Mayor Tim Keller Gives Thousands Of Raises To His Political Appointees While Average City Employee Gets 2% Pay Increase

KOAT TV Target 7 reported that Mayor Tim Keller has given his appointed, highest paid city hall administrators literally thousands of dollars in raises.

The raises were given without informing the City Council and giving an after the fact justifications to the media for the raises.

You can view the entire Target 7 report at this link:


The Albuquerque City Council is in the process of reviewing the 2019-2020 $1.2 Billion dollar proposed budget that goes into effect July 1, 2019. The City of Albuquerque employs approximately 4,800 to 5,000 full time city hall employees with 26 separate departments. The City of Albuquerque pays an average of $17.61 an hour to City Hall employees or $36,628.80 a year depending on the positions held and required education level and training levels. (40 hour work week X 52 weeks in a year = 2,080 hours worked in a year X $17.61 paid hourly = $36,628.80) Roughly 4,500 City Hall employees are considered “classified employees” who are covered by the city’s personnel rules and regulations.

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. All of the Mayor’s top administrators and City Hall Department Directors are “unclassified employees” and serve at the pleasure of the Mayor and can be terminated without cause.

At the end of each calendar year, City Hall releases the top 250 wage earners at city hall. The list of 250 top city hall wages earners is what is paid for the full calendar year of January 1, to December 31 of any given year. In February, 2019, City of Albuquerque updated the list of the 250 top wage earners at City Hall for 2018. You can review the entire listing of all 25o wage earners at the below link.


KOAT TV Target 7 reviewed the city’s transparency website and found 5 political, at will employee appointees received raises in the tens of thousands of dollars.

Keller has given APD Police Chief Michael Geier a $27,000 raise and he is now being paid $187,000 a year.

Keller has given his Chief Administrative Officer Sarita Nair a $20,000 pay increase and she is now paid $190,000 a year.

Albuquerque Fire and Rescue Chief Paul Dow’s pay went from $132,000 to $150,000, or $18,000 more.

Chief Operating Officer Lawrence Rael is now being paid $185,000, up $19,000 from last year.

Keller gave his Chief Financial Officer Sanjay Bhakta a $13,000 raise and his pay is $131,200.01.

Because Keller’s top administration employees are appointed by the mayor, the City Council does not have to approve any of raises. The approval of all the raises came from Chief Administrative Officer Sarita Nair, who had to approve her own $20,000 pay raise and Mayor Keller.

Mayor Tim Keller issued a statement through a spokesperson indicating all the raise he gave were needed for the city to stay competitive and the statement said:

“We looked at salaries for these positions throughout our region and found that, even after these raises, our salaries are much lower than those offered in cities in the region of a similar size. We also have to compete with the new state administration which pays higher salaries, and to which we lost several key people, and a city council that has given consistent annual raises. By offering more comparable salaries, our goal is to attract and retain talented leaders to serve the city of Albuquerque.”


Following is the salaried paid all 5 that appeared in the February, 2019 list of 250 top wage earners comparing their salaries to their predecessors at city hall:

Chief Administrative Office (CAO) SARITA NAIR: $169,556.80, now paid $190,000. Former Chief Administrative Officer Rob Perry was paid $189,936.

Chief Administrative Office Chief Operations Officer LAWRENCE RAEL: $165,524.80, now paid $185,000. Former Chief Administrative Officer Michael Riordan was paid $152,319.

Albuquerque Police Department Chief MICHAEL GEIER: $159,513.60, now paid $187,000 a year. Former APD Chief Gordon Eden was paid $166,699.

Albuquerque Fire and Rescue Chief PAUL DOW: $132,691.20, now paid $150,000. Former Fire Chief David W. Downey was paid $138,993.

Finance Admin Svc CFO/Director SUNALEI BHAKTA: $131,200.01. Former Director of Finance Department Lou Hoffman was paid $99,732.

The Mayor’s salary and City Council salaries are determined by the Citizens’ Independent Salary Commission. Beginning January 1, 2018, the Mayor’s salary went from $103,854 a year to $125,00 a year. Mayor Keller is provided with a car, expense account as well as an APD protection detail. Eight Albuquerque City Councilors are paid $30,000 annually and the City Council President is paid $32,000 annually. The city council also increased their contituent contact fund from $5,000 to $20,000.


On April 1, 2019, Mayor Tim Keller submitted to the Albuquerque City Council a $1.1 billion operating budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1, 2019. The proposed budget represents an 11% increase in spending over the current year. Under the proposed budget, general fund spending, which covers most city government operations, climbs $65 million to $642 million. Buried in Keller’s 2019-2020 proposed budget is city workers will get a 2% pay raise under the Keller budget plan, though those represented by unions could get more based on their units’ agreements.


In the normal world outside of city hall, even in other government agencies and in the private sector, huge salary increases are associated with promotions, additional responsibilities taken on or exceptional job performance above and beyond the call of duty. The truth is that it is difficult to identify with any clarity exactly how APD Police Chief Michael Geier, Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Sarita Nair, Chief Operations Officer Lawrence Rael, Albuquerque Fire and Rescue Chief Paul Dow, and Chief Financial Officer Sanjay Bhakta have set themselves apart or have gone above and beyond the normal job performance required by their positions.

It is these types of out of line salary increases that creates a tremendous amount of animosity among the personnel of the city of Albuquerque. It is these types of raises that essentially tarnishes the reputation of elected officials by allowing their top paid administrators to engage in a money grab with the public perceiving poor performance, no results and even mediocrity.

Former Republican Mayor Richard Berry was notorious for paying astronomical, out of line salaries to his top political operatives, especially during his second term in office. For example former Chief Administrative Officer Rob Perry was paid $189,936 (#1 highest paid employee), former APD Chief Gordon Eden was paid $166,699 (#2 highest paid employee), former Chief Administrative Officer Michael Riordan was paid $152,319 (#4 highest paid employee), former City Attorney Jessica Hernandez was paid $150,217 (#5 highest paid employee), former Fire Chief David W. Downey was $138,993 (#11 highest paid employee), former Deputy Fire Chief Eric Garcia was paid $133,872 (#13 highest paid employee) and former APD Assistant Chief Robert Huntsman was paid $132,435.

The most disgusting pay increase Berry gave was a 22%, $33,000 pay increase to Chief Administrative Officer Rob Berry who was paid $190,000 a year and became the top paid city hall employee of all time. What made Perry’s raise so disgusting is that he made sure all other city employees were given pay cuts of 2% at the time or zero or 1% or 2% pay increases and even going so far as cancelling the negotiated pay increases for police officers. Berry justified his salary increases by using similar or identical arguments Keller is now using saying that the salary increases were needed to keep people from going elsewhere and retain talented leaders to serve the city of Albuquerque. Yeah, right.

To be perfectly blunt, the salaries now being paid to APD Police Chief Michael Geier, Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Sarita Nair, Chief Operations Officer Lawrence Rael, Albuquerque Fire and Rescue Chief Paul Dow, and Chief Financial Officer Sanjay Bhakta now are probably the most they have ever been paid in their careers. At least 4 appointees were hired by Keller without a real national search to fill their positions and are considered Keller’s political operatives and “inner circle” of loyalist. The “national search” for a new APD Chief was considered by many as a sham with Geier always considered the front runner. Geier also has two other retirements that are vested. There was no need to attract many with pay in that they worked for Keller when he was state auditor.

Given all the recent stories on Albuquerque’s violent crime rates and the murders, the $27,000 raise for Chief Geier is highly questionable and very difficult to justify to the public. Adding insult to injury, APD Chief Geier decided not discipline APD’s Public Information Officer Simon Drobik for claiming massive amounts of overtime and being paid $192,000 in 2018, despite recommendations by the Police Oversight Commission he be terminated. What Geier and Drobik are being paid is considered nothing but a money grab, as is all the other pay raises in the double digits.

Mayor Tim Keller prides himself in being well educated and a quick learner and said when he was running for Mayor he said he “had done good at all the jobs he ever held.” With only one year and six months in office, Keller has learned very quickly to make sure his political operatives are well taken care of by giving them out of line salary increases that approach what many city hall employees makes in a full year. Mayor Keller will now have to deal with the animosity among average city hall workers his pay raises will no doubt create. One thing is for sure is the 4,800 to 5,000 full time city hall employees who did not get raises do vote, as do their families, and Keller will have to decide was it worth it.

For a related blog article listing the 250 top wage earners in 2018 see:

“$100,000 Or More” Paid To All 250 Top ABQ City Hall Employees

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Pete Dinelli was born and raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He is of Italian and Hispanic descent. He is a 1970 graduate of Del Norte High School, a 1974 graduate of Eastern New Mexico University with a Bachelor's Degree in Business Administration and a 1977 graduate of St. Mary's School of Law, San Antonio, Texas. Pete has a 40 year history of community involvement and service as an elected and appointed official and as a practicing attorney in Albuquerque. Pete and his wife Betty Case Dinelli have been married since 1984 and they have two adult sons, Mark, who is an attorney and George, who is an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT). Pete has been a licensed New Mexico attorney since 1978. Pete has over 27 years of municipal and state government service. Pete’s service to Albuquerque has been extensive. He has been an elected Albuquerque City Councilor, serving as Vice President. He has served as a Worker’s Compensation Judge with Statewide jurisdiction. Pete has been a prosecutor for 15 years and has served as a Bernalillo County Chief Deputy District Attorney, as an Assistant Attorney General and Assistant District Attorney and as a Deputy City Attorney. For eight years, Pete was employed with the City of Albuquerque both as a Deputy City Attorney and Chief Public Safety Officer overseeing the city departments of police, fire, 911 emergency call center and the emergency operations center. While with the City of Albuquerque Legal Department, Pete served as Director of the Safe City Strike Force and Interim Director of the 911 Emergency Operations Center. Pete’s community involvement includes being a past President of the Albuquerque Kiwanis Club, past President of the Our Lady of Fatima School Board, and Board of Directors of the Albuquerque Museum Foundation.