Keller Appoints 5 To Executive Staff; Keller Departs From Youth Over Experience Approach To Fill Vacancies; Bob White Returns To City Hall In New Role After 7 Year Absence; Whistle Blower Lawsuit Recalled Alleging Age Discrimination In Keller Hiring Practices

On June 1, Mayor Tim Keller announces the appointment of 3 new executive staff. Keller announce the appointment of Katarina Sandoval the new Chief Operations Officer (COO), Annie Manriquez as Deputy Chief of Staff, and Bob White as Associate Chief Administrative Officer. Mayor Tim Keller had this to say about the appointments:

“Each of these hires fills a key role to help us keep things running smoothly, and enable us to push progress on top priorities from public safety to homelessness and housing to investing in growing our city. … These leaders bring a complementary mix of experience to our office.”


Katrina Sandoval currently serves as the Deputy Secretary of Finance and Operations and Academic Engagement and Student Success at the New Mexico Public Education Department. She and her team collectively oversee the implementation of multiple federal and state programs that total over a billion dollars, including audit, accounting, budget, capital outlay, fiscal grants management, procurement and transportation. Additionally, she and her team oversee programs that support student health and wellness, extended learning, extracurricular and enrichment activities out of school, community schools, attendance, and systems of supports. Ms. Sandoval has served as the Deputy Secretary of Academic Engagement and Student Success for the New Mexico Public Education Department, as well as Chief Academic Officer and Associate Superintendent of Albuquerque Public Schools. She becomes the first woman to serve as COO in the City’s modern history. Sandoval is a graduate of West Mesa High School, holds a bachelor’s degree from Stanford University and a master’s degree from Harvard University. She is the mother of three children who attend public New Mexico schools.

Katarina Sandoval had this to say about her appointment:

“Throughout my career I have been dedicated to helping large New Mexico organizations be more effective and better able to meet public expectations and drive impact in the daily lives of people from all walks of life. Now, I’m ready to help our Administration make Albuquerque a more safe, innovative and inclusive city. Together with our department leaders, I’m confident we can move the needle on key priorities facing the Duke City.”


Annie Manriquez is replacing Justine Freeman, who left the mayor’s office to be chief impact officer in the city’s Finance & Administrative Services Department.

Prior to joining the City of Albuquerque, Manriquez served as Governor Lujan Grisham’s senior advisor for cyber and critical infrastructure and before that, spent more than a decade in Washington D.C. where she earned a reputation for creating innovative solutions to complex organizational, financial, and national security challenges throughout multiple presidential administrations. At the MITRE Corporation, a Federally Funded Research and Development Corporation (FFRDC), Annie led the Intelligence Analysis and Strategy Department and worked with agencies across the Executive Branch to overhaul and modernize multi-billion-dollar government programs. Manriquez held previous appointments at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars, the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration, and Congresswoman Ellen O. Tauscher. She is a graduate of the University of California in Santa Barbara.

Annie Manriquez had this to say about her appointment as Deputy Chief of Staff:

“I am grateful for the opportunity serve the Administration and the people of Albuquerque,” said , Deputy Chief of Staff. “I look forward to bringing a strategic lens to processes and initiatives in the Mayor’s office to systematically achieve positive outcomes for our city.”


Bob White has over 40 years of experience as an attorney and public servant, formerly serving as assistant city attorney and then city attorney. He is an expert in land use, administrative, and government law. He has shared his legal expertise vastly with private and public entities across the state. White was also elected as an Albuquerque City Councilor from 1979 to 1983, where he served as Council President in 1983. He has served on the boards of various community organizations working to advance equity and the arts. White is a graduate of the University of New Mexico and received his J.D. from the University of Houston School of Law. In 2010, Bob White retired as City Attorney within 7 months after the election of Mayor Richard Berry who made it known he wanted to replace White as City Attorney with long time Republican political operative Rob Perry.

Bob White had this to say about returning to city hall after 7 years:

“I’m very happy to rejoin the City and put my experience to work to help achieve big goals for Albuquerque. … There’s important work to come, and I look forward to collaborating across the City to get it done.”


Manny Manriquez was born in Oakland, CA and moved to Albuquerque at a young age. He earned his B.A. in political science and Asian studies at UC Berkeley and his M.A. in International Affairs at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. For nearly 20 years, Manny’s academic and professional careers have focused on various policy issues—especially commerce, trade, next-generation mobility, and national security.

After graduate school, Mr. Manriquez worked in Washington, D.C. for the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Office of Nonproliferation and International Security managing science and technology engagement projects in the former Soviet Union. He then worked at the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association’s (JAMA) D.C. office for 9 years, first as Director of Government and Public Affairs, followed by six years as the office’s General Director and JAMA’s chief representative in the U.S.


Carissa Vender has been a resident of Albuquerque for 38 years, moving here when her father was stationed at Kirtland AFB. Holding both Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees in Architecture from UNM, she has worked for several local architecture firms, gaining experience in government and private sector work. Taking the leap into what she refers to as “accidental entrepreneurship”, Carrie left architecture in 2006 to found Cake Fetish Cupcakes and later Rebel Donut which she sold in 2019.


Lawrence Rael now filling in as chief administrative officer. Rael, who has worked in multiple other city administrations, had served as COO since Keller took office in late 2017. He stepped up to the CAO role when Sarita Nair resigned from the post. Rael remains CAO on only an interim basis and it’s unclear when if Keller will appoint Lawrence Rael permanent Chief Administrative Officer. Mayor Keller’s spokeswoman did not directly answer a question about whether the Keller intended to nominate Rael for the position.

The links to quoted source material are here:


On May 17, it was announced in a press release that City Attorney Esteban Aguilar, Jr. was leaving his position at the end of May to focus on his family as a first-time father. Aguilar has been on paternity leave over the last few months and officially wrap up his work at the end of May. Aguilar has spent the past four years as city attorney having been appointed by Mayor Tim Keller in 2018. At the time of his departure, Aguilar had this to say:

“The City’s legal staff is collectively the most talented group of individuals I’ve worked with. I’m grateful to have played a role in building out the department and creating a culture that supports individuals to do their best for the people of Albuquerque. … It’s been an incredible opportunity to work with such a dedicated team, and I look forward to what they’ll continue to accomplish.”

In the press release announcing the resignation of City Attorney City Attorney Esteban Aguilar, Jr. , no information was given as to who is acting City Attorney but that the city was advertising for applicants.

By all accounts, City Attorney Esteban Aguilar, Jr. has done a respectable job, especially with dealing with the Department of Justice and the DOJ consent decree. However, his appointment as City Attorney by Mayor Tim Keller in 2018 was controversial at the time. The position of City Attorney was advertised and upwards of 20 applicants applied and the advertising for the potion was closed. Esteban Aguilar, Jr was not an applicant. It was common knowledge that Tim Keller was not satisfied with the applicants at the time and he said in a private discussion he wanted a city attorney in his age group of 40+. Keller recruited Aguilar, who was 40 at the time, to be the new city attorney replacing Republican political operative David Tourick.


On January 24, 2021 a “whistleblower lawsuit” was filed against the Mayor Tim Keller Administration in State District Court by a terminated Deputy Human Resources Director. According to the lawsuit, the former employee alleged that she was repeatedly directed to hire preselected people, fabricate reasons for reassigning others and give preferential treatment to “millennial” job candidates and “friends and allies” of Keller’s executive management team.

Keller’s executive team at the time included Chief Administrative Officer Sarita Nair, Chief Operations Officer Lawrence Rael and Chief Financial Officer Sanjay Bhakta and all 16 Department Directors. Bhakta is named in his professional capacity in overseeing the Human Resources Department and in and individual capacity. All of the executive team are at will employees and serve at the pleasure of Keller.

A link to the full Albuquerque Journal article is here:

The plaintiff in the whistleblower case was identified as Patricia Martinez. She was the Deputy Director of the city’s Human Resources Department. She was fired January 31, 2020 by Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Sanjay Bhadka, who oversees the Department of Human Resources. She is claiming that Mayor Tim Keller’s administration manipulated the city’s hiring and personnel rules and regulations, merit system ordinance, demanding that she do the Keller Administration’s bidding. According to the lawsuit, she raised concerns with City Attorney Estaban Aguilar and to the City’s Inspector General and she was fired for it.

The allegations include that the Keller Administration Human Resources Department is “driven by a mayoral administration with an agenda of “quid pro quo” practices, cronyism, racism, defiance of the state’s Inspection of Public Records Act and a general spirit of flouting established City of Albuquerque rules and regulations and best practices”.

Specific allegations in the whistle blower lawsuit include the following:

1. Members of the Keller’s executive team directed her to hire a specific person as a Human Resources Investigator with Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Sanjay Bhakta instructing her to score that candidate the highest for the position, even if a current city employee scored better. Bhakta oversees Human Resources.

2. CFO Bhakta directed Martinez to personally check on an applicant and find him a job in Human Resources because Bhakta “knew his mother.”

3. Keller’s project manager and the city’s planning director told Martinez “that Mayor Keller wanted to restructure the Planning Department in an effort to remove two employees”. According to the lawsuit, Martinez said she told Bhakta the two employees were classified positions and that they could not be removed was without cause as per the personnel rules and regulations.

4. A senior personnel officer from Municipal Development asked Martinez to lower a division manager’s salary “to assist him in double dipping on external retirement benefits,” and that Bhakta had already made that request once previously. According to the lawsuit, Martinez denied the request.

5. CFO Bhakta is alleged to have said that “blacks and Hispanics are dumb’ or words to that effect.”

6. Bhakta and City Atorney Esteban Aguilar Jr. on separate occasions gave Martinez directions meant to subvert the state’s public records law, with Bhakta telling her not to put certain information in email and Aguilar asking for documents to be hand-delivered to avoid a paper trail.

7. Bhakta told Martinez to transfer the Albuquerque Police Department’s Human Resources coordinator to the Aviation Department, “despite the fact [the Aviation Deparment] was already staffed with three other HR administrators.” That shuffling created a spot at APD that officials could use to reassign someone they wanted removed from the central Human Resources Department.


According to the lawsuit, “members of Keller’s executive team’ told Martinez that the mayor and others on his team wanted to replace the director and employment manager who were working in the HR Department at the time. They told Martinez — who started as Albuquerque’s deputy HR director in October 2018 after holding a similar job at the city of Rio Rancho — that she was the department’s “de facto director” which she interpreted to mean that she would get the top job if she followed their directions.

The lawsuit goes on to allege that “… Bhakta told Martinez that high-ranking APD officials wanted to fire the department’s HR coordinator. … Bhakta further asserted to Ms. Martinez that because [the HR coordinator] was African American, the Executive team could not fire her because they did not want any problems with the ‘Black’ community as Mayor Keller was receiving pressure from the African American community due to his limited hiring of African Americans. ”

According to the complaint, the employee who moved from central Human Resources Department to APD received a “substantial” pay raise. When Martinez raised concerns with Bhakta about the transfer and raise, the lawsuit alleges: “[Bhata] stated he wanted to give her less but Lawrence Rael, the city’s Chief Operating Officers, was a friend of hers and her husband and persuaded Defendant Bhakta to increase his proposed offer to her otherwise she would not accept it and would stay in Human Resources.


Truth be known there were very early warning signs that Tim Keller had a real hang up about age.

In 2018, During Mayor Keller’s first months in office, he was initially given high marks for appointing experienced city hall people like former New Mexico Treasurer James Lewis, former City CAO Lawrence Rael and former City Attorney and CAO David Campbell to key positions. Within a year both Lewis and Campbell were gone with confidential sources saying Keller had a tendency to just ignore their advice. Keller was also given high marks for appointing woman to executive positions including Sarita Nair as Chief Administration Officer, Shelle Sanchez as Cultural Services Director, Mary Scott as Human Service Director, Ana Sanchez as Senior Affairs Director, Nyka Allen as Aviation Director and Katy Duhigg as City Clerk.

Chief Administrative Officer Sarita Nair and Chief Financial Officer Sanja Bhutka worked for Tim Keller when he was New Mexico State Auditor. Both Nair and Bhutka are viewed as within Keller’s inner circle and as political operatives at his beckon call.

As Keller’s first year in office progressed, Keller had a few vetting and appointment missteps with a City Clerk nominee and then the City Attorney appointment. The first City Clerk nominee withdrew her acceptance of her appointment because her financial problems and tax lien problems where investigated and reported upon by the Albuquerque Journal. This indicated a failed “vetting process” for political appointments.

A second appointment misstep was soliciting and appointing beyond the advertised application closing date a City Attorney who needed to be confirmed by the City Council. The soliciting and appointing a city attorney after the closure date for applications and after all applicant interviews had been conducted resulted in the charge of political cronyism against Keller’s Chief Administrative Officer who knows and went to law school with the city attorney selected. Keller also had told others he wanted a City Attorney in his 40’s.


What differentiates the whistle blower lawsuit from the norm is the allegation that Mayor Keller wanted to give preferential treatment to “millennial” job applicants. Keller was elected at the age of 40 and is now 44 and considers himself a millennial.

Mayor Keller’s hang up about age is well known by city hall insiders as well as people who worked on his campaign in 2017 and his transition team. One source that worked on Keller’s campaign reported that Keller consistently surrounded himself with younger campaign workers and would go out of his way NOT to get input from “older workers” not in his age group.

After being elected Mayor, Keller made it known to more than one person on his transition team that he wanted to surround himself with his “generation” as Department heads and people in their 40’s. Experience and knowledge of city hall and ability to do a job was not as critical to Keller as was age. Review of Keller’s list of Department Directors confirms this point.


Of the 6 positions discussed, the City Council has confirmation power over 3 of the positions: Chief Administrative Officer, Chief Operations Officer and City Attorney. All 6 positions, including the positions of Deputy Chief of Staff, Associate Chief Administrative Officer, Innovation & Commercial Development Manager ( Aviation Department ) and Small Business Liaison for the Economic Development Department are at will employees who serve at the pleasure of the Mayor.

Given the number of years Lawrence Rael has been with the City and the fact he has served as Chief Administrative Officer for 2 mayors and as Keller’s Chief Operations Officer (COO), it is difficult to understand why Mayor Keller would appoint Rael’s replacement first as COO and not appoint and make Rael Chief Administrative Officer on a permanent basis.

Truth be known, Rael has likely forgotten more than anyone else within the Keller Administration on how city hall works. Likewise, Bob White brings to the table a wealth of information on how city hall works not to mention a level of maturity that has been lacking in many of Mayor Keller’s appointment during his first term.


When Tim Keller was first elected Mayor in 2017, he made it known that he wanted to appoint people in his age group of 40+ to key executive positions, including city attorney. The consequence was that Keller had a hard time finding qualified people to fill positions and there was a significant delay in getting his administration up and running. Keller has always had a preference for hiring people in his age group ignoring their lack of experience and overlooking seasoned experience people in far too many of his executive appointments.

With Tim Keller’s appointment of Lawrence Rael and now Bob White as Associate Chief Administrative Officer, Katarina Sandoval as Chief Operations Officer, Manny Manriquez as Innovation & Commercial Development Manager, Carissa Vender as Small Business Liaison, Economic Development Department, he appears to have changed his approach and now places greater emphasis on real experience and ignoring a person’s age group.

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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.