Mayor Tim Keller has appointed 33-year-old New Mexico attorney Gary Lee to serve as “Assistant Mayor” of Albuquerque, paying him a $75,000-year salary.
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ASSISTANT MAYOR GARY LEE
Gary Lee is an Albuquerque native, a graduate of Eldorado High School and attended college at the University of Southern California.
In 2008, Mr. Lee moved to Washington, D.C. to work at the White House for President Barack Obama.
While serving at the White House, Mr. Lee was part of President Obama’s legislative affairs team that helped pass the Affordable Care Act.
Mr. Lee also worked in the offices of Staff Secretary, Political Strategy, Scheduling and Advance and at the State Department in the Office of Protocol.
After leaving the Obama Administration, Lee was awarded a Fulbright research scholarship in Korea after which he returned to New Mexico and attended law school at the University of New Mexico, graduating in December, 2017 and passing the New Mexico bar in February, 2018.
Assistant Mayor Lee’s duties will include serving as Mayor Keller’s proxy at meetings Keller is unable to attend, supporting staff through administrative processes and assisting with policy initiatives.
In a statement announcing the appointment, Mayor Tim Keller said:
“Gary Lee was the perfect fit for this spot. He brings with him a wealth of knowledge about how to run an executive office and a love for his hometown that will serve our city well.”
In accepting the appoint as Assistant Mayor of Albuquerque, Gary Lee was quoted as saying:
“My goal is to bring in and implement some of the systems I saw at the White House to Albuquerque City Hall.”
Assistant Mayor Lee is being paid $75,000 a year while Mayor Keller is paid $125,000 a year and the Chief Administrative Officer (CAO), Deputy CAOs as well as the 16 Department heads, including the police and fire chiefs, are all paid between $100,000 to $160,000 a year.
CITY CHARTER PROVISIONS CREATING OFFICE OF MAYOR AND POWERS
Article V, Sections 3 and 4 of the the Albuquerque City Charter creates the executive branch of city government, creates the office of Mayor and delineates the powers, duties and responsibilities of the Mayor.
The Mayor is a elected position and is the chief executive officer with all executive and administrative powers of the city and the official head of the city for all ceremonial purposes.
According to the Charter, the Mayor is required to devote full time and attention to the performance of the duties of office and cannot hold any other paid public or private employment.
The Mayor of Albuquerque is given the authority to appoint and remove officials from city posts, and is required to propose a budget each year.
Most of the Mayor’s appointments and proposals are subject to approval by the Albuquerque City Council, but the Mayor has the power of veto or approval of City Council ordinances and resolutions.
With the advice and consent of the City Council, the Mayor appoints the Chief Administrative Officer, any deputy administrative officers, the Chief of Police, and the Fire Chief, the City Attorney and the City Clerk all who are responsible to carry out the essential functions of city government.
The Mayor under the charter is given the authority to exercise administrative control and supervision over and appoint directors of all city departments, which there are currently 16 departments, and the Mayor is responsible for the administration and protection of the merit system ordinance.
The Albuquerque City Charter, the merit system ordinance nor the personnel rules and regulation do not mention and do not provide for and do not empower the Mayor to create and appoint a non-elected “Assistant Mayor” to assume the duties of the elected Mayor.
The charter does authorize the Mayor to delegate executive and administrative powers within the executive branch which consists of the CAO and Department Directors with no mention of an “Assistant Mayor”.
CLASSIFIED AND UNCLASSIFIED POSITIONS
According to the City of Albuquerque web site, there are approximately 5,800 City of Albuquerque employees.
Roughly 5,200 are considered “classified employees” who are covered by the city’s personnel rules and regulations, who have vested rights including retirement benefits, sick leave and annual leave benefits and who can only be terminated for cause.
There are 223 full time “ungraded” positions at City Hall, who are in unclassified positions and “at-will” employees who can be terminated “without cause” and who work at the pleasure of the Mayor or the City Council.
“Ungraded employees” or exempt employees do not have the same vested rights classified employees have and have no appeal rights to the City Personnel Board for disciplinary action so when they are fired, they are in fact gone with little or no recourse.
Virtually all City Hall Department Directors are “ungraded employees” and serve at the pleasure of the Mayor and can be terminated without cause by the Mayor.
ANALYSIS AND COMMENTARY
The appointment of an “Assistant Mayor” has raised more than a few eyebrows at City Hall as well as considerable speculation on Tim Keller’s real intent, goals and future ambitions.
Normally, it would not be considered a big deal that a Mayor would delegate to someone they want to represent them at public functions and attend meetings but that is traditionally done by the city’s Chief Administrative Office or anyone of the Department Directors.
The City Charter is very clear that there is only one Mayor one Chief Administrative Officer and department directors, but it does not provide for an “Assistant Mayor”.
Too be perfectly blunt, the citizens of Albuquerque do not need and should not pay for an “Assistant Mayor” when we already have an elected Mayor who taxpayers pay $125,000 a year.
Mayor Keller is more than capable of handling his job with the assistance of his appointments he has surrounded himself with already.
The CAO, Deputy CAOs as well as the numerous Department heads are more than capable to act as a “proxy” for Mayor Keller at events and to implement all of his policies and they further are empowered to make decisions.
Mayor Keller has taken photo ops to a new level by attending protest rallies to speak at, attending marches, attending heavy metal concerts to introduce the band, running in track meets and participating in exhibition football games as the quarterback and enjoying re-living his high school glory days, and posting pictures and videos on FACEBOOK.
People can take great pride with the positive image Mayor Tim Keller is portraying and thus far the work he is doing.
If Mayor Keller feels he cannot handle the job as Mayor and needs a non-elected “Assistant Mayor” to share his job duties and responsibilities, he should reduce his photo ops and press conferences.
If Mayor Keller feels he is overwhelmed with work an that an Assistant Mayor is critical to his own job he should consider sharing his own salary with the “Assistant Mayor” seeing as he feels the need to share his duties and responsibilities as an elected official with another.
There are 223 full time “ungraded” positions at City Hall, who are in unclassified positions and “at-will” employees who can be terminated by the Mayor “without cause”, including at least 34 Assistant City Attorneys, and who work at the pleasure of the Mayor.
Assistant Mayor Gary Lee should be placed elsewhere with his credentials as a licensed New Mexico Attorney, perhaps in the City Attorney’s Office, legal counsel to the Mayor, or as a legislative assistant to the Mayor.
What Keller has done is to create a “public relations” position for Mr. Lee.
The position of Assistant Mayor was not advertised and the minimum qualifications appear to be nonexistent and do not require any past City Hall experience.
Under the Cities personnel rules and regulations and the merit ordinance, the Human Resource Department writes job descriptions and titles are assigned to the positions reflecting the duties and responsibilities of the job.
The job title “Assistant Mayor” connotes a position of second in command with authority over the Chief Administrative Office and all other Department Directors and the executive branch of city hall.
The authority, duties and responsibilities Assistant Mayor Gary Lee have not been reported on in any great detail and the minimum qualifications appear to be nonexistent with the of Assistant Mayor being more of a public relations and political strategy position.
The fact that Assistant Mayor Gary Lee worked in Washington, DC, for President Barak Obama in the offices of Staff Secretary, Political Strategy, Scheduling and Advance and at the State Department in the Office of Protocol is a red flag to political observers to what is really going on at City Hall.
The hiring of a political strategist by Mayor Keller is not a first.
Mayor Keller has also hired his former campaign manager and well-known Democrat political consultant and strategist Alan Packman paying him $75,000 a year to handle constituent services.
Mr. Packman is assigned to the 311 Citizens Call Center giving him access to all city departments.
According to sources at city hall, Alan Packman reports directly and only to Mayor Tim Keller.
Sources have said Mr. Lee has the same arrangement as Alan Packman.
The hiring of Gary Lee and Alan Packman are clear indications that Mayor Keller intends to run either for re-election or for higher office, which should surprise no one and is expected.
Mayor Tim Keller has expressed in the past that he has a desire to run for Governor which will not be likely for 8 years if Democrat Michell Lujan Grisham is elected Governor.
Keller could conceivably serve two full terms as Mayor and then the timing would be right to run for Governor.
Political insiders are saying that United States Senator Tom Udall is giving very mixed messages or keeping mum as to if he is running for reelection in 2020.
If Udall does not run for reelection, it may be Keller’s only option to make a move for the US Senate seat, especially if things do not get better for him in Albuquerque when it comes to APD, crime rates and the economy.
Another option for Keller is to do what he can to get a Democrat elected President in 2020 and seek a cabinet appointment.
It would not be a first time for Tim Keller to move on to higher office before finishing a term he was elected to serve seeing that he has now done it twice before: first as a New Mexico State Senator to run for New Mexico State Auditor and second as State Auditor to run for Mayor of Albuquerque during his first year as State Auditor.
It is never too early to start getting ready and started for a reelection effort or for that matter the next political office when you are politically ambitious as Tim Keller.
All too often, ambition shatters a youthful politician’s concentration in just doing a great job, especially when political operatives equally as ambitious have the ear of the elected official who has his eye on reelection or higher office.
When you have a 62% approval rating such as Tim Keller as reported by that Albuquerque Journal, you can hire whoever you want and pay them what you want without anyone questioning it, at least until your approval rating starts to tank and you realize it is time to move on to another elected position before it’s too late to get out of City Hall.
For more on Alan Packman and Tim Keller see: