On June 5, the Albuquerque City Council is scheduled to hear and perhaps vote on a City Charter amendment that would integrate the Mayor into the City Council, and the Council would appoint a city manager. The measure would be placed on the November 7 municipal ballot for voter approval and is sponsored first term City Councilors Democrat Louie Sanchez and Republican Renee Grout. The city’s existing Mayor-Council form of government has existed for over 50 years and was implemented by voters in 1972 by enacting a new city charter to replace the city commission/city manager form of government.
The charter amendment would transfer all the mayor’s executive and city management duties to a city manager chosen by the city council. The mayor would preside over city council meetings and vote at council meetings only in the event of a tie. The appointed city manager would assume many of the powers now held by the mayor, including the authority to appoint the police chief and other department directors. According to the proposed legislation, the mayor would “be recognized as the head of the City government for all ceremonial purposes.”
At least 6 of the 9 city councilors must agree to put the measure on the November 7 municipal election ballot where City Council Districts 2, 4, 6, and 8, and $200 million bond will be on the ballot. City Clerk Ethan Watson said that he must file the measure with Bernalillo County no later than August 29 to get it on the ballot. The Charter Amendment would then require a majority vote from city voters. If approved by voters, the changes would not take effect until after the next mayoral election in 2025. As such, the measure would not affect Mayor Tim Keller unless he seeks reelection.
City Councilors Democrat Louie Sanchez and Republican Renee Grout and supporters say cities with a council/city manager form of government function more efficiently with a “council-manager” form of government. They say electing a new mayor every four-to-eight years disrupts progress in Albuquerque. The much smaller cities of Rio Rancho and Las Cruces have such governments.
Both Sanchez and Grout said this in a Journal guest opinion column:
“It’s time for Albuquerque residents to consider whether their city government is structurally capable of responding to their pressing challenges in the most effective, efficient and transparent way. We believe it’s time to consider an alternative to the mayor-council form of government, one that will give our city responsive leadership that balances diverse interests, rather than the interests of a select few, and prioritizes sound management over political power.”
Democrat City Councilor Louie Sanchez blamed the strong-mayor form of government for Albuquerque’s lack of progress over the past half century. He cited Phoenix as having a council-manager system that makes the government more efficient and better able to attract business. Sanchez said this:
“We’ve suffered because of this system for many, many years … If we look back to the late ’60s, early ’70s, Albuquerque was in a friendly competition with Phoenix to see which city was going to be the economic driver of the Southwest … Albuquerque should have won that friendly competition … And it’s time that we work together as a city and move our city forward. If the voters tell us that we need to change the government, we change it.”
Republican City Councilor Renee Grout had this to say:
“It’s not about politics for me — it’s about growing in the right direction. … When you look at the cities around us, they are thriving. … I want to take politics out of what we are doing.”
First term Democrat City Councilor Tammy Fiebelkorn signaled her support of the measure by saying this:
“This is not a referendum on the current mayor. … This is a referendum about what is the best form of government.”
City Council President Pat Davis said this:
“I personally bounce back and forth on this … I think it’s something that really needs to be considered, but I’m anxious that making a big structural change in the city, and with three weeks of notice, might have some unintended consequences.”
Links to quoted news sources are here:
MAYOR AND 3 FORMER MAYORS OPPOSE CHANGE
Mayor Tim Keller opposes the measure and Keller’s office issued the following statement:
“We are committed to working with Council and taking a hard look at how we can work more efficiently, but an extreme change to our form of government is not the answer. This proposal would drastically alter Albuquerque’s local government, eliminating individual accountability and checks and balances, placing all city power into a committee and an unelected city manager.”
Former Mayor David Rusk (1977 to 1981), was the city’s second Mayor. Rusk gave a history of creating the existing Mayor/Council form of government and said essentially said the city had “outgrown” a weak-mayor form of government. Rusk said this:
“The city needed strong executive leadership, and yet the city manager was in effect a hired hand and couldn’t appropriately provide that kind of leadership in terms of helping shape public opinion.”
Former three-term Mayor Martin Chávez (1993 to 1997 and 2001 to 2009) said passage would result in an absence of leadership in the city and set off a power scramble among business groups, labor and other interest groups angling for position in the new government, Chavez said.
“A whole lot of dynamics will come into play that I don’t think [City Councilor] Louie Sanchez is thinking about. … You’re going to have the City Council running the city. … You are going to have a city manager who is beholden to that council. And there will be no unified, centralization of authority to do stuff.”
Former Mayor Jim Baca (1997 to 2001) said this:
“It was hard to get decisions made with a council-manager form of government … Things just took forever because there was nobody actually in charge. The manager was always trying to second guess – would he get fired if he made this one small decision.”
REMBERING ALBUQUERQUE’S HISTORY
On Sunday, June 6, the Albuquerque Journal published a front-page story, below the fold story entitled “When ABQ went from a ‘weak’ to ‘strong’ mayor” written by staff reporter Oliver Osterbrock. The article featured former Mayor’s David Rusk, Jim Baca and Marty Chavez, with all 3 in opposition to going back and creating a City Council-City Manager form if government. The short history given in the article is worth noting:
“The beginning of the end of Albuquerque’s now-defunct City Commission came during a raucous meeting in December 1973, when commissioners voted 3-2 to fire the city manager.
Accusations flew back and forth for five hours at a packed Convention Center Auditorium with an estimated 500 in attendance.
“The City Commission has lost control,” then-Commissioner Bob Poole said. “Policy has gravitated to the city manager.”
At the Dec. 10, 1973, City Commission meeting, three of the five commissioners berated then-City Manager Herb Smith for hours, accusing him of involving himself in politics and assuming too much policy-making authority, the Albuquerque Journal reported.
Some speakers demanded a change in government, calling for a mayor and city councilors elected by district.
David Rusk, Albuquerque’s mayor from 1977 to 1981, said the city’s previous form of government “fell apart in very controversial circumstances” at that meeting.
A strong mayoral form of government had already been in the discussion stages for a few years, but the meeting appears to have been the tipping point.
The three commissioners who voted to fire Smith “expressed the view that perhaps Albuquerque had outgrown” the weak-mayor form of government, said Rusk, the city’s second mayor under the current system.
“The city needed strong executive leadership, and yet the city manager was in effect a hired hand and couldn’t appropriately provide that kind of leadership in terms of helping shape public opinion,” Rusk said.
Albuquerque was growing rapidly at the time, he said. Smith “was trying to establish an environment of more managed growth for the city, and that was at odds with some of the important interests” of the city, Rusk said.
A majority of commissioners found it inappropriate for Smith to exercise that kind of public leadership, he said.
Less than three months after that contentious meeting, Albuquerque voters approved a new form of government by a nearly 4-to-1 margin.
Voter approval of Proposition 3 on Feb. 27, 1974, gave Albuquerque a “strong mayor” with authority to “organize the executive branch of the city.”
The amendment to the city charter also gave the city a nine-member City Council elected by district, creating Albuquerque’s existing “strong mayor-council” system of government.
The change ended the five-member at-large city commission that had governed the city since 1917.
Once the results were tallied, then-Commissioner Ray Baca remarked that “the controversy over former City Manager Herb Smith pointed up the inadequacies of the commission-manager system” and created the impetus for the change of government.
But Proposition 3 emerged after years of discussion about the city’s appropriate form of government.
The strong-mayor system was first recommended in 1971 by a study group headed by the late Sen. Pete Domenici, who from 1967 to 1970s served as chairman of the City Commission – a post referred to as “mayor.” Domenici went on to serve as a U.S. senator from 1973 to 2009.
Additional details emerged from a working committee that met for 18 months following the initial recommendation … .
In adopting the strong-mayor system, Albuquerque followed a path taken by most large U.S. cities.”
ABQ JOURNAL GUEST OPINION COLUMN
On May 18, the Albuquerque Journal published a guest opinion column by UNM Professor Timothy Krebs with the University of New Mexico Department of Political Science. Below is the opinion column followed by the link:
HEADLINE: “Council-manager system would weaken democracy in ABQ”
City Councilors Renée Grout and Louie Sanchez are proposing to change Albuquerque’s current strong mayor-council system to a council-manager system. This would be a mistake, mainly because it would harm our local democracy.
In council-manager systems, voters elect the city council and a mayor, who serves as a member of the council. The mayor is expected to provide policy leadership and preside at council meetings. And like all councilors, the mayor can introduce and vote on legislation.
The mayor in this system, however, lacks executive power, which is given to an unelected city manager appointed by the council. The manager administers the day-to-day affairs of city government, appoints department heads, prepares the budget, and hires and manages city employees. Managers can be fired if they lose favor with a council majority.
By contrast, Albuquerque’s strong-mayor council system is rooted in a separation of powers arrangement. The city council is the legislative branch, while the mayor is a strong executive with the power to appoint officials – including a chief administrative officer approved by the council, craft a budget, veto council ordinances, execute city policy, and run the government.
The original versions of both systems had their flaws. Because part-time, volunteer city councils often defer to professional managers, and because managers can be fired by councils, council-manager systems often experienced crises of leadership. At the same time, strong mayor-council systems envisioned mayors who would be both savvy political leaders and effective administrators, but this rarely worked out. Recognizing this, council-manager cities started to directly elect their mayors in citywide contests to raise expectations for political leadership, while strong mayor-council cities steadily added chief administrative officers to enhance managerial competence and allow mayors to focus on politics and policy
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
Winston Churchill famously said:
“Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
It appears that Democrat City Councilors Louis Sanchez and Tammy Fiebelkorn and Republican Renee Grout are hell bent and choose to ignore history and want to repeat it because of their own personal dislike of Mayor Tim Keller.
When Democrat City Councilor Louie Sanchez said “If the voters tell us that we need to change the government, we change it”, he shows his ignorance not knowing that is exactly what happened over 50 years ago. From 1917 until 1974 (56 years), Albuquerque had a City Commission and City Manager form of Government. Albuquerque has had a mayor-council government since 1974 when on Feb. 26, 1974, voters in a landslide voted 19,458-to-5,246 to establish a full-time paid mayor as the city’s chief executive, and a part-time 9 member City Council as the city’s legislative body. The proposition, which passed in all 63 precincts, was endorsed by a wide range of organizations and community leaders.
Democrat City Councilors Louis Sanchez and Tammy Fiebelkorn and Republican Renee Grout were elected on November 2, 2021 having never been elected nor served before in any other elective office. They have served a mere 16 months as city councilor having been sworn into office on January 1, 2022.
Sanchez, Fiebelkorn and Grout now proclaim the city needs a complete and dramatic restructuring of city government with a 50-year throwback to the past city commission-city manager form of government without offering any substantive evidence that the current Mayor-Council form of government is failing or not working. All they offer is self-righteous political rhetoric. They prefer legislation amending the Charter without the convening of the Charter Review Task Force which is a permeant standing task force was created in part to prevent this sort of nefarious conduct by city councilors.
WHAT MOTVATES THE THROW BACK THREE
There is very little doubt what is motivating Sanchez, Fiebelkorn and Grout. It is their sure personal dislike for Mayor Tim Keller and many of his policies. Keller has repeatedly out maneuvered the City Council with his veto. In the last 16 months, Sanchez and Grout have tried and have failed to override at least 5 Keller vetoes. Thus far they have failed to stop Keller’s “Housing Forward ABQ Plan” which will allow 750 square foot casitas and duplexes in all residential back yards. They have failed to hold Mayor Keller accountable for impropriety, such as the violation of the anti-donation clause with the $236,622 purchase of artificial turf for the Rio Rancho Events Center for the benefit of the privately owned New Mexico Gladiators.
Fiebelkorn is especially disingenuous when she says “This is not a referendum on the current mayor. … This is a referendum about what is the best form of government.” If that were the case, why would she even bother to mention the Mayor. Informed city hall sources are saying Fiebelkorn and Mayor Keller are not on the best of terms and that the extreme progressive councilor has felt snubbed by Keller on more than one occasion by not giving her support she has demanded and expected. Fiebelkorn knew what she was being elected to when she ran and now flippantly says “This is a referendum about what is the best form of government.”
Their solution is get rid of Keller’s power as Mayor in case he runs again, which is very likely in that he is privately making it known he is running, for another term, and wins, which is highly questionable. Sanchez, Fiebelkorn and Grout knew exactly what they were getting into when they ran. If they do not like the existing form of government nor willing to work with Mayor Tim Keller, they should do us all a favor and just resign. Instead, they promote a rues that they are searching for the best form of government and promoting a 50 plus year failed throwback city council – city manager.
COUNCIL SHOULD VOTE NO
The city must file the measure with Bernalillo County no later than August 29 to place it on the November 7 election ballot. The council should vote NO rejecting the Charter Amendment that is ill advised.