Truth or Consequences City Manager Bruce Swingle has had to build the airplane while flying it in the first four months of his tenure.
So far, Swingle has handled two emergencies, patching up the city’s northern electrical transformer and repairing one of the remaining three out of eight city wells still operating to prevent the city from going dark and dry. He has confronted the city’s cash crisis, guiding the city commission through about $1.8 million in budget cuts, with more to come, since what cash remains must be directed to repairing the city’s long-neglected infrastructure.
At the Sept. 22 city commission meeting, Swingle presented some basic operating instructions for flying the plane. He proposed policies that didn’t exist before and offered replacements for others that were so out of date they were in violation of state law. He also again addressed the northern transformer, this time guiding its replacement. Competitive outside bids to fill key positions were accepted, followed by contract awards. Contracts soon to expire but that have not yet gone out to bid were extended to ensure that needed work was performed in the interim.
Before securing commission approval of a thorough overhaul of the city’s personnel policy, Swingle reminded the commissioners of his bona fides in human resources. His 30 years of government HR experience has been recognized by the New Mexico Counties Association, which has called upon him to teach HR courses to county employees from around the state.
The city’s prior personnel policy was first written around 1988 and has been updated at various points since then. Swingle scrapped it altogether, noting: “It violated state law in several sections.” “This is current and correct with state law,” he said of the new policy, a document of more than 60 pages in length. It is “contemporary to best practices,” Swingle added.
When the new policy was first presented at the Sept. 8 meeting, the city commission requested that Swingle consider the many amendments proposed by resident Audon Trujillo, a former federal government contracting officer and project manager. Swingle reported on Sept. 22 that he and City Attorney Jay Rubin had examined Trujillo’s recommended changes and decided none of them should be incorporated. “The comments were not from an HR expert,” Swingle said, “and many of the suggestions did not apply.”
City Commissioner Randall Aragon responded to public comment by Trujillo and resident Ariel Dougherty advocating for the necessity of Trujillo’s suggested changes.
“Bruce [Swingle] is an expert at this,” Commissioner Aragon said. “He taught this stuff. Let’s stop this and move on.”
The city commission unanimously approved the resolution adopting the policy.
The procurement policy that Swingle also presented seems, upon examination, to closely mirror state law, covering bids, RFPs and multistep negotiation processes with bidders.
It, too, is an entirely new document, since the city’s existing procurement policy was outdated and “not comprehensive, Swingle explained.
The city commission, without discussing or commenting on the 60-page document, unanimously adopted the policy via resolution.
RISK CONTROL PROGRAM
Swingle had reported at the Sept. 8 commission meeting that he had been “surprised to learn” that the city had no risk control program. T or C had only a safety program dating from the late 1980s on the books, he said.
The new Risk Control Program presented by Swingle on Sept. 22 is a 40-page document. The opening “Policy Statement” summarizes its purpose: “It is the policy of the city to protect its human, capital and financial resources to the maximum extent possible from adverse consequences. Every effort will be made to reduce and/or eliminate losses that result in employee injuries, vehicular accidents and damage to facilities, properties and liability, which may arise from city services.”
The city manager is responsible for the overall implementation of the policy. Department heads are responsible for training staff and ensuring that the policy is followed within their respective departments. Employees are responsible for knowing and following the policy.
Since activities and risks vary by department, each department head will develop specific rules and procedures for their employees. Documented biannual inspections will be conducted on each department’s facilities, equipment and operations.
According to the program documentation, a “safety committee” will be formed by the city manager to aid in “planning, maintaining and monitoring this program.”
The city commission unanimously adopted the program via resolution, with no discussion.
LEGAL SERVICES RFP AND CONTRACTS
By state law, a city may contract with an attorney to provide legal services for a period of up to four years. City Attorney Jay Rubin’s four-year contract endedabout six months ago, but, as Swingle explained to the commissioners, the city was unable to issue a new RFP for legal services because the responsible staff member had left T or C’s employ. The commission agreed to extend Rubin’s contract, but it did so beyond the limit set by state procurement code.
Swingle made sure an RFP for legal services was one of the first issued when a new staff person was in place. The RFP had a three-week response time and garnered three respondents: Rubin, the city’s attorney for decades; the Santa Fe law firm Cuddy & McCarthy; and Santa Fe’s Coppler Law Firm, whose attorney John Appel has frequently consulted on city legal matters over the last decade.
During public comment, Ariel Dougherty expressed her opinion that the RFP’s short lead time and limited advertising reach were the reasons why so few law firms responded. The time limit was typical, Swingle said, and so was the handful of respondents, given T or C’s status as a small rural city located at a far remove from major urban areas.
Audon Trujillo complained that the evaluation team—Swingle, City Clerk Angela Torres and Assistant City Manager Traci Alvarez—were not legal experts. The chosen staff members “use legal services,” Swingle responded.
Rubin earned 95 points, Coppler 90 and Cuddy 83 in the RFP scoring. Swingle explained the Cuddy firm’s pricing proposal was too vague to estimate how much its services would cost. Swingle, investigating further, was told that, should the firm have previously drafted needed resolutions or ordinances, T or C would incur no charge for using them. Otherwise, an undetermined fee would be charged. “We could spend a quarter-million dollars” having routine documents drafted, Swingle noted.
The city commission unanimously awarded the RFP to Rubin and then later unanimously approved Rubin’s contract. The contract is for one year, renewable for up to four years. Rubin’s hourly rate is $190. His compensation is capped at $66,000 a year, except for court filing fees, which will be billed separately. He is expected to work nearly 350 hours a year, or an average of about seven hours a week.
The city’s contract with Coppler for John Appel’s services, to be billed at $190 an hour, along with a schedule of other service costs, was extended last June to the end of September. The city commission approved a second extension through June 30, 2022, providing city staff time to develop an RFP for ancillary legal services.
Coppler will be paid up to nearly $60,000 during the nine-month contract period, which includes about $5,000 in gross receipts taxes that are collected from independent contractors for their services.
AIRPORT MANAGEMENT CONTRACT EXTENDED
Chad Rosaker of Tech 45 Services of Las Cruces has served as the manager of T or C’s municipal airport for about a year under a contract let without going out to competitive bid. The city commission previously approved two three-month extensions of Tech 45’s contract to give city staff time to draft a more extensive RFP for a fixed-base operator. The city commission approved a third three-month extension on Sept. 22, covering October through New Year’s Day.
Over the three-month contract period Tech 45 will be paid $11,392, which includes gross receipts taxes the company must pay as an independent contractor.
NEW CODE COMPLIANCE OFFICER
Long-time Code Compliance Officer Raymond Chavez has retired. At Swingle’s request, the city commission unanimously approved the appointment of Jamie Sweeney as the “designated zoning official” charged with enforcing the city’s property and building codes. Ms. Sweeney’s formal appointment to the position was necessary to enable her to legally enter private property.
NORTHERN ELECTRICAL TRANSFORMER
There were four respondents to the city’s RFP to replace the northern transformer. Their bids were graded by Bo Easley, the director of the city electric department; Kenneth Moran, the department’s foreman; and Steve House, the city’s electrical subcontractor, who is the owner and chief executive officer of Triple H Solar, located in Rio Rancho.
Virginia Transformer Corporation was deemed nonresponsive. The qualified three respondents were:
American Electrical Testing, which earned 1,200 points in the RFP scoring, and submitted a bid of $1,188,815, including gross receipt taxes
Bixby Electric earned 550 points and earned $1,158,000, not including GRT.
McKinley Sales, which also earned 550 points, was the lowest bidder at $913,000, not including GRT.
American Electrical and Bixby Electric stated delivery time would be within 34 weeks, while McKinley Sales promised delivery within 58 weeks.
The evaluation team recommended that American Electrical, a national company based in Foxboro, Mass., be awarded the bid, provided the city can secure the needed financing from the New Mexico Finance Authority. The city applied for financing last month and has not received a final decision.
The city commission awarded the RFP unanimously to American Electrical, pending financing, with no discussion.
The commission then approved a nearly $1.2 million contract with American Electrical to replace the northern transformer, also pending financing.