Councilors had barely sat down when they were hit with bad news at their Monday, Oct. 19 meeting. Financial staff said the city is looking at a $12 million shortfall for the 2010 budget due to falling sales tax income and other revenues. The Council was told not to look to the Legislature for help because there just isn’t any money there, either. Come Dec. 1, when Mayor-Elect Richard Berry and the new Council take over, there will not be much of a honeymoon.
Councilor Sally Mayer was excused from the meeting and much of the agenda was deferred to later dates.
A couple of people spoke about what they called a rising problem of police brutality in the city. One resident, Sterling Sherwood, said when he leaves his house he is not afraid of robbers, terrorists or drunk drivers—he's afraid of the city’s police department. “They seem to have an us-against-them attitude,” he said.
A building moratorium was extended around the fragile Tijeras Arroyo biozone while a sector plan protecting the area is completed. And the Sawmill Trust area will see some dollars after the Council approved spending grant money.
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Public Access Needs a Home
The nonprofit that runs Albuquerque's public access channels, Quote... Unquote, Inc., is being evicted from its studios in the old Bernalillo County Courthouse. The staff and equipment have to move by Dec. 31 because the county says it has plans to start using the entire Downtown building.The actual item on the agenda was just an acknowledgment that the Council received a recommendation letter from the cable franchise board. In the letter, the board asks to be consulted by the city before decisions are made, and for the Council to support Quote... Unquote, Inc. Still, the real issue echoing through Council chambers was whether councilors would back the people who run channel 27 and Encantada TV channel 26, and help them relocate in a timely manner without disrupting airtime.
A handful of people addressed the Council urging support for Quote... Unquote, Inc. Dario Rodriguez, a member of the nonprofit's board of directors, said the channels are beacons of free speech in the state, and they showcase the unique voices of Albuquerque. City Council President Isaac Benton assured everyone that the city is working with the studio’s management to find an appropriate home. He said several tours of potential locations would be held this week. Councilor Debbie O’Malley clarified that once a space is found, then the Council can take real action and find cash to fund a relocation.
Public access TV is a grassroots venue for free speech. On any given day, a channel surfer can find politics covered from all angles, oddball humor, local music, an almost naked guy urging a sustainable lifestyle, offbeat religion, community theater, a YAFL game or ... you name it. Quote… Unquote, Inc. has trained thousands of people to produce TV spots. Some move on to other jobs in the state’s growing movie industry. The cable board letter asks for Council support in making the move but also asks to be recognized as a resource. The letter implies decisions about the public, education and government access channels have been made without consulting the board. Martin Ethridgehill, board member, was right when he said the city should communicate with the cable board before action is taken.
On the table was an agreement between the city and Eclipse Aerospace, the group that took over Eclipse Aviation when it went bankrupt. Eclipse Aerospace is offering to give the city 5.5 acres and a 40,000-square-foot building worth $3 million in exchange for about $5.8 million in rent credits. The building and land is just south of Double Eagle Airport on the city’s West Mesa. Eclipse would continue to use the building during the transition. To sweeten the deal, Eclipse Aerospace would prepay four years and four months of rent for their Sunport location as well. City administration and representatives from Eclipse Aerospace said this is a key piece of the financial puzzle that will keep the company in Albuquerque.
It seemed like the councilors wanted to work with the company but had some problems with the difference between the $3 million market value of the property and the $5.5 million in rent credits. Councilor Michael Cadigan shot questions to the company and city administration, asking them to explain how they can get around the anti-donation clause that says the exchange has to be of equal value. Councilors also questioned whether the land had been given to Eclipse Aviation years ago by the city in the first place as an incentive. Bob White, the city attorney, said it was a lawful transaction, but councilors did not believe him and postponed a decision until they got more information about where the land originally came from, and how to resolve the difference between the market value and the rent credits.
The city should look carefully at this transaction, but it should also make every effort to support the new Eclipse Aerospace. This company was the only one that made a bid to pull the airplane manufacturer out of bankruptcy and keep it in New Mexico. It was good to see Cadigan showing a little of his former self by firing away at White and Ed Adams, the city’s outgoing chief administrative officer. But the representative from Eclipse did not find any humor in the drilling he got from Cadigan. The devil is usually in the details, and it is best for the Council to look at all the issues before making a decision. The state constitution’s anti-donation clause is designed to protect taxpayers, and a dollar-for-dollar exchange is the only way to satisfy it. Eclipse should either have the land re-appraised or add more money or property to its offer.