Karissa Culbreath

Rio Rancho’s newest city councilor, Karissa Culbreath, says her job isn’t to serve herself or her ideals, but as the “voice of the community.”
Culbreath was appointed in December to represent District 5 after the resignation of former councilor Jennifer Flor.
“I’m really excited to be able to serve the community in this way,” she said.
Culbreath said she’s working to set up COVID-safe listening sessions to find out what residents in her district want. She knows roads are a big issue and believes economic development is important.
“At the end of the day, my job is not to serve myself or my ideals,” she said.
Culbreath grew up in Albuquerque, and then left the state for college, where she met her husband, Brian. Although it wasn’t her initial plan, she said, the family came back to New Mexico eight years ago.
“Rio Rancho was just the natural fit for us,” she said.
Culbreath and her husband have two children who attend Rio Rancho Public Schools and a pre-pandemic puppy.
When the council seat opened, Culbreath said, it was an interesting opportunity and interesting timing in the wake of the COVID pandemic. She has a doctorate in microbiology and immunology from Vanderbilt University, works as the TriCore Infectious Disease Division chief and is an associate professor in the University of New Mexico School of Medicine.
Having worked in health care, Culbreath said there are social determinants of health — people’s health being affected by where they live, work, play and learn. City government touches on all of those aspects, she said, from having public safety where residents live to learning in the libraries.
The coronavirus has impacted different communities in different ways, she continued.
One of her goals is to work with business owners to make sure reopening rules and other pandemic-related subjects are clear.
She said Rio Ranchoans have done a good job of wearing masks and she hopes the community will have more vaccination events so normal operations can return safely and continue in a positive direction.
“We look forward to having the voice of the citizens guide how we move forward,” she said.
Still early in her service, she said she’s been listening to city staff, learning a lot and starting to get her “sea legs.”
“It’s fulfilling in a way I wasn’t expecting,” Culbreath said.
She sees the issues that come before the governing body as problems to solve by reviewing data and coming to a conclusion.
“As a scientist, that’s my nature: I solve problems,” she said.
She said she’s been deeply impressed with the staff’s hard work and dedication.
“They make sure we don’t have to think about what they spend hours worrying about,” Culbreath said.
She hasn’t decided if she’ll run for election to her council seat during the next city election in March 2022.
“We will see what happens,” she said.