On August 28, 2023, Mayor Tim Keller announced that Chief Administrative Officer Lawrence Rail will be retiring this November after 35 years of public service. Keller also announced the appointment of Dr. Samantha Sengel, the long-time Vice President of Central New Mexico College, as his replacement that will require City Council confirmation.
The CAO of the City of Albuquerque is essentially equivalent to a city manager that works directly under the Mayor and who serves at the pleasure of the Mayor and can be terminated without cause. The CAO is responsible for administrating the city’s personnel rules and regulations and all 27 City Department Directors report directly to the CAO. The CAO is the most impactful full-time, non-elected professional in city government appointed by the Mayor with confirmation by the city council. The role has formal control in the charter, over $1 billion in annual spending, oversees nearly 6,000 employees and is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the largest city in New Mexico. CAO Lawrence Rael is currently paid upwards of $220,000 a year.
LONGEST SERVING CAO
Lawrence Rael is the longest serving CAO in the city’s history. Rael has served on and off as the City’s de facto city manager under four mayors since 1990, Mayors Louis Saveedra, Jim Baca, Marty Chavez and Tim Keller. Prior to his current role, he served as the Chief Operating Officer (COO) for the Keller Administration since 2017. His tenure with Mayor Keller has included signature infrastructure projects including the Railyards, Netflix, the New Mexico Media Academy, the Rail Trail, Maxeon’s relocation to Albuquerque, the acquisition of the Poole property, the Sunport renovation and dozens of other large and small scale projects throughout the city. He has also played a major role with APD’s police reform efforts under the Federal Court Approved Settlement Agreement. He can claim credit for securing three-year collective bargaining agreements with most of the City’s workforce. Rael’s major city projects include the Isotopes Park, improvements to the Zoo, Botanic Gardens and Aquarium, the Explora Science Center, and the Convention Center.
It was in 2001 that Rael left the city for 8 years to managed the controversial Rail Runner for the state. Rael served as the Executive Director for the Mid-Region Council of Governments for nearly a decade. He worked on the staff of Senator Jeff Bingaman. In 2012, Rael was appointed by President Barack Obama as the director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Services Agency for New Mexico. In 2017, Rael joined the Keller administration as the Chief Operating Officer (COO) for the City of Albuquerque. He was named CAO in 2022 after the departure of Keller first CAO Sarita Nair. Rael also made unsuccessful runs as a Democrat for Lt. Governor and Governor.
Mayor Tim Keller had this to say about Rael’s departure:
“As far as government leaders go, Lawrence is one of a kind in New Mexico. Through four administrations he has left an indelible mark in improving nearly every corner of the city, creating thousands of jobs, and over three decades leading tens of thousands of the City workforce on a daily basis. He has my, and I know all of Albuquerque’s gratitude for his lasting legacy building the Duke City. He has earned his retirement two times over!”
CAO Lawrence Rael had this to say about his service:
“Nobody does this work alone. I wouldn’t have been able to accomplish any of these amazing projects without the hard work of the thousands of City employees who I’ve had the pleasure to work with every day. Still, not bad for a kid from Sile.”
SAMANTHA SENGEL ANNOUNCED AS REPLACEMENT
Mayor Keller announced a two-month transition between Mr. Rael and Dr. Sengel that begins with the City Council confirmation process for the new CAO. She has over two decades of experience in management and executive leadership at Central New Mexico College. She brings relevant government work experience to the role and has long-standing existing relationships with City, County and State leaders.
Mayor Keller had this to say about her appointment:
“Dr. Sengel is a rare find in New Mexico; she was raised here, is one of the few people in our city with the relevant very large government management experience, and has the passion to transition her decades of deep concern for educating our workforce into full dedication to lifting up all things City of Albuquerque. Her qualifications and experience are a tremendous compliment to the City leadership team, for collaborating with stakeholders and for all we need to do to help our city.”
Dr. Samantha Sengel had this to say about her appointment:
“I am so pleased to be able to continue my focus on developing the future of Albuquerque and central New Mexico as a great place to live, learn, work, and prosper. This has been my life’s work for a quarter century, and I look forward to working alongside all of our dedicated City employees to continue that focus.”
Dr. Samantha Sengel is the second female ever appointed CAO and both have been appointed by Mayor Tim Keller. The first female CAO was Sarita Nair who served as Keller’s CAO during his first term from 2013 to 2017.
Links to quoted news sources are here:
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
A major hallmark of CAO Lawrence Rael is that he is indeed a real survivor having worked successfully with 4 of Albuquerque’s Mayors, two of who were well known to have very strong and aggressive personalities and difficult to deal with at times. His reputation was one of a low-key approach to government, always very mindful and respectful who was Mayor and always knowing how to “keep the trains running on time” which he always did. There is little doubt that Rael is one of the most knowledgeable of government officials in the state. There is no doubt there were more than a few controversies he dealt with, but he was able to deal with them responsibly and professionally always being the dedicated public servant. Congratulations to CAO Lawrence Rael for a job well done and his well-earned retirement and best wishes to him and his family!