy in the key City Attorney post.

Although the pay for these jobs is in the $100,000 area, top notch pros could fear the uncertainty since you serve at the pleasure of the mayor and there's not much security. And many potential candidates are already making higher salaries. Also, we've lost a lot of talented Millennials to the better economies of neighboring states.

Another factor: The Dems have been out for 8 years and many on their city bench are retired or gone. Those left are the old guard. Mondragon is 75 and David Campbell, a former city CAO appointed by the mayor as new city planning director, is also in the Senior Citizen demo.

BOOT BYD?

On another topic, pressure is growing on Keller to bail on the BYD contract to provide electric buses for the controversial and stalled out ART project on Central Avenue. The myriad problems with the 60 foot buses, according to City Hall insiders, are even more extensive than already revealed.

The argument goes that if the BYD deal was busted the city could use non-electric buses to fill the void. In other words a spiffed up Rapid Ride which is already operating on Central but could be recast as ART. That way the city could still get the $70 million in Federal ART money the city is counting on.

Keller has said that he can't put a timetable on when the bungled ART project will be up and running, another reason he is feeling the heat to dump BYD. The longer the mess on Central takes to clean up the more Keller will own the project politically, even though it was Mayor Berry's baby.

Finally on the City Hall beat, Council President Ken Sanchez continues to be a thorn in Keller's side. The longtime councilor comes with an op-ed that is critical of Keller's reasoning for cutting a deal with the city firefighters union over back pay. It's just one of a series of shots Sanchez has fired at Keller since he took office December 1. For example, he and another councilor proposed a new sick leave bill without consulting Keller. That signaled the cool relationship.

The Alligators predicted that the Hispanic Westside councilors--Sanchez, Klarissa Pena and perhaps Cynthia Borrego would be the most problematic for Keller. They got that right. Stay tuned, Mr. Mayor. You’ll be the first to get the Gators’ latest news releases.

RIO RANCHO RACE

While ABQ wrestles with an ongoing crime crisis the suburban city of Rio Rancho is having an easier time of it. The news:

Rio Rancho is one of the best places to live in the country, according to Time: Money. Every year they compile a list of the best places to live in each state based on economic and educational performance, affordability, convenience and safety. This year, the City of Vision is Time’s pick for New Mexico. The website cites Rio Rancho’s scenic desert landscape, school system and call it one of the safest places to live in the state.

That's good news for Rio Rancho GOP Mayor Gregg Hull who is seeking a second four year term in the March mayoral election. His chief rival is former Dem Mayor Tom Swisstack. Newcomer Christoper Muldrow is the other hopeful.

Despite the nice Money Mag mention, Swisstack can make some hay. The city does not have a crime crisis but neither is it a crime free zone. And roads and flooding are perennial issues. So is the economy as the Intel downsizing took a big toll on the city of 96,000.

This is a three way race and if no candidate gets 50 percent March 6 there will be a run-off between the top two contenders.

THE BOTTOM LINES

Thanks to the Realtors Association of NM for their hospitallty last week at La Fonda in Santa Fe as we mulled over the state's future economy. They also heard from a number of politicos who are out on the campaign trail, including Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver; ABQ congressional contenders Dem Damon Martinez and R Janice Arnold-Jones; Dem Guv hopeful Jeff Apodaca; Dem lt. gov. candidates Rick Miera and Jeff Car and GOP AG candidate Michael Hendrix. Realtors executive director Steve Anaya was ringmaster. Also on hand was former ABQ GOP State Senator Kent Cravens who is now Executive Vice President for the Greater Albuquerque Association of Realtors.

All agreed that good paying jobs remain the key to a healthy home building market. And that education is the key to getting and keeping those jobs. As for the La Fonda, we've never seen the storied hotel in better shape. It really is a national treasure. And that's a good thing.

This is the home of New Mexico politics.

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(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2018

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