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 V.18 No.5 | January 29 - February 4, 2009 

Council Watch

And ... Fight!

Sometimes the most interesting happenings at Albuquerque City Council meetings are not on the agenda. This was certainly the case at the Wednesday, Jan. 21 meeting when Councilor Michael Cadigan took on the mayor's men over the contentious red-light cameras.

But first, as part of the regular agenda, the Council managed to pass the much-debated retrofitting of the city’s high-flow water fixtures. It seems there are about 1,086 greedy toilets, 281 inefficient urinals and another 1,600 or so inefficient sinks, showers and water fountains left to switch out. The city has already replaced more than 1,500 fixtures. An amendment to the measure gave the city until 2014 to do the job. This will cost more than $2.1 million before any rebates are returned to the city. It is up to the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority to extend the rebate deadline that expires at the end of 2009. Chief Administrative Officer Ed Adams estimated that with the rebate, the city would save a few hundred thousand dollars.

Send your comments about the City Council to carolyn@alibi.com.

Issue Council's Take Reporter's Take
Red-Light Sparks Fly

Sparks flew between Councilor Michael Cadigan and two of the mayor’s right-hand men, Ed Adams and Pete Dinelli, during the informal question-and-answer portion of the meeting.

Cadigan threw his first jab by asking Adams if there was a signed five-year extension to the city's contract with Redflex Traffic Systems. After more pressure from Cadigan, Adams answered that there was a signed contract on his desk, but the administration was waiting to see whether the Legislature would continue to squeeze the program's cash flow.

Cadigan demanded Adams go get the signed, but not tendered, contract off his desk. Adams refused. Cadigan accused Adams of withholding public documents from the Council. But this was not the end of the verbal sparring—the city's Chief Public Safety Officer Dinelli told Cadigan the councilor would be asked to abstain from any future voting on Redflex issues. Cadigan responded by calling Dinelli "the mayor's attack dog."
The other councilors stayed out of the sparring, save for some amusing facial reactions. Council President Isaac Benton commented that he did not see how a contract that is still sitting on Adams' desk could be enforceable. He was visibly relieved when the topic changed as he was able to guide the meeting back on track.

Councilor Debbie O'Malley (who, like Cadigan, is vying for the mayor's job) wisely kept quiet on the hot issues. She has said previously she is concerned about the constitutionality of the camera program and, in particular, the hearing process.
It sure looked like Cadigan was flexing his hopeful mayoral muscles. But Adams could have brought copies of the not-yet-valid extension for the Council to review. It is never a good idea to withhold public documents from anyone, much less someone who might eventually be your boss. Red-light cameras have not been a popular subject with city drivers, and candidates' positions on the issue could be a major factor in the upcoming October mayoral election. Still, these types of exchanges don't make anyone look good.
Give Second Chance Another Chance

A half dozen parents, students and staff from the troubled Second Chance treatment center housed in the old Westside jail spoke in support of the program, asking the City Council to keep the facility open.

Dinelli said the city was ending its month-to-month agreement with Second Chance on Jan. 31 for violating terms of its lease. He said the for-profit rehabilitation program breached its agreement by taking violent offenders from other jurisdictions. Those who spoke said their lives, or the lives of the inmates, were changed dramatically for the better by going to the treatment center instead of jail. Dinelli said the city was not taking a position on the merits of the program. But he did point to problems with violence. He said the city owns the building and wants it back. The city does not provide any funding for the treatment center; it only acts as a landlord.
One of the Council members asked Dinelli how the problems at the center came to light. Dinelli said Bernalillo County Sheriff Darren White called Mayor Chavez to complain. Dinelli said the mayor then “dispatched” him out there, and Dinelli did not like what he found.

Councilor Don Harris said it seems the program is doing some good, and if the problem was simply a landlord-tenant issue, the city is within its rights to terminate the month-to-month agreement and not comment on the content of the program. He went on to say that the city should help Second Chance find another location to run its program.
Only judges can sentence someone convicted of a crime to Second Chance. The original intent of the program was an alternative to jail or prison for nonviolent drug offenders. The program never caught on. Judges and law-enforcement officials have been critical of its alleged ties to Scientology and an unwillingness to disclose budgets and inmate lists. Second Chance is known for using unconventional methods, such as massage, natural diet, saunas and other methods to detoxify and rehabilitate.

It's too bad that a rehabilitation program designed to help, not just incarcerate, drug offenders got off to such a bad start. This will only make it harder for other treatment programs to get their feet in the door. As a society, we must move toward compassionate help for drug offenders. Simply locking someone up without any treatment does not benefit society. With much of our jail and prison population resulting from drug offenses, it is a growing necessity to provide rehabilitation, not just idle incarceration.

Dinelli’s comment about being “dispatched” by the mayor unfortunately gave a little credibility to Cadigan’s snide "attack dog" comment.
 
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