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Tuesday, Dec 12th

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Keller announces executive team appointments

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ALBUQUERQUE – On Nov. 27, Mayor-Elect Tim Keller announced appointments to a number of executive positions at the Albuquerque Mayor’s office. Keller is committed to building a qualified and professional administration to address the challenges facing Albuquerque head on.

Sarita Nair will serve as the City’s Chief Administrative Officer (CAO). Nair has served as the Office of the State Auditor’s Chief Government Accountability Officer and General Counsel for the past three years, following a prestigious law career where she represented government and business clients. She earned a master’s degree from the University of New Mexico School of Community and Regional Planning. Nair will be the first woman in the City’s history to serve as CAO.

Keller also named Sunalei Stewart as Chief of Staff and Deputy CAO, Sanjay Bhakta as Chief Financial Officer, and Justine Freeman as Deputy Chief of Staff.

“One of the most important tasks during this historically short transition period is crafting a leadership team to take over operations on day one, while implementing our vision for a safe, innovative and inclusive city,” said Mayor-Elect Tim Keller. “Each of these appointees brings strong experience and dedication to their work and will serve our city well.”

The appointments will take effect Dec. 1 on an interim basis initially.

Chief Administrative Officer (CAO): Sarita Nair, JD, MCRP

Nair served as the Office of the State Auditor’s Chief Government Accountability Officer and General Counsel for the past three years. She joined the OSA after working as a private practice attorney, representing private companies and public entities in business and governance matters since 2004, and was a shareholder at Sutin, Thayer and Browne. She is AV-rated by Martindale Hubbell, and has been recognized by Best Lawyers, Southwest Super Lawyers, and Chambers & Partners USA. Before entering private practice, Nair clerked for Judge Lynn Pickard at the New Mexico Court of Appeals. She graduated magna cum laude from the University of New Mexico School of Law.

Prior to her law career, Nair worked in the field of international development and consulted on policy initiatives for a number of organizations, including the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean and the New York City Parks and Recreation Department. She earned a master’s degree from the University of New Mexico School of Community and Regional Planning and earned her bachelor’s degree from Wesleyan University. She is active in the community, having served on the boards of many nonprofits and legal groups.

Chief of Staff and Deputy CAO: Sunalei Stewart, JD, MA, CFE

Stewart served as the Office of the State Auditor’s Chief of Staff for the past three years. Prior to joining OSA, he served as New Mexico’s Deputy Commissioner of Public Lands from 2012 to 2015. Prior to joining the State Land Office, from 2004 - 2012 he worked for former U.S. Senator Jeff Bingaman in various positions, including Legislative Director and Chief Counsel. Stewart also worked for the U.S. Department of State, Office of the Legal Adviser.

Stewart was raised in New Mexico and received his bachelor’s degree in political science and philosophy from the University of Arizona and his juris doctorate and master’s degree from American University. He is a member of the New Mexico State Bar (Active), California State Bar (Inactive) and Oregon State Bar (Inactive). Stewart is also a Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE).

Chief Financial Officer (CFO): Sanjay Bhakta, CPA, CGFM, CFE, CGMA

Bhakta served as Deputy State Auditor for the past three years. He came to the State Auditor’s Office from the Department of Finance & Administration (DFA). While at the DFA, he served in various capacities such as Chief Financial Officer, Administrative Services Director, and acting Local Government Division Director.

Prior to joining the DFA, Bhakta worked at the NM State Auditor’s office from 2004 - 2012. He started as a Senior Auditor and progressed through the rank of an Audit Supervisor and became an Audit Manager in 2011. Prior to joining the State Government, Bhakta had a diverse career in the private sector in India, Nigeria and USA. Bhakta moved to the United States in 1988 and worked as the Import Manager for a women’s wear company in New York from 1988 to 1990. He then became the Managing Partner of his family’s business of developing hospitality and food services outlets in New Jersey and spent 14 years in that business prior to moving to New Mexico in 2004.

Bhakta is a Certified Public Accountant (CPA), Certified Government Financial Manager (CGFM), Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE) and Chartered Global Management Accountant (CGMA). Bhakta received his bachelor’s degree in advanced accounting & auditing from SPU in Vidyanagar, India and master’s degree in managerial accounting & international banking from MSU in Baroda, India.

Deputy Chief of Staff: Justine Freeman, MA

Freeman served as Deputy Chief of Staff for the Office of the State Auditor for the past three years. Prior to joining the OSA, she served as a leadership analyst at the New Mexico State Legislature.

Freeman was raised in New Mexico and went on to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree in political, legal and economic analysis from Mills College and a Master of Arts degree in international relations from San Francisco State University.

Before returning to New Mexico, she worked in the field of international relations, specializing in gender equality efforts with Human Rights Watch in San Francisco, CA and Paris, France; and CARE USA, USAID, and the American Red Cross in Washington, D.C.

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