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Time Out: Weekend Reflections

from Mayor Alan Webber

What Does a Mayor Do?

About 10 years ago, a Charter Review Commission recommended, and the people of Santa Fe overwhelmingly voted for, a new provision: a full-time mayor. Why? Because Santa Fe has grown from a historic village into a vibrant city with challenges and opportunities that require the attention, commitment, and overall responsibility of a full-time mayor. As the city’s first full-time mayor, I can tell you it is a full-time job—and more.


But what does a mayor do? There are specific powers and responsibilities spelled out in the Charter and City ordinances. (You can read the Charter here.) But there isn’t an actual job description. On your first day in the Mayor’s Office, no one hands you a “to do” list or gives you a set of daily tasks to perform.

What is the fundamental work of the mayor—any mayor?

My first task was to build a team to deliver outstanding services to the people of Santa Fe, effectively and collaboratively. To do that, the City government needs an administration—a rock solid team of leaders at all levels, not independent silos or free agents each doing his or her own thing. A full-time mayor can create a unified team that runs from the City Manager, the City Attorney, and the City Clerk, to department heads, managers, and workers who share a common vision and a common agenda.

Today, I believe we have the most dedicated, most competent, and most collaborative group of department heads and workers in the history of Santa Fe. 

My first task was to build a team to deliver outstanding services to the people of Santa Fe, effectively and collaboratively. To do that, the City government needs an administration—a rock solid team of leaders at all levels, not independent silos or free agents each doing his or her own thing. 

In addition, the reorganization we implemented a couple of years ago grouped together departments that belong together, providing for even more collaboration and cooperation. By creating the Community Engagement Department, the Community Development Department, and the Community Health and Safety Department, we achieved two important improvements. First, we brought together City operations that previously were siloed, but that absolutely must work together. Second, we reduced the number of department heads who report directly to the City Manager. No City Manager can do a good job of running the city with 15, 16 or 17 individuals reporting to her or him directly. The reorganization—part of an ongoing effort to modernize and professionalize City government—increased collaboration and cooperation, made the city more manageable, and produced a real administration, perhaps the first in Santa Fe’s long history. (The City Council also has a critical role: proposing and passing legislation, developing policy for the City, providing oversight, and advocating for the residents of their districts and their key agenda items.)


Having built an administration, the mayor’s second task is to identify the priorities for that administration to tackle.


For me—and I’d say for every mayor—the first and highest priority must be the safety and security of the people of Santa Fe. When I became mayor almost five years ago, Santa Fe was losing police officers to Albuquerque because we’d fallen behind in paying our officers. We’d gone from the top five to the bottom five in salaries and benefits. In my first budget, we offered our police a 26% pay increase. In my most recent budget, we’re offering a 16% pay increase. We’ve proposed a pilot program to offer mortgage down payment assistance for our first responders, so the neighborhoods they keep safe are neighborhoods they can live in. We’re investing in new equipment, better training, and hiring incentives. At the same time, we’re growing our Alternative Response Unit, so calls for service that involve social services, rather than criminal justice, are answered by social workers, not police officers.


During COVID, of course, safety and security translated into City action to keep our residents safe from a pandemic. In the devastating fire season that we’re experiencing now, it translates into sending our brave, highly trained, and extremely skilled wildland firefighters to help our neighbors contain the blaze; closing trails to reduce the risk of fire; and offering free support to neighborhoods and residents who want to make their property more fire-resistant. Finally, as we witness another round of horrible mass shootings, safety means taking every legal step to prevent gun violence in our city, through every possible measure.


Health and safety must always be our highest priority.


My second priority as mayor has been the constellation of affordable housing, livable neighborhoods, and community quality of life. Here again, when I walked into the Mayor’s Office, we were facing unmet challenges. In the 10 years before I was elected, the City had permitted fewer than 2,000 new housing units—total. Everyone agreed that we were facing a housing crisis in terms of the number, types, and cost of units. We also were having neighborhoods turned into Swiss cheese, as short-term rentals took over, thanks to web-based platforms. The number of employees in our Parks and Recreation departments had dwindled over time. In our Land Use department, there wasn’t a strong approach to managing growth by balancing development with quality of life.


Four years later, we are on our way to addressing these challenges. In the last four years, we’ve issued almost 2,500 permits for more housing units, and there are at least 5,428 units in the pipeline. We’ve reined in short-term rentals, joined the Built for Zero movement to end homelessness, added to our Parks and Recreation staffing, brought in outside contractors to supplement medians maintenance, reorganized our graffiti unit, and authorized growth management and neighborhood land use planning. We’ve established livability as a priority, and our team is delivering on that priority.


Go back to the first question: What does the mayor do?

Build a team. Set priorities. Deliver on those priorities.

And, yes, it’s a full-time job. (And a great honor.)

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