Sweeping changes for local leaders


With the recent announcement that City Manager Ifo Pili will be returning to his home state of Utah, we are now in a situation where the city, county and New Mexico State University are all searching for new leaders at the same time.

The process to fill these top positions should be thorough and transparent. NMSU is furthest along, having narrowed its list of candidates to five finalists after a nationwide search.

The five candidates are completing their campus visits, and the Board of Regents is expected to announce its decision on March 11. Let’s hope regents have learned from the fiasco they created the last time they went through this process.

Instead of selecting one new leader to replace Garrey Carruthers, regents picked two; at a combined salary of almost $1 million a year. It was a half-baked plan concocted without input from faculty, staff or the community that was always destined to create animosity and end in failure.

In 2021, both the Faculty Senate and the student Senate passed no-confidence votes against university leaders. Since then, a hazing scandal has led to criminal charges against former NMSU basketball players and raised new questions about the leadership of the athletics department.

The county commission voted in December not to extend the contract of County Manager Fernando Macias, who had previously served as a state senator and district court judge, and will now be running for district attorney.

The dispute that led to his ouster came over the commissioners’ desire to participate in his annual evaluation. Macias is the latest in a long line of leaders with strong personalities to hold that position, dating back all the way to Brian Haines.

He was also the latest to engage in a power struggle with the sheriff’s department. My hope is that whoever is named to the position is able to sit down with Sheriff Kim Stewart and come to a mutual understanding that allows both leaders to do their jobs.

The county has hired an outside firm to conduct its search.

The city has taken a different approach. Mayor Eric Enriquez suggested they will look to the group of city administrators working for Pili to fill the position. That may make sense, given the different circumstances of this transition. Pili isn’t being forced out. If the city council is happy with his work, it may make sense to promote from within and maintain continuity.

Pili did just that a few months ago when he named Jeremy Story the new police chief. That seems to have worked out well so far.

While the three new leaders will all face different challenges, they will also have one thing working in their favor. They will be coming into power at a time when the state is flush with new revenue.

The $10.2 billion budget passed by the Legislature this year is by far the largest in state history and includes $1.5 billion for higher education. At a recent budget retreat, Pili told members of the city council that its budget had increased by 25 percent in the past three years.

Those entrusted with leading these searches should be thoughtful and deliberate. They have our future in their hands.

Walter Rubel can be reached at

Opinion, new leaders