The village of Questa has hired Nicholas Maestas, a New Mexico-based congressional staffer for U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján and an outsider to the village, as its top administrator.
Maestas comes to the job with three years of experience in Luján's office. Most recently, he served as a constituent liaison, helping norteños navigate and work through the bureaucracy of federal agencies. He's previously worked for Luján's election campaign, as well a night manager at a Santa Fe Walmart, according to his résumé obtained by The Taos News.
"This is an exciting time for the village. Questa is coming into its own in a post-mining economy. It has a lot of potential and I can see it," Maestas told The Taos News in a July 25 phone interview.
Maestas graduated from New Mexico Highlands University, which is in Las Vegas, in 2011 with a degree in political science. He has no family connections to Questa, he said, but has worked with the Questa Economic Development Fund board.
His first day on the job will be Aug. 14. He has a starting salary of $60,000 a year, $520 less than the previous administrator's salary at the time of her departure, according to the village clerk Renee Martinez.
Questa been without an administrator - manager of the village's day-to-day affairs - since late February.
Loretta Trujillo, the Questa administrator for almost three years, resigned in late February following disagreements with the village's mayor, Mark Gallegos, about responsibility for the monthlong water crisis that left nearly 1,800 people without water throughout December 2016.
"Based on the fact that I knew the mayor didn't want me there anymore, I figured it was time to move on," said Trujillo in a March interview. The four-member village council voted unanimously in February to retain Trujillo as administrator against the recommendation of the mayor. Still, she resigned within two weeks.
Since that time, Gallegos, who is also a Taos County commissioner, has stepped into some administrative responsibilities for the village staff of about 15 people. That has become a point of contention with at least one member of the council, Julian Cisneros, who told The Taos News in a March interview that Gallegos "has way too much power."
Gallegos acknowledges there's been "some division" between himself and the council over the administrator job and how quickly to fill it. The post will have been vacant for half a year by the time Maestas starts.
The hiring of an administrator has been on most village council meeting agendas in the past six months, though efforts to do so have either been at a standstill or unsuccessful.
Six applicants - three from Taos County and three from out of state - applied when the job was advertised earlier this year.
While it seemed there was consensus between councilors and mayor about who to hire after reviewing the initial pool of applicants in May, that tacit agreement fell apart when it came time for a vote and the mayor offered up Anthony Martinez, former public works director for the village, as the candidate of choice. Martinez didn't get the job and his contract as public works director - a job that oversees the village's water system - was not renewed, Gallegos said.
The village eventually offered the job to Steven McKay, a Texan with experience in municipal administration, in late June. He accepted the job on a Tuesday, visited Questa on a Friday and the next day told the mayor and council he wouldn't actually be taking the job.
"I lost my warm and fuzzy about it," McKay, who was terminated from his previous administrator position in Fritch, Texas, told The Taos News in a July 24 interview. "I had a feeling it wasn't right," he said.
McKay said the village would not show him the approximately $2.1 million budget and documents related to the water crisis during his visit. Gallegos said the visit was meant to be a "soft" introduction and those documents hadn't been prepared ahead of time.
All the same, village councilors contacted by The Taos News were roundly pleased for Maestas to take the job next month. "We're all pretty excited to have an administrator in place," said Councilor John Anthony Ortega.