After a month's vacation, the City Council looked gloomy on Monday, Aug. 3, facing an agenda that was impossible to complete. The house was packed with motorcyclists and more police than usual. The Council tried to address the most pressing and dated items and deferred what it could. The extra cops did not have to tangle with the biker folks but instead were called upon to escort out a woman who spoke against the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant. She got a little upset when her allotted speaking time was up.
The Council approved a $75,000 grant to the police department to fight DWI via roadblocks and other saturation patrols and blitzes. It also approved looking into another funding source for the congested Paseo del Norte and I-25 interchange. The city has to pony up $20 million to apply for a $300 million grant that comes from federal stimulus money.
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Quiet the Engines
The Council was asked to tighten a noise ordinance to ban unnecessary engine revving. The idea became citywide when other councilors said they wanted quieter neighborhoods as well. The amendment adds “willful and unnecessary revving of loud engines to draw attention” to the original noise ordinance, which already muffles loud, racy, showy or menacing driving. The noise ordinance prohibits any of the above with someone on the hood or roof of a car. The proposed measure would leave it up to each police officer to decide when willful revving of engines occurs.
About a dozen or so motorcycle folks addressed the Council, saying loud pipes save lives because the noise alerts drivers to the bikers’ presence. Cadigan said he Googled that idea on his BlackBerry while listening to the public’s comments but did not find any evidence backing it up. Several business people said the loud revving discourages customers and erodes the quality of life. The Council agreed it wants quieter streets all over town and expanded the measure to become citywide. In the end it was approved, but there were three dissenting votes. Councilors Michael Cadigan, Ken Sanchez and Rey Garduño questioned the subjectivity of the bill and the legalities of proving “intent” in court, raising some good questions about clearly defining what would be considered a violation. The measure will now go to Mayor Martin Chavez, who is expected to approve it.
There were at least 100 bikers present and several dozen signed up to speak. There was an increased Albuquerque Police Department presence at the meeting, with about seven uniformed officers in the press box at one point. After the vote, many of the bikers were not happy as they left the meeting. I can understand wanting quieter streets, but I agree with the three councilors who questioned the subjectivity of the bill. Laws should be crystal clear on what constitutes a violation and not left up to the whim of a police officer. It’s never a good idea to put unfettered discretion in the hands of cops—and not usually constitutional. The mayor should veto it as written for that reason.
Who’s the Boss?
What to do about the mayor’s latest veto of proposed amendments to the city charter? The amendments would leave it up to a committee—and not the voters—to approve pay raises for councilors and the mayor. The city clerk and city attorney would have more independence from the mayor's office under the amendments. They would also create a committee to help settle disputes between the city’s executive and legislative branches. When the mayor vetoed the bill in June, he said the Council was trying to make an “end run” around the voters to get raises. He also said other proposed changes make it harder for any Albuquerque mayor to do his or her job.
It was a unanimous vote to override the mayor’s veto. The Council echoed Councilor Sally Mayer's concern that they had been portrayed by the mayor’s office as trying to pull a sneaky pay increase on the voter. Councilor Don Harris reminded everybody that sitting councilors will not benefit from this change unless they are re-elected. Councilor Trudy Jones came through as the voice of reason by asking voters to educate themselves. She said citizens should make sure they know what they're voting for before casting their ballots. Councilor Ken Sanchez commended the charter revision committee on its hard work. The 10 amendments will be offered as separate questions on Oct. 6.
It’s better to leave decisions like this to the voters. The charter commission was made up of a group of unpaid volunteers who worked for a year to come up with the amendments. By not putting the revisions on the ballot, Chavez looks as though he does not have much respect for public participation. Land use attorney David Campbell said he and other members of the task force were shocked and surprised when the mayor vetoed their revisions. Jan Bray, the co-president of the League of Women Voters of Central New Mexico, said the changes were worthy of being put to a vote. While the proposed charter alterations may not be perfect, it should be up to the city residents to decide whether they are adopted. Campbell and the other members are experts and did detailed work on the project. Just as Bray indicated, a mayor’s whim should not short-circuit the democratic process.