Patronage politics – not the city government we need | Editorials
This is not a criticism of Danny Maki’s qualifications to work for the City of Santa Fe.
Maki, who worked as a field manager for Mayor Alan Webber’s re-election campaign, is now a senior adviser and neighborhood engagement coordinator. He will be paid $75,000 a year to advise new city manager John Blair, Webber and the city council.
Gathering information, finding out what people think about topics and giving advice – it’s, as Maki puts it, in his “wheelhouse”. He has worked as a campaign strategist and understands the issues and the voters; in the context of this profession, this is reflected for the residents.
The city obviously needs to be in touch with what people think, want and need. However, consider this: in the recent reorganization of city government, a comprehensive office of community engagement was created – first called Constituent and Council Services, this is the former Clerk’s Office from the city. Neighborhood engagement can and certainly should be managed through community engagement.
When you consider that a community engagement office already exists, a neighborhood engagement coordinator is hardly a critical position. At least not before hiring more staff to clean and maintain parks, work in recreation, patch potholes, balance the budget, and pick up trash — the jobs the city needs to do to run smoothly.
Instead, we have a political agent in the heart of City Hall, with taxpayers footing the bill.
The position, created two years ago, was never filled after being advertised. A few interviews took place, but the position remained open.
Fast forward to 2022 and the hiring of Maki. This is not how a 21st century city government should operate, especially when the professionalization of city hall was an achievement cited by Webber when he sought re-election.
In the days of patronage politics at the local level, any new mayor took over and installed supporters in key positions. Their loyalty was often to the person, not to the best interests of the city and its citizens. Eventually, civil service jobs were made non-exempt, meaning workers could not be fired or harassed for political purposes. This ensures loyalty to the greater good, not to an individual’s political fortune.
Maki’s job is exempt — he serves at the whim of superiors — but just because he can be fired at will doesn’t mean he should have been hired in the first place.
Politics and politics make uncomfortable bedfellows. Someone whose job it is to listen to citizens shouldn’t worry about also having to “advise” the boss, whatever that means. This setup creates a loyalty split that probably won’t work — and worse, puts the job and the person holding it at a disadvantage.
Danny Maki might very well be able to do this job. But it’s far from what the city needs. Nor is it the one who should have been filled by a partisan appointment. Yet here we are.