Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
Debate at Wednesday’s Santa Fe City Council meeting set off fireworks, leaving an ordinance that at one point seemed certain to pass on the backburner.
Councilors decided to postpone a vote on a sizeable reorganization of city hall because the mayor’s office had violated city code by not including required documents in the meeting packet.
Mayor Alan Webber introduced a plan in July to restructure city government, mainly by consolidating several divisions into three new departments: Community Development, Community Engagement, and Community Health and Safety.
And despite some concerns from councilors about the process of implementing the plan, a majority of the eight-person council had voiced support for the reorganization in some fashion in the weeks leading up to the vote.
But that apparent support was soon turned on its head as Councilor Michael Garcia started discussion by launching into a heated argument against approving the ordinance. He argued it did not include a fiscal impact report, which he said violated city code.
Santa Fe’s city code does, in fact, require that all proposed ordinances include a fiscal impact report. Garcia said that, without the report, any approval of the reorganization would violate the rules, and he asked the council to suspend proceedings.
“This is an extremely dangerous precedent to set if we move forward with something that goes against our city code,” he said.
Webber said the city’s overall budget approved earlier this month is the fiscal impact report, since the reorganization served as a model for how the budget was shaped. However, City Attorney Erin McSherry confirmed an actual fiscal impact report is mandatory.
“This is sloppy and this is not transparent,” Councilor JoAnne Vigil Coppler said of the reorganization plan.
Webber said he wished these concerns had been addressed at earlier committee meetings where councilors had approved the ordinance.
While every councilor agreed to postpone the vote, the timeline for reviewing the proposal proved even more contentious. Most said it could wait two weeks, while Garcia, Vigil Coppler and Renee Villarreal said more time was needed to allow input from employees.
Eventually, the vote to postpone for two weeks passed 6-3, with those originally advocating for the proposal’s delay saying the two-week timeline was unacceptable.
“This is another example of hogwash,” Vigil Coppler said, visibly frustrated.
Employee unions also voiced opposition to the reorganization. Adan Lopez, president of the International Fire Fighters Association Local 2059, said budget cuts have prevented workers in his department from assisting on multiple wildfires in the area and that this was the wrong time to reorganize.