On September 10, the Alburquerque Journal published on its front page, below the fold, an investigative entitled “City government’s unclassified workforce grows under Keller” and written by staff reporter Jessica Dyer.
According to the Journal column, when Keller was sworn into office on December 1, 2017, the city had a budget of $957 million and 5,956 funded full-time positions. The current 2022-2023 year’s budget is $1.4 billion and the Journal reported there are now 6,911 jobs in city government, though upwards of 20% remain unfilled.
The link to the full, unedited Albuquerque Journal report is here:
CLASSIFIED VERSUS UNCLASSIFIED
There are 5,947 City Hall employees that are “classified employees” who are covered by the city’s personnel rules and regulations. Classified employees have vested rights including retirement benefits, sick leave and annual leave benefits and can only be terminated for cause. Disciplinary actions such as suspensions, demotions and terminations can be appealed by classified employees to the City Personnel Board. 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)
There are 589 full time “unclassified” positions at City Hall, who are “at-will” employees who can be terminated “without cause” and who work at the pleasure of the Mayor or the City Council. “Unclassified employees” or exempt employees do not have the same vested rights classified employees have. They have no appeal rights to the City Personnel Board for disciplinary action so when they are fired, they are in fact terminated with little or no recourse.
All City Hall Department Directors are “unclassified employees” and serve at the pleasure of the Mayor and can be terminated without cause. City Department Directors as at will employees are paid yearly salaries but their salaries are broken down in hourly rates for payroll purposes. The average pay for Department Directors under Keller has been $116,000 to $125,000 a year depending on experience and background. The 27 Department Directors are not paid time and a half when they work in excess of a 40-hour work week.
DRAMATIC GROWTH OF UNCLASSIFIED WORKFORCE UNDER KELLER
The September 10 Albuquerque Journal reported that out of the 6,911 funded full-time employees, 589 of those full-time positions are “unclassified” employees, who are not covered by the personnel rules and regulations and who can be terminated without cause, who serve at the pleasure of the mayor or at discretion of the city’s chief administrative officer. In otherwards, there are 6,322 full time city employees who are classified and 589 who are unclassified. (6,322 classified + 589 unclassified = 6,911 total full time postions.)
According to the Journal, 266 unclassified positions, or 45%, of the added full-time unclassified jobs are positions added since Mayor Tim Keller took office December 1, 2017. According to information provided by the city Human Resources Department, many of the unclassified potions are classified as “performance and innovation managers, chief impact officer and civic engagement coordinators”. Many other of the unclassified positions are the traditional positions like APD Chief, Fire Chief, City Attorney, City Clerk and the other Department Directors.
According to the Journal analysis, Keller has had a 45% increase in unclassified positions since taking office on December 1, 2017, with the 18% of unclassified workers in jobs created during the 8 years under Keller’s predecessor Richard Berry.
Pay varies across the new unclassified jobs created, with the lowest compensated at the Parks and Recreation as techs, who make about $31,000 annually. However, the Journal September 10 article zeroed in on positions that have been created and filled by Keller paying in excess of $100,000 a year. A total of 55 of the 266 new unclassified positions created by Keller earn at least $100,000 per year.
NEWLY APPOINTED POSTIONS
It was on June 1 that Mayor Keller announced the appointments of 3 new executive staff. Those individuals are:
Bob White, Associate Chief Administrative Officer (ACAO)
White, 74, is being paid $170,000 a year. White retired as City Attorney in 2010, has not worked for the city in any capacity for 12 years. At the time of his retirement in 2010, White was paid $145,000 a year. Sources have confirmed that White was asked to resign in 2009 as City Attorney by Mayor Richard Berry so he could be replaced by Republican political operative Rob Perry as city attorney who later became Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) under Mayor Berry.
Katarina Sandoval, Chief Operations Officer (COO)
Katrina Sandoval was the Deputy Secretary of Finance and Operations and Academic Engagement and Student Success at the New Mexico Public Education Department. It is believed Keller is paying Sandoval upwards of $150,000 a year.
Annie Manriquez, Deputy Chief of Staff
She replaced Justine Freeman who transferred to a newly created position as the city’s “chief impact officer” and is paid $131,000 per year.
NEW SUPERINTENDENT OF POLICE REFORM HIRED
On March 9, 2021, Mayor Tim Keller announced the creations of the new position of “Superintendent of Police Reform” and Deputy Chief Administrative Officer to oversee the implementation of the Department of Justice (DOJ) reforms of APD. According to the job description, the Superintendent salary is $155,001.60 to $185,016.00 and oversees all APD academy operations including cadet training and education as well as Department of Justice (DOJ) reform efforts, internal affairs and has the final say on police disciplinary matters.
One paragraph of the job description for the position of Superintendent of Police Reform is worth noting:
“Recognizing what the Department of Justice has described as the inherent need for internal affairs to exercise independence and have some separation from institutional politics and pressures, the Superintendent will also directly oversee all internal affairs matters related to the Police Department. Exercising the delegated authority of the CAO, the Superintendent will have the final say on police disciplinary matters. The Superintendent will ensure consistency and fairness in the application of disciplinary policies and compliance with CASA requirements related to discipline. The Superintendent will also develop policies and practices to ensure that the Police Department has a wide range of tools to foster culture change, in addition to discipline.”
After a so-called national search, the first Superintendent of Police Reform Keller appointed was Sylvester Stanley who retired at the end of December of 2021, a mere 8 months after his appointment. According to the listing of the 250 top paid city hall employees, Stanley was paid $123,219.28 for his 8 months of city employment.
After Stanley departed, Keller quickly announced that a “national search” would be conducted. Almost a full 4 months went by, and on Monday, April 25, Mayor Tim Keller announced in a press release that he had nominated La Tesha Watson, Ph.D., as the new Superintendent of Police Reform to be confirmed by the Albuquerque City Council. Dr. LaTesha Watson has 25 years of policing experience most recently served as the director of the Office of Public Safety Accountability for Sacramento having served in that position since April, 2020. Prior to that she was the chief of the Henderson Police Department in Nevada for 16 months
Mayor Keller had this to say about the appointment:
“We’ve put a lot of work into considering what reform means for our community, and how we reach important goals that allow our department to do the best job of protecting and serving the people of Albuquerque. … This means putting leaders in place who understand that there’s a balance, and who will work to break down roadblocks.”
Reaction to the Watson appointment was very positive among the Amici Parties in the Federal Lawsuit involved with the Court Approved Settlement Agreement (CASA).
Dr. Watson’s nomination was very short lived. On May 3, one week after the Dr. LaTesha Watson appointment was announced, the Keller Administration issued a press release announcing it was not moving forward with her appointment. In the press release announcing her nomination withdrawal, the Keller Administration said in part:
“After the final round of in-person discussions with Dr. LaTesha Watson, the [Keller] administration has chosen to not to proceed with her nomination to the position of Superintendent of Reform for the Albuquerque Police Department. Watson recently concluded a site visit and a series of meetings with City and Department Executive Staff as part of her nomination for confirmation.
Watson brought alternative ideas and views about the path forward on reform, but the candidate and the administration identified key differences in our approach to the role and for continued progress in Albuquerque.
During the visit to Albuquerque, Watson put forward a proposal for restructuring the role in a manner that ultimately did not align with the position that the city is hiring for, as outlined in the job description created last year to meet the specific needs of APD. The administration determined that her alternative approach could in fact hold back recent progress made in the Department of Justice consent decree. … ”
The Superintendent of Reform was created last year by the City to bring individual accountability and leadership to reform, create differential use of force and discipline processes from APD chain of command, and add overall governance to the reform process. The position is also designed to enable the Chief of Police to better focus on crime fighting.”
YET ANOTHER NEW SUPERINTENDENT OF POLICE REFORM HIRED
On August 31, 2022, after passage of another 4 months without s Superintendant of Police Reform, Mayor Keller announced the appointment of retired Republican Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court Judge Victor Valdez to serve as the city’s new Superintendent of Police Reform. Prior to becoming a Metro Judge, Valdez was a Deputy City Attorney under then City Attorney Bob White and prior to that he practiced law for 15 years, specializing in civil rights.
The appointment of Judge Valdez raised more than a few eyebrows amongst the Amici Parties and observers of the Federal Court Approved Settlement Agreement (CASA). Mayor Keller’s had promised to conduct a national search but that promise appears to have disappeared in thin air after the disastrous mishandling of the Watson appointment.
Judge Valdez was a respected Metro Judge. However, Valdez has absolutely no experience in the implementation of federal police reforms anywhere, he has never overseen police internal affairs in any police department, he has never been responsible for police disciplinary matters, functions and processes and he has never dealt with APD academy operations, cadet training and education, all of which are required under the job description for Superintendent of Police Reform.
Simply put, Judge Victor Valdez credentials for the position of Superintendent of Police Reform are dubious at best and its liklly he is not a good fit for the job. He is essentially an unknown to those involved with the Court Approved Settlement Agreement process. During the last 7 years of the Court Approved Settlement Agreement, Judge Valdez has never attended a single federal court hearing on the CASA. His actual knowledge of the CASA in all likelihood is negligible at best and he has 7 years of catching up to do when it comes to the 261 mandated reforms
The rational for Judge Valdez’ appointment as Superintendent of Police Reform is an absolute mystery to many, other than being a political appointment because of his prior work as an Assistant City Attorney working under then City Attorney Bob White who is now Associate Chief Administrative Officer.
COMMUNICATIONS AND MARKETING
Mayor Tim Keller is known for his never ending, almost daily press conferences. Keller has taken photo ops to an all-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 reliving his high school glory days, and posting pictures and videos on his FACEBOOK page.
Mayor Keller has also implemented a public relations and marketing campaign to rebrand the city image with his “One ABQ” slogan. Keller has come up with a strained logo that rearranges the city’s name to reflect the slang name for the city as “BURQUE” in red. Slick videos to present the city in a positive image have been produced which can be viewed here https://onealbuquerque.com/
Given his penchant for public relations, it should come as no surprise that the number of unclassified city employees in communications or marketing has more than doubled under Keller during his 5 years in office. 12 new positions in communications or marketing have been created since Keller took office. That is in addition to 8 in communications and marketing-related roles that predated Keller with a total of 20 positions in communications or marketing.
OTHER POSTIONS CREATED
Many of the new unclassified employees are in high-ranking administrative positions. The city created 2 new Associate Chief Administrative Officers, 3 new Associate Directors and 16 new Deputy Directors, though 2 deputies are for the newly created Albuquerque Community Safety Department, with all being paid upwards of $100,000.
Albuquerque Fire and Rescue (AFR) Deputy Chiefs and the Fire Chief are “at will” employees and they are all paid $100,000 or more. Further, all 311 call center employees, which number around 45 are “at will” employees, but thier salaries are about $40,000 a year.
APD GETS LION’S SHARE
It is APD that has been given the lion’s share of the newly created positions under Keller. There are 117 people in unclassified positions at APD added since Keller became Mayor. 20 positions, mostly investigators have been added to APD’s Internal Affairs with 17 new APD police service aide positions added. Chief Harold Medina has also hired 3 new APD Deputy Chiefs, when historically there have only been 3, and added 3 new Commanders and 8 new Deputy Commanders.
The Albuquerque Police Department (APD) is the largest city budget out of 27 departments. The fiscal year 2023 approved General Fund budget is $255.4 million, which represents an increase of 14.7% or $32.8 million above the fiscal year 2022 level. The approved General Fund civilian count is 665 and sworn count is 1,100 for a total of 1,765 full-time positions.
APD’s general fund budget of $255.4 provides funding for 1,100 full time sworn police officers, with the department fully funded for 1,100 sworn police for the past 3 years. However, there are currently 875 sworn officers in APD. The APD budget provides funding for 1,100 in order to accommodate growth. During APD’s budget review hearing, APD Chief Medina acknowledged that the department will likely not meet that staffing level and the personnel funds will help cover other operating costs.
The APD’s budget was increased to accommodate for an immediate 8% in police pay and another 5% in police pay to begin in July because of the new police union contract. The APD budget provides for a net total increase of $1.2 million in overtime pay to accommodate the police union contract hourly rate increase that went into effect on January 1, 2022.
NEW LEVEL OF BUREACRACY AND PAY LEVELS CREATED
During the last 4 years, the APD high command that works directly out of the Chief’s Office went from 3 to 10 full time sworn staff. Those positions are Chief, Superintendent Of Police Reform, Deputy Superintendent of Police Reform, 6 Deputy Chiefs, 1 Chief of Staff. Although APD abolished the ranking of Major that existed 4 years ago, which there were only 4, it has created the new position of “Deputy Commanders” which there are 16. The 16 “Deputy Commander” positions create a whole new level of bureaucracy and management between Commanders and Lieutenants that is highly questionable as to duties and responsibilities other than “assisting” commanders, perhaps as the commander’s drivers and escorts around town.
The hourly pay rate for APD Lieutenants is $40.00 an hour or $83,200 yearly. Commanders and Deputy Commanders are paid upwards of $93,000 a year in base salary and with overtime they can easily earn well over $100,000 a year and as much as $120,000 as evidenced by those listed in the top 250 wage earners for the city. Therefore, with the creation of 16 Assistant Commanders, a least $1.6 million in line-item salary has been added to the APD bureaucracy.
COMPARING 2017 APD STAFFING LEVELSTO 2021 REVEALS NEW LEVEL OF BUEROCRACY OF “DEPUTY COMMANDERS” CREATED
During the December 16, 2021, court hearing before Federal Judge James Browning on the Federal Monitor’s 14th Compliance Report for the Court Approved Settlement Agreement, APD reported on the “rebuilding” of APD during the past 4 years by comparing APD staffing levels on December 7, 2017, to the December 6, 2021, staffing levels. Following are the statistics provided to the court:
DECEMBER 7, 2017 APD STAFFING LEVELS
Full Sworn Officer Count: 836
1 APD Chief
1 Assistant Chief
1 Deputy Chief
680 Patrol Officers
Note that the APD high command that worked directly out of the Chief’s Office consisted of 6 sworn APD staff: APD Chief, Assistant Chief, Deputy Chief and 3 Majors.
DECEMBER 6, 2021 STAFFING LEVELS
Full Sworn Officer Count: 917
1 APD Chief,
1 Superintendent of Police Reform,
1 Deputy Superintendent of Police Reform,
6 Deputy Chiefs (3 new Deputy potions created and added)
1 Chief of Staff
14 Deputy Commanders
731 Patrol Officers
2 Sworn CSA’s
Note that the that the APD high command that worked directly out of the Chief’s Office went from 6 to 10 employees and consists of Chief, Superintendent of Police Reform, Deputy Superintendent of Police Reform, 6 Deputy Chiefs and one Chief of Staff. There are now 12 Commanders and 14 Deputy Commanders. There are now a total of 36 command staff employees who are all unclassified, at will employees and can be terminated without cause.
The positions of 44 Lieutenants, 113 Sergeants and 731 Patrol Officers, for a total of 888, are all classified employees, can only be terminated for cause and can be members of the police union.
ALBUQUERQUE COMMUNITY SAFETY DEPARTMENT
The ACS currently accounts for 43 of the unclassified employees in jobs created under Keller’s administration.
It was in fiscal year 2021, the Keller Administration created the Albuquerque Community Safety Department (ACS) with an initial budget of $2.5 million. The ACS dispatches trained and unarmed professionals to respond to 9-1-1 calls that do not require a police or paramedic response. ACS responds to hundreds of calls per month, easing the burden on police and paramedics and improving outcomes on behavioral health calls. It is the ACS that that are responding to homeless encampments.
The ACS consists of social workers and mental health care workers to deal with those suffering from a mental health crisis or drug addiction crisis and they are dispatched in lieu of sworn police or fire emergency medical paramedics.
The fiscal year 2022 budget for ACS was $7.7 million and the fiscal year 2023 proposed budget doubles the amount to $15.5 million to continue the service of responding to calls for service and perform outreach for inebriation, homelessness, addiction, and other issues that do not require police or EMT response.
The Fiscal Year 2023 proposed budget was for $15 million to provide funding to add 74 new positions to make it a 24/7 round-the-clock operation across the city. However, at the Keller Administration’s request during the budget hearing, the council voted to fund the new jobs for only part of next year under the assumption they would not all be filled as of July 1.
LIST OF 250 TOP CITY HALL WAGE EARNERS
At the end of each calendar year, City Hall releases the top 250 wage earners. 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. The City of Albuquerque updated the list for the year 2021.
According to the list of the top 250 city hall wage earners, they were paid between $119,356.16 to $211,144.75. The City of Albuquerque has 26 separate departments. 21 of the 26 Departments have assigned to them employees listed in the top 250 wage earners.
The list of 250 top wage earners includes both classified and unclassified positions with 146 listed positions assigned to APD and 48 assigned to the Fire Department for a total of 194 positions out of the 250. The remaining 56 positions earning between $119,356.16 to $211,144.75 are scattered throughout 19 other departments. 16 are assigned to City Support, 9 to Municipal Development, 5 to Finance Admin Services, 4 to the Chief Administrative Office, 3 to City Legal, 3 to Cultural Services, 2 to each to Human Resources, Technology and Innovation and Parks and Recreation and 1 each to the Planning Department, Environmental Health, Office of the City Clerk, Family Community Services, Mayor’s Office, Animal Welfare, Senior Affairs, Solid Waste, Aviation and Council Services.
The top upper commands of the APD and Fire Departments and Chief Offices and Deputies are unclassified, with a balance of upwards of 40 employees of the 250 top paid positions being “unclassified”, at will positions, with those employees assigned to other departments.
The link to the top 250 wage earners listing names, titles and salaries paid can be found here:
DEFENDING AND REACTING TO INCREASE IN UNCLASSFIED POSITIONS
Chief Administrative Officer Lawrence Rael defended the increase in the number of unclassified positions as necessary. Rael noted that many of the new positions are tied to the U.S. Department of Justice mandated reform as well as the creation of the newly created Albuquerque Community Safety Department. Rael attributed the mushrooming communications workforce in part to the broader media landscape “including digital and social platforms that government didn’t use 10 years ago” as well as the administration’s overall strategy.
Rael said the number of new unclassified jobs reflects the size of municipal government operations and he said in a statement:
“The changing needs of a growing city require more out of city government. … [The size of the city operation] requires high-level talent to manage its many departments and work effectively. … Albuquerque has grown, and government leadership needs to grow with it. … We prioritize being responsive and transparent to both the media and the public. … That can’t happen without people in place to carry out those functions.”
Two city councilors questioned the need for some of the unclassified employee growth under Keller with on asserting that it was political to promote Keller’s ambitions.
Democrat Councilor Pat Davis said the police department positions are hard to argue against because APD remains subject to the Federal Court Approved Settlement agreement and the mandated reform. However, Davis did say he has concerns since Keller’s early days in office about the number of “unclassified marketing and communications personnel” in the mayoral administration’s reporting chain, even if their jobs are funded by individual department budgets. Davis had this to say:
“I think there’s just a general sense that these [unclassified] positions more serve the agenda of the mayor than the day-to-day work of the city and you generally see them in places like marketing and not out in the street engaging directly with [the general public].”
Davis said the city clearly needs more workers in that the city vacancy rate as of this summer was about 20%. There is a shortage of city employees in areas of bus drivers and 911 call operators.
Republican Councilor Dan Lewis called the unclassified employee expansion under Keller “outrageous” and at a scale he did not see under the Republican Mayor Berry administration when Lewis was a city councilor before for the full 8 years Berry was in offce. Lewis specifically challenged the necessity of added upper-management and communications personnel and said:
“We don’t need more managers. … We need people to get things done to produce results.”
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
It’s very difficult to accept the dramatic increase in the sure number of city hall unclassified employees earning in excess of $100,000 a year. Many of the positions are Mayor Keller’s appointed cronies and department heads. Many of those hired are dedicated to city marketing, promotions and communications who are in essence promoting all things good about Tim Keller and in the best light possible.
With that said, City Councilors Pat Davis and Dan Lewis reflect a level of hypocrisy with their criticism of Keller.
Davis has been on the city council for the full 5 years Keller has been in office and has voted for all 5 city budgets Keller has submitted to the council and not once has he ever offered a single amendment to cut any city hall positions or to cut salaries.
Dan Lewis calling the unclassified employee expansion under Keller “outrageous” is true, but so is Lewis’ hypocrisy in going along and voting for a full 8 years along party lines with former Republican Mayor Richard Berry’s budget priorities, including the disastrous ART Bus project without so much of a single objection.
Both Davis and Lewis voted for Keller’s 2022-2023 $1.4 Billion dollar budget without sponsoring a single amendment to cut any city hall positions or to cut salaries, and for them to complain now is indeed laughable and politcal opportunism.