BELEN — After nearly four years of running the city of Belen, Leona Vigil has decided to step down from the city manager’s position.
Vigil, who was appointed in March 2016 by Mayor Jerah Cordova, had been city clerk and community services director for six years before being appointed as city manager. She has been an employee of the city of Belen for about 20 years.
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While she’s stepping down from her position as city manager, she isn’t leaving the city. Vigil will now be the community services director, a position which she’s already been fulfilling for at least a year.
“I decided to step down after filing day for this past election,” Vigil said. “With every election comes transition and there’s always anxiety of the unknown — whose coming in, what the expectations are going to be.”
Vigil said that’s when she began looking at her position and what changes she’d like to make for herself. It was at that time she realized she missed working with the public.
“I’ve always worked with the public, and being city manager, I’m tied to my desk eight to 10 hours a day,” she said. “For the past two to three years, I’ve had to pull double, sometimes triple duty.”
With the high turnover in the city’s administration, Vigil has had to not only be city manager, but for a time also stand in as city clerk, community services director and recently human resource director.
With wearing so many hats, she doesn’t have the time to meet with the public and said she’s “stuck to her desk” having to fulfill other duties.
“I miss the public, I miss being able to focus on one department and seeing the difference I can make,” she said. “Here, I’m stretched so thin, I can’t see the difference.”
Mayor Jerah Cordova said he understands Vigil’s decision, and praised her efforts and commitment to the city.
“Leona’s been a fantastic city manager,” Cordova said. “She was instrumental in creating new growth for our city, and worked closely with staff day in and day out to complete a bunch of great projects, like our new fire station.
“She did it with heart and integrity,” the mayor said. “Thankfully, she’s staying with the city in a different role so we can keep the progress coming.”
As the city’s community services director, Vigil will be overseeing five departments, including recreation, the Retired Senior Volunteer Program, the airport, library and IT. The position also includes overseeing contract compliance.
“The city has tons of contracts and, unfortunately, we haven’t had anyone to ensure the compliance, so I have to catch up on that,” Vigil said.
She will also be in charge of building maintenance, where Vigil will go out and take inventory of the vacant buildings in town.
Another duty Vigil will take on is being in charge of public events held on city property organized by private organizations.
“I’ll be making sure the anti-donation clause isn’t being violated, and that in-kind services are matched,” she said.
In the nearly four years as city manager, Vigil she’s most proud of being able to help bring Keter to Valencia County.
“Steven Tomita, our economic development and planning director, invited me to participate in the whole process, and it came down to negotiating,” she remembers. “There were a lot of meetings … and when we finally got them to say yes, we all celebrated. It was about bringing jobs and economic development.”
While Vigil was able to accomplish most of what she wanted to as city manager, she said the one item that she wasn’t able to do is complete the city’s policies and procedures.
“It’s hard to manage an organization that doesn’t have policies and procedures,” Vigil said. “We need to have everything in writing, and it’s been mentioned in our audits that the city is too big not to have them.”
As for the next city manager, Vigil has some advice.
“Stick to your integrity. Stick to the law. Don’t be afraid to be a whistle-blower. If you see something is wrong, you’ve got to report it,” Vigil said. “The management and governing body has a segregation of duties.
“The manager is supposed to manage, while the council is supposed to create law, and sometimes those responsibilities get crossed,” she said. “There are times when members of the governing body will forget that and try to step into the management roll, and it gets confusing for employees and the public.”
As for Vigil’s future, she’s excited about her new role, although the mayor has asked, and she’s accepted to fill in as interim city manager until he nominates someone and the council confirms that person.
Clara Garcia is the editor and publisher of the Valencia County News-Bulletin.
She is a native of the city of Belen, beginning her journalism career at the News-Bulletin in 1998 as the crime and courts reporter. During her time at the paper, Clara has won numerous awards for her writing, photography and typography and design both from the National Newspaper Association and the New Mexico Press Association.