Councilors gathered at a special Wednesday, Sept. 3, meeting last week thanks to the Labor Day weekend. Bus shelters were a recurring theme throughout the evening, with Councilors Michael Cadigan, Rey Garduño and Don Harris all requesting the city build more in their districts. Cadigan cited e-mails he'd received from constituents complaining about waiting for buses beside 45- to 60-mph traffic without a safe place to stand, often in places without sidewalks.
ABQ Ride Director Greg Payne said it was challenging to put shelters in areas without existing infrastructure but that 30 additional shelters were slated to be up by the end of the year. Another priority for the city, Payne said, was retrofitting fare boxes to allow for riders to buy day passes, which would do away with transfer fees.
Cadigan said he supported the idea but was most concerned about new riders giving up on public transportation because there's no place for them to wait. He pleaded that the city bring key shelters to his district quickly, but Payne made no promises.
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Arbitration Ain't ArbitraryThis labor-management dispute has gotten so muddled, it's hard to tell what it's even about anymore. It started with the Council approving a 3.5 percent wage increase for city workers. Instead, Mayor Martin Chavez opted to only give workers 3 percent, creating fallout for the Council and city employees. As a result, on Aug. 4, Councilors Debbie O'Malley and Rey Garduño introduced an ordinance that would allow an independent arbitrator to oversee labor-management negotiation impasses that last more than 15 days. Since city workers don't have the option to strike, arbitration is their only possible method of leverage. The bill passed 5-3 along party lines at the Council meeting on Aug. 18 but was directly vetoed by the mayor. At the Sept. 3 meeting, the option to override the mayor's veto was introduced.
Councilor Sally Mayer said she was angry the mayor approved a wage increase lower than what the Council set, especially since the Council voted 9-0 in favor of a 3.5 percent raise. But she said she wouldn't support binding arbitration and wished there was another way to send the mayor a message. Garduño said the real question was whether they were going to allow one side to have equal power to another. O'Malley added she didn't think the mayor agreed with “collective, fair bargaining power” and that his reasons for vetoing the bill were both misleading and false. A throng of city employees was in attendance and stood in solidarity throughout discussion of the issue. Several workers spoke to the sentiment that having a third party enter a disagreement to moderate can't be a bad thing. The override failed 5-4 (six votes are required to override), with Councilors Mayer, Trudy Jones, Harris and President Brad Winter against.
The actions of the mayor, and the four councilors who voted against overriding his veto, are disappointing at best. At the state and federal level, public employees have the right to appeal to a neutral third party. This legislation would have simply allowed City of Albuquerque workers the same right. A city bus driver who spoke during public comment said he knew people who had worked for the city for 13 years and still hadn't reached top pay and didn't know when they would. City employees are the backbone of Albuquerque. Since the city instituted a hiring freeze, they've been working even harder. All they were asking for with this legislation was fair treatment.
Getting Out of DodgeBernalillo County wants to move out of City Hall (One Civic Plaza) and into a new building across the street. The city and county each own half of the building; the city uses about 60 percent of its space, the county uses about 35 percent and the Water Authority uses the rest (the city pays an additional portion of the operating costs for the extra space). Now that the county is moving, it's giving the city first right of refusal to buy the county's half.
Cadigan said he was concerned about the city financing the county's purchase of another building. Councilor Ken Sanchez wanted to know if a fiscal analysis was going to be performed. Chief Administrative Officer Ed Adams said the city was looking at cost issues. The building is owned outright but still generates $1.3 million in operating costs every year. Adams said it was too soon to give an exact number, but since the building is worth $30 million, buying the county's half would take about $15 million. Councilors were concerned about land issues, since the county claims to own the land the building sits on. “Marriage is great until it's not time to be married,” said Garduño, asking for land to become part of the discussion. “Can we get a post-nuptial agreement?”
The city is in a bad position. If it doesn't buy the county's half of the building, the county has the right to lease it out to a third party, a situation that promises to get heated. If the city does buy the building, there's still the issue of the land it sits on. Councilor O'Malley raised an interesting point: Since Albuquerque lies within Bernalillo County, if we lease the land, are we actually leasing it from ourselves?