City Manager Sharon Caballero resigned Friday after five and a half months on the job.
In leaving, she criticized Mayor Tony Marquez’s leadership style but praised him for his honesty.
Her resignation comes at a time when the city government has yet to fill five directors’ positions on a permanent basis. Another director is suffering health problems and is likely to be out during the days ahead.
Caballero, a former Highlands University president, was hired in late June after a City Council majority fired six directors. The mayor, elected in March, hired her to help him carry out his promised agenda for change.
But their relationship had apparently soured in recent weeks.
Caballero said she sent Marquez an e-mail around 3 p.m. Friday informing him that she was resigning. She is taking a couple of weeks of paid vacation, but she won’t be returning.
She said the mayor had planned to hold meetings with her on Thursday and Friday but cancelled them both because he was busy. As of this morning, the two hadn’t spoken since Wednesday.
“I thank her for her hard work, and I wish her well in her future endeavors,” the mayor said this morning.
On Thursday, Caballero said she found out early in the morning that Utilities Director George DuFour was in the emergency room. His blood pressure had gone up to dangerously high levels, she said.
She immediately went to the hospital to see him.
Caballero said it was believed that DuFour’s health problem was stress-related. He was facing a lot of pressure from the mayor, she said.
“George DuFour almost died before my eyes. I said this wasn’t going to happen to me,” she said.
A month before, Caballero said she suffered a health problem in which she lost the sight in her left eye twice over a couple of days. She said she, too, was told it was stress-related.
Since joining the city, Caballero has had to also serve as interim finance director and at times, interim city clerk.
“There’s 1,000 things the mayor wants to get done. It’s very difficult to get him to focus,” she said. “I still believe in what he’s trying to do. He’s extremely honest. He micromanages a lot. There can’t be two city managers.”
Marquez said he’s not micromanaging but that he has an aggressive agenda. He said his priorities include customers service, water, and improvements to parks and recreation.
While the last mayor, Henry Sanchez, didn’t use computers, Marquez’s preferred form of communication is e-mail. Caballero said that’s how she often communicated with the mayor.
Hours after DuFour went to the hospital, Marquez sent an e-mail to Caballero asking, “Why didn’t you tell me about the director?” she said.
Caballero said she was taken aback that the mayor didn’t even use DuFour’s name or mention his particular situation.
“George DuFour literally almost died,” she said. “I guess I come from a different time and era.”
Asked what she meant, Caballero said she came from a time in which people showed more compassion for one another.
She said the e-mail convinced her that she should resign, something that she had already been mulling over.
“I saw what was going to happen to all of us,” she said. “I’m not going to die for this job.”
Marquez said that as of this morning, no one has given him an update on DuFour’s situation.
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Caballero copied her e-mailed resignation to the other council members who have access to the Internet.
Councilwoman Diane Moore, who was in Alamogordo over the weekend, said Saturday that she was hoping that before she got home, Caballero would change her mind. She said she wanted Marquez to persuade her to stay.
“I support Sharon Caballero to continue to be our city manager,” Moore said.
On Monday, Moore said she called City Hall and found out that Caballero wasn’t back. She said she was frustrated.
“We’re in the worst position in the three years I’ve been on the City Council,” said Moore, who has typically allied herself with Marquez.
She said part of the reason for the bad situation was the declining economy. But it also had to do with the mayor’s micromanaging, she said.
She said the mayor hadn’t even called to talk about Caballero’s resignation.
“The mayor should be working in the front offices today,” Moore said.
Councilman Andrew Feldman said he was disappointed with Caballero’s decision.
“It was her decision,” he said. “Hopefully, the city can continue to move forward. I thought she was doing a good job.”
He said he didn’t know who Marquez had in mind for interim city manager. As for the other vacancies, he said the mayor interviewed the top two candidates for finance director over the weekend and that the position should be filled soon.
Councilman Morris Madrid said the city needs to quickly find someone who can bring much-needed stability to City Hall — “someone with knowledge and leadership ability and someone who can organize a management team and get the city moving.”
Madrid, who often questioned Caballero’s actions, said it’s imperative to get a city manager who has municipal government experience. Madrid, himself a former city manager, noted that the position has had much turnover during the last decade.
“Becoming city manager is not a long-term career move,” he said.
He noted that it may be particularly difficult to find a qualified candidate, given that there is a little more than a year before the next municipal election. In Las Vegas, new mayors typically pick their own city managers.
Both Madrid and Councilman Cruz Roybal voted against Caballero’s selection in June.
For her part, Caballero said she has “positive thoughts” about Marquez.
“I hope he finds someone who is really good. He deserves that,” she said. “I believe in what he’s trying to do. He’ll do better without me.”
Marquez said this morning that he was going to ask Elmer Martinez, the city’s community development director, to be the interim city manager. There was no word this morning whether Martinez had accepted the offer.