Matt Geisel is the new Rio Rancho city manager. File photo.

City of Rio Rancho economic development manager Matt Geisel is the next city manager.

Rio Rancho Governing Body members voted 5-1 at their virtual meeting Thursday night to move Geisel to the top appointed position in the city, effective May 3. Councilor Jim Owen cast the dissenting vote.

Owen said he was disturbed that Geisel was leaving the position of acting Development Services Department director, where Owen thought he was most talented, and concerned about the direction of the city with the development director chair empty.

Geisel has most recently been the city economic development and business relations manager, as well as the acting development director.

After the vote confirming the mayor’s nomination, Geisel said he started talking with mentors, peers and others about becoming a city manager when he began working with the city in 2009.

“It brought work to my life that meant something, rather than just chasing numbers,” he said.

He said he appreciated his colleagues, mentors and supporters.

“I will not let you down,” Geisel said.

His salary is $170,000 a year plus benefits, including a city vehicle, according to his new employment contract. The prior city manager, David Campbell, had a salary of $175,000.

Geisel is an at-will employee serving at the pleasure of the governing body, according to his contract.

Under the contract, if Geisel is fired or asked to resign for any reason other than breach of contract, a felony conviction, a misdemeanor conviction that discredits the city, materially injuring the city or failing to do his job for a sustained period of time, the city owes him a lump-sum severance payment equal to six months’ pay and compensation for unused vacation and sick time, plus six months of the employer’s portion of medical insurance premiums if he chooses to seek COBRA coverage. Accepting the severance pay would require him to release the city from all legal claims related to his employment.

If Geisel wants to resign, he must provide at least 60 days’ notice unless he and the city agree otherwise.

In addition to calls and text messages councilors mentioned, more than 20 local and state-wide business people and current or former officials sent letters supporting Geisel’s appointment. They cited experience working with him and his local knowledge, work ethic and personality.

“Mr. Geisel offers what no other candidate under consideration for the position of city manager can – in-depth knowledge and experience working in our community and our state,” wrote retired restaurateur and Rio Rancho resident Salvatore LiRosi. “So frequently, local leaders are inclined to turn to those outside our state and community to fill leadership positions. Why? When we have homegrown, talented and experienced individuals, who have demonstrated commitment to our community, they should be elevated to fill important leadership roles.”

Councilors Paul Wymer, Bob Tyler and Daniel Stoddard said they had concerns about hiring Geisel as manager due to his lack of city management experience and outside perspective, but cited his work ethic and support from constituents and others in making their decisions.

“This is not about me,” Wymer said. “This is about the city and what’s best for the city.”

After the vote, he and other councilors said Geisel would have their full support and they would hold him accountable.

Mayor Gregg Hull said he’d seen Geisel sacrifice and manage the duties of four positions.

“I do not believe we need to throw sand in a well-running engine just to see what happens,” he said of the possibility of hiring an out-of-state candidate.

He also pointed to the outpouring of support.

“The citizens didn’t just ask us for Mr. Geisel; they asked us to help him be successful,” Hull said.

Deputy manager pay raise

Deputy City Manager Peter Wells has served as acting city manager since Campbell’s departure in 2020, but declined to accept a pay increase when he was appointed or apply for the permanent position. He is returning to his job as deputy city manager.

Governing body members unanimously approved a pay increase for Wells to $150,000 from about $118,000 on Thursday night.

“It was not requested, but it is appreciated,” Wells said after the vote.

Hull sponsored the pay raise, saying Wells served as acting city manager much longer than expected because the manager search was delayed due to the pandemic. Hull said Wells took on duties of multiple vacant administration positions with no extra compensation and will support Geisel during the transition.

In other business, governing body members:

  • Authorized the purchase of a building in the Plaza @ Enchanted Hills for a city Quality of Life Center, and adjusted the budget to earmark $3 million of unallocated reserve money to buy, remodel, furnish and equip the planned library and multi-purpose recreation center;
  • Approved the second and final reading of an ordinance modifying terms of an industrial revenue bond for now-closed Stolar Research Corp. to arrange for payment of debts;
  • Approved off-site small brewer and restaurant beer and wine liquor licenses for the second Turtle Mountain Brewing Co. location expected to open in the Plaza @ Enchanted Hills; and
  • Heard about the possibility of establishing a permanent fund that would provide recurring revenue for city operations. For it to be established, the charter review committee would have to recommend it and voters would have to approve it.