Alibi V.16 No.7 • Feb 15-21, 2007 

Council Watch

The Push That Never Came

A bill to ban cell phone use in cars without hands-free devices passed the Council 5-4.
A bill to ban cell phone use in cars without hands-free devices passed the Council 5-4.
Amanda Hügenkiss

Not only did the Feb. 5 Council meeting lack pitchfork-toting, cell phone-brandishing mobs--almost no one showed up at all. Deferred bills included training day care staffs to detect sexual abuse and a cost-benefit analysis of a streetcar system. Councilor Michael Cadigan's memorial encouraging the State Legislature to support school board elections on the same day as municipal or state elections passed unanimously.

And little pink piglets fluttered around the chambers when Councilor Sally Mayer passed a moratorium on building permits for an area near Indian School and Louisiana. Mayer, who usually opposes land use restrictions, decided a newly erected warehouse in her district was so oversized, ugly and close to the street that guidelines were needed to make building heights and setbacks more compatible with existing neighborhoods.

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Issue Council's Take Reporter's Take
Advise and Consent or Search and Destroy?

Councilor Brad Winter moved a resolution allowing voters to amend the City Charter to limit the mayor's authority over appointments to boards, committees and commissions. The Charter says the mayor makes appointments with the advice and consent of the Council. However, the Council has passed many ordinances requiring a body's appointees to be balanced geographically, by relevant experience or chosen from names submitted by councilors.
Mayor Martin Chavez usually ignores such requirements on grounds that the charter gives him complete control over appointments. Winter's bill would require mayoral compliance with ordinance specifications. Councilors O'Malley, Cadigan and Heinrich protested the lack of consultation or notification, and lack of information on a body's balance of interests. The discussion veered toward more clearly defining "advise" to reconcile the legal contradictions. Winter deferred the bill. "Let's stop this kind of stuff," O'Malley said, which may not be easy. The conflict has been a problem for several years, peaking during the circus that surrounded appointments to bodies implementing the Planned Growth Strategy, which the mayor opposed. Chavez repeatedly ignored names submitted by councilors, appointing instead large numbers of people involved in the real estate and development industry.
The Sound of Silence

Councilors Ike Benton and Ken Sanchez sponsored a bill banning the use of handheld cell phones while driving except for emergency calls. Sanchez said the nation's cell phones had increased from 4.3 million in 1990 to 231 million last month. Benton said many of the close calls he'd had while riding his bike were with "talkers" and that the response he'd gotten from the public was 20 to 1 in favor of the bill.

Cadigan moved a floor substitute that included text messaging in the ban. Loy asked how many freedoms we'd have to give up to "make the place 100 percent safe." APD Chief Ray Schultz said stops for such "driving distractions" usually resulted in a "talk" instead of a citation.
Mayer said "hands-free" phones were just as dangerous and that the bill would create "an enforcement nightmare." Heinrich said he'd changed his behavior while driving in Santa Fe due to their cell phone ban.

Winter said they still had no idea how many accidents were due to cell phones, and that they should defer the bill to make sure the public was aware of the issue. Sanchez would not support a deferral. Benton said he didn't think "you have a God-given right to drive around with a phone in one hand and the wheel in the other." Several councilors expressed surprise at the lack of public reaction. The bill passed 5-4, Mayer, Loy, Winter and Harris opposed.
Maybe I should recuse myself from this discussion, being one of the last people on Earth who neither has nor wants a cell phone. At any rate, I agree with both Benton and Loy, depending on the definition of "freedom," a word heavily abused in recent years. On one end, it's used to justify the debacle in Iraq. One the other, it's used to forbid the slightest infringement on manipulating and brainwashing people into buying tons of shoddy, fairly useless, often dangerous crap.

At any rate, TV news reports showed people mobbing cell phone stores for "hands-free" devices. In their own minds at least, they can't endure even one day without yakking nonstop while driving.
A Mutating Virus

Cadigan sponsored a bill allowing voters to amend the City Charter to ban campaign contributions from corporations, other business entities and individuals that have contracts with the city. Mayer objected to the ban on contributions from individual contractors, saying disclosure should be enough. City Attorney Bob White said it was not a First Amendment issue.
Cadigan said the bill attacked the perception that contractors had to "pay to play," and that many city contractors "might be relieved to know that they might no longer have to make contributions" for mayoral and Council races. Heinrich said the perception that everybody in city government was "on the take" was very disconcerting. The bill passed unanimously. Retail-scale campaigning is becoming inadequate for our growing populations. The obscene expense of TV campaigns may also be slipping into history. Internet campaigning is leveling the national playing field, even though much of it still appeals for contributions. People will always find new ways to buy access, but this bill stomps on the mutating virus for right now.