Gregory Shaffer acknowledges he’s gotten into a good spot as the new Santa Fe County executive.
His predecessor, Katherine Miller, had been in office for more than a decade. County officials say she navigated deftly through the coronavirus pandemic and a variety of controversies as the county gained a AAA bond rating under her leadership and recovered from a series of scandals.
When Miller unexpectedly retired last year, the County Board of Commissioners didn’t look far — or long — to find his successor. He was in a nearby office.
“He knows everyone in the county and he knows where the problems are. So, you know, it made it easier for him, he just has to step into the role,” commissioner Hank Hughes said.
The transition, Shaffer said, was smooth.
“It’s a great job; it’s hard work,” he said. “It’s a job that I find very exciting to come to work every day because you have the chance to have an impact on the community in which you live and work. You know, all the problems we face are important to someone.
Shaffer, who has held numerous state and county jobs over the years and served as a county attorney before being named to the director position in the spring, said he accepted the position with the desire to make a difference and a philosophy of how the county should run.
“I think in terms of setting the tone for how the county works, it is imperative that we continue with the foundation of ethical government service, delivered by professionals who are real public servants, and that we approach what we do from a tax point of view. responsibility,” Shaffer said. “Everything we do must be sustainable.”
Shaffer was born and raised in Somerset, Pennsylvania, southeast of Pittsburgh, as the youngest of five siblings. He received his bachelor’s degree from Penn State University and later earned a law degree from New York University. After graduating, he worked in private practice at a law firm in New York City, handling general litigation and criminal defense cases.
Eventually, Shaffer decided he wanted a change of pace and made the decision to head west to New Mexico in 2004.
“Long story short, my wife and I were interested in, you know, living somewhere other than the New York metro area,” Shaffer said. “Along with my wife and I deciding to make northern New Mexico our home, I decided to pursue a career in public service.”
After moving, Shaffer began working for Santa Fe County as an assistant county attorney. Over the years, he worked for the Department of State Finance and Administration as Deputy General Counsel and General Counsel. He then had a brief stint in the Tax and Revenue Department as a Deputy Principal Advisor.
In 2014, Shaffer began working as a county prosecutor, until former Governor Susana Martinez appointed him as a judge of the First Judicial District Court in 2017 following the retirement of Sarah Singleton. He lost the Democratic primary for the job in 2018 to Maria Sanchez-Gagné.
After the election, Shaffer returned to the county and served in a variety of positions, including director of human resources, director of risk management, acting deputy county manager, and most recently, county attorney.
“I have been truly blessed in my public service career in New Mexico to have had the opportunity to serve our community in many different capacities,” Shaffer said. “I am thrilled to now be the county manager and find a different way to serve our community.”
For several of these years, Shaffer worked under Miller, first in the Department of Finance and Administration and then in the county.
“As far as my work with her, you know, she was a great boss. And I think one of the best public administrators in the state, and you know, I certainly learned a lot from her through report to county operations and management, which helped prepare me for this job,” Shaffer said.
Shaffer was appointed to her new position the same day Miller announced her retirement. County Commissioner Anna Hansen said council already knew Shaffer was interested in the job.
“We interviewed him; he came to the table with ideas with a lot of work he wanted to do for the county. He knew the county,” Hansen said. “It makes a huge difference to have someone who is already in the know, especially in a pandemic when there aren’t many quality candidates. … From my point of view, we had someone internally, who wanted the job, was ready to take on a difficult job and was supported by the commission.
As county executive, Shaffer has a duty to lead county staff while implementing the policies and priorities of the commission. Shaffer noted that while most of what the county does ends up going to him, he said credit for all the work that has been done over the past few months goes to others.
“It goes to the Board of County Commissioners, first and foremost, for having the foresight to fund and implement programs, and the people who have worked tirelessly to champion them,” Shaffer said.
Since taking office, Hughes said Shaffer has helped support the county’s development rights devolution program, intended to promote the preservation of agricultural, rural and scenic areas, and is setting up a committee to draw up an ordinance to reduce the use of single use. plastics in the department. This includes plastic bags, straws, stirrers and plastic containers, according to the resolution passed by county commissioners in May.
To do so, the committee is required to deliver an analysis report highlighting the impacts of plastic and polystyrene waste in county landfills, recycling centers and communities by 2023.
It must also develop an educational program aimed at discouraging the use of single-use plastics and informing the public of its risks to human and environmental health.
Shaffer and his team also helped draft a short-term rental ordinance, which was introduced by the commission in hopes of easing housing shortages. The ordinance now requires owners of short-term rentals — who typically work with companies like Airbnb or Vrbo — to register with the county.
“I think it was a difficult process, both for the commission, which made the changes, and for the staff. I think the county manager worked with us,” Hansen said. “I mean, nobody likes a moratorium on short-term rentals…but at the same time, they understood that’s what the commission wanted to do. So they worked with land use staff to make that happen.
Shaffer said one of the biggest challenges the county faces, even before he takes office, is low staffing levels in critical areas such as law enforcement and the center. county 911 dispatch.
“It’s really critical that we are able to fill these positions because it has a direct impact on the level of service we may be able to provide,” Shaffer said.
To help address this problem, Shaffer oversaw a classification and compensation study for non-union employees in the county, which he said significantly changed the county’s compensation system. The new system has been simplified, reducing the number of pay scales from 69 to 20. When implemented in November, some employees received wage increases of up to $9.28 per hour, l average employee receiving $2.13 more per hour.
The new pay system is estimated to cost the county an additional $1.67 million in the first year of its initial implementation. It also includes planned increases for eligible employees in future years.
“I think it’s made us much more competitive with the surrounding markets where we compete to attract talent,” Shaffer said.
Shaffer officially started working as county manager in May and has a three-year contract. He said he planned to stay on board as long as the commission had him.
Hughes said the commission hopes to compel him.
“I think our hope would be that we would all want him to stay, even after the contract is over,” Hughes said.