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Las Cruces councilors approve contract for new city manager

One councilor opposes, citing concerns about communication


This story has been updated with further comment from District 1 City Councilor Cassie McClure.

A divided vote confirmed Ikani Taumoepeau as Las Cruces’ next city manager Monday.

The vote was not without its controversies. District 1 city councilor Cassie McClure was the sole dissenting voice against the $216,000 contract.

Taumoepeau, a former assistant city manager, was chosen from a pool of nine internal candidates. The decision to hire internally, initiated by former city manager Ifo Pili outside of a council meeting, has raised questions about transparency and legality.

“I also have faith in (Taumoepeau)’s ability to do his job and have had nothing but good interactions with him even before I was a councilor,” McClure said at the end of the meeting. “As a writer, I place a huge premium on communication, and this is still a very uncomfortable forum for me to speak in public. But I think communication builds trust, and I think we failed in that for this round.”

McClure cited a proposed zoning change that was not well publicized as an example, but did not specifically mention the process that led to Taumoepeau’s ascension.

After the meeting, McClure declined to be interviewed by three media outlets present, including the Las Cruces Bulletin. She said she’d release a statement on Facebook in lieu of an interview. 

There, McClure wrote that picking a city manager was among the council's most important jobs, but the process was rushed and skipped over the public, she said.

"I – speaking for myself as I won't speak for the rest of council – would have wished there had been more ways to create confidence, and build trust, for the voters by explaining why an internal hire was preferred," McClure wrote.

Taumoepeau himself called the decision to hire internally “brave.” He said it was merited by the talent pool of staff members working for the city of Las Cruces.

“I promise each and every one of you that I will give you 120 percent of myself,” Taumoepeau said before the council approved the contract. “I can do that because there is a staff of 1,700 qualified, intelligent staff that will give the shirt off their back to impress you.”

The contract is three years long. It includes a $500 monthly vehicle allowance, health benefits, two weeks of vacation, 16 hours of personal leave, 160 hours of annual leave and 96 hours of sick leave.

“Folks might look at that and say, ‘Wow, that salary,’ or ‘Wow, those benefits’,” Johana Bencomo said. “But honestly, it’s because this job is incredibly difficult.”

Unlike Albuquerque or Santa Fe, Las Cruces has a weak council system that empowers an unelected city manager as the executive officer. Taumoepeau will oversee a workforce of 1,700 and a budget of more than $500 million.

Las Cruces, Ikani Taumoepeau, Las Cruces City Council