Eric Strahl oversaw $2 million in budget cuts

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FARMINGTON — Changes on the City Council have led to a shakeup among Bloomfield city officials, as City Manager Eric Strahl and City Clerk Erikka Martinez have resigned.

Mayor Cynthia Atencio said in an email statement that Strahl's last day on the job was Monday, and Martinez submitted her resignation on March 27.

"She stated to me that she would like to spend more time with her children and continue her education," Atencio said. "The City would like to thank Mr. Strahl and Mrs. Martinez for their service to the City."

Atencio said the council began searching for an interim city manager immediately after Strahl's resignation and will likely appoint an interim city manager during Monday's City Council meeting. The council will meet at 6 p.m. at Bloomfield City Hall, 915 N. 1st Street.

When reached by phone, Strahl said his resignation was prompted by some of the decisions made by the new mayor and two new councilors.

Ken Hare and Sue Finch were elected to the council in March, defeating incumbents Elwin Roark and DeLaws Lindsay, as well as other candidates Cecilia Gunnell and Richard Kemp. Atencio also was elected in March, defeating incumbent Scott Eckstein and challenger Benny Kling.

“We just had differing points of view on what the city should be doing going forward,” Strahl said. 

Atencio, Hare and Finch campaigned against spending money on lawsuits and criticized the city's pay cuts and layoffs. They campaigned against spending money on legal fees for a lawsuit against the city of Farmington over Bloomfield's potential purchase of electric utility infrastructure during a time when the city struggled to pay its staff.

Hare also questioned Eckstein during the campaign about a lawsuit over the Ten Commandments monument that had been located in front of City Hall. The lawsuit will cost the city $700,000, which Bloomfield must pay to the lawyer who represented the American Civil Liberties Union.

Strahl said the newcomers were not aware of a lot of the work he had done for the city. Strahl had been city manager since July 2015 and was hired after the resignation of former City Manager David Fuqua.

“When I started, they had some really critical financial issues and hadn’t really prepared for them,” Strahl said.

He said the city under his leadership had to make some tough decisions. Bloomfield cut $2 million from its budget, and some employee positions were eliminated. Other employees received pay cuts.

While the spending cuts were not popular, Strahl said he thinks overall the decisions he made were the right ones. He said the city is better off financially and operationally now than it was when he was hired.

“The city isn’t out of the woods yet,” he cautioned.

Strahl worked with the city staff to implement a new water and sewer policy, but he said there will still need to be rate increases in the future. He said Bloomfield will need to replace its wastewater treatment plant, a water storage tank and the water line between Bloomfield and Aztec. Strahl said the city will need to concentrate on utility rates and build up reserves to pay for those multimillion-dollar projects.

Strahl said he thinks his biggest achievement as city manager of Bloomfield was getting the city through its financial problems. When the oil and gas industries entered a major downturn, the city had insufficient reserves to deal with the drop in gross receipts tax revenue.

Strahl said many of the things he did as city manager went unnoticed by many people. For instance, when there were not enough employees to keep up on landscaping maintenance, Strahl said he went out in the mornings to pull weeds in the medians on U.S. Highway 64.

Strahl’s resignation comes as the city is beginning to prepare its budget for fiscal year 2019. He said he submitted his resignation because the council decided it wanted to make changes now.

“I enjoyed the time I spent here,” he said. “It was a real challenge, and I enjoy challenges.”

Strahl does not plan to immediately leave Bloomfield.

“I’m just going to take some time off and sort out what the family wants to do,” he said.

Atencio highlighted some changes that will be happening in Bloomfield in her email statement. She said Bloomfield will begin developing strategic leadership initiatives that will include development of leaders from within the city.

"Council members will be asked to lead select initiatives and provide strategic oversight," Atencio said.

She said the initiatives and oversight are intended to help operational efficiencies and accountable city government. Atencio said the City Council is committed to community engagement and transparency. 

"I look forward to collaborating with the Department heads and employees as we make this cultural transition," Atencio said.

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at hgrover@daily-times.com.

 

 

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