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V.20 No.51 | 12/22/2011

news

City rolls back eco-friendly building regs

Councilors have been kicking around the idea of repealing Albuquerque’s building code and replacing it with newly relaxed state rules. We wrote about the plan to undo Albuquerque’s tough standards, but the vote on this measure has been postponed a couple of times.

Tonight, the Council voted in favor of a measure that’s intended to create a “friendlier environment for builders,” said Mayor Richard Berry in a news release. (His pre-mayor background includes co-running Cumbre Construction, a company owned by his wife, Maria.)

In addition to passing a Standardized Energy Code, the city hired a green building code program manager by the name of Lee Brammeler.

More on this story in coming editions.

V.20 No.50 | 12/15/2011

news

The NAACP is suing the city

Yesterday, the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People filed a discrimination lawsuit in District Court against the city of Albuquerque. It accuses the city of treating African-American employees differently on the basis of race.

The lawsuit charges that the city does not promote African-American workers, pays them less and asks extra work of them without compensation. They are also subject to harassment and intimidation, according to the lawsuit.

The city demands that African-American employees “perform menial and demeaning tasks,” states the lawsuit, and requires them “to adhere to unwritten policies and procedures” that don’t apply to other city workers. “This conduct is continuing and is pervasive,” according to the suit.

In June, the NAACP filed a discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a national agency that ensures federal discrimination laws are enforced. In September, the commission told Albuquerque’s NAACP that it was within its rights to take the issue to court.

The African-American employees of the city will be represented as a class by the Law Office of Brad Hall. The suit says they’ve suffered “loss of income and benefits, damage to their reputation, severe emotional distress, [and] disruption of their career,” among other things.

V.20 No.35 | 9/1/2011

news

Sheriff plans to hold deputy graduation at a church

UPDATED 4:50 p.m.

Legacy Church will be the site of tomorrow’s graduation ceremony for new sheriff’s deputies. Sheriff Dan Houston’s bio on the Bernalillo County website states that he’s worked as the church’s security director for years.

Sheriff Department spokesperson Jennifer Vega Brown confirmed that Houston is a member of the church. She points out that under former Sheriff Manny Gonzales, graduation ceremonies were also held at Legacy Church. The Albuquerque Police Department has held two graduations there in the last few years, as well as at Hoffmantown Church, the APD chapel and secular venues, according to spokesperson Trish Hoffman.

Vega Brown says Legacy is a common place to hold large events, and other government agencies utilize the church. Plus, she says, the auditorium is just an auditorium. “When you walk in the front door, you don’t know that you’re in a church.” The county uses the venue, she says, because it’s free, there’s no fee for parking, and it can accommodate the number of people who will attend the 18-cadet graduation.

When the state’s chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union got wind of the venue earlier this week, Executive Director Peter Simonson had to object. “There are countless nonreligious sites that the Sheriff’s Department could have used to hold their graduation ceremony,” he said in an interview with the Alibi. “What’s really at stake is whether a government official can use his authority to impose religious beliefs on employees.”

The U.S. Constitution prohibits that, Simonson says. Holding the graduation ceremony in a church violates the religious establishment clause of the First Amendment. Not to mention, he adds, there’s a comparable provision in New Mexico’s constitution. Both indicate “no government official should endorse a particular religious faith in their capacity as an agent of government,” according to Simonson.

There’s grounds for a lawsuit here, he says, if a plaintiff steps forward.

Vega Brown counters that there’s nothing about the event that’s an endorsement of a religion. Though it’s standard practice to have a chaplain deliver an invocation, the Sheriff’s Department had not yet lined one up for tomorrow’s ceremony.

The ACLU of New Mexico issued a letter earlier today asking for the Sheriff’s Department to hold the graduation somewhere else. But it would be impossible to reschedule this late in the game, Vega Brown says.

V.20 No.29 | 7/21/2011

news

Darren White is stepping down

Public Safety Director Darren White is retiring. The announcement came about an hour after city councilors decided to seek an outside investigation into an incident involving White’s wife.

His resignation is effective immediately, according to city spokesperson Chris Ramirez.

Last week, White’s wife, Kathleen, drove her Porsche into a curb. Darren escorted her from the scene to the hospital.

This afternoon, the City Council’s Internal Operations Committee—Rey Garduño, Don Harris, Debbie O’Malley, Isaac Benton and Trudy Jones—decided to seek three investigators not connected to the city.

Mayor Richard Berry ordered William Deaton, the city’s independent review officer, to look into the incident. But some councilors suggested that since Deaton is a city employee, it could be hard for him to investigate a city official as high up as White.

The Council committee also considered spending as much as $55,000 on the investigation. Councilor Jones said the expenditure should go before the full Council when it reconvenes after its summer break in August. Others said the committee should be able to authorize the funds on its own. The committee will meet again to evaluate three possible investigators on Monday, July 25.

White released a statement late this afternoon. Here it is in full:

I am announcing my retirement today in order to end the distraction surrounding my wife’s recent accident and allow Mayor Richard Berry and city leaders to focus on the important issues the people of Albuquerque deserve to have addressed.

However, the investigation must move forward and I intend to work hard to clear my name and stand-up for my wife, whose medical condition was improperly made public through the illegal leaking of confidential medical records.    

Getting the truth out is very important to me and I am confident any investigation will show: 

• I made it clear to the police officer that he was in charge of conducting any investigation and that I would not interfere.

• Nearly an hour after the accident and when it was clear that the scene investigation was complete, I took my wife to get medical attention. No one at the scene disagreed with that action.

• I did not take my wife to the hospital with lights and sirens on, nor did I violate any policy regarding the use of emergency equipment.

• My wife was diagnosed with a seizure by a neurologist at Presbyterian and was subsequently hospitalized for two days.

• No doctor, including my wife’s own physician, believe that the medical condition that caused the accident had anything to do with the medication she has been taking daily without complication for over a year.

• The speculation in the illegally leaked paramedic report that the symptoms might have been caused by “opiates” was conclusively disproved by a drug test administered at the hospital.

• We never would have released any of my wife’s personal medical history until we learned from the media that someone illegally leaked her confidential, and misleading, medical records to the press.

• The leaking of the paramedic’s report in this case broke federal and state laws.

I am very proud of my lifetime record of public service, beginning as a member of the 82nd Airborne in the US Army, continuing as a police officer, sheriff, and public safety administrator at both the state and local level.

I dedicated my life to public safety and hope I made a positive difference in my community. I feel honored to have worked with some of New Mexico’s finest public servants.  Our challenge is never easy and the circumstances often difficult, but we rise to the task every day.  I deeply appreciate having been given the honor to serve.

V.20 No.26 | 6/30/2011

news

LANL: Nuclear material not in danger from wildfire

UPDATE 2:30 p.m.: The town of Los Alamos is being evacuated.

Lab officials assured that radioactive materials are being protected from the almost 50,000-acre Las Conchas fire.

The fire has closed in on Los Alamos National Laboratory property—within a mile—but hasn’t reached the lab yet.

Spokesperson Kevin Roark said in an interview with the Alibi that there are a variety of nuclear facilities at LANL and several metric tons of uranium, plutonium, americium and others. These materials are kept in the most secure facilities at the lab, he said—deep inside vaults within concrete and steel buildings. “There is no threat from wildland fires,” he said.

During the Cerro Grande fire eleven years ago, the blaze ate up 7,500 acres of LANL property, Roark added, and there was no release of nuclear or hazardous material.

The Cerro Grande fire raged for more than a month in 2000, burned Bandelier National Monument and left 400 people in Los Alamos without homes.

There were concerns after the fire about the airborne release of contaminants, but Roark says monitoring showed that Cerro Grande was no more or less radioactive than any forest fire. Read a full assessment of the aftermath by the Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety and the Nuclear Policy Project.

The fire also caused erosion and runoff, and contaminants threatened the Rio Grande. But Roark assures: “There were not appreciable levels of radioactivity in the runoff.” After the Cerro Grande fire, LANL installed structures to prevent heavy runoff in the future, he added.

Comparing the two fires to try and predict impact is highly speculative, he pointed out. “The [Las Conchas] fire has not reached lab property.”