If you’ve flipped by public access channels 26 and 27 lately, that “swoosh” sound you heard in the background was a shoulder-launched rocket propelled grenade going through one window and out another at the Quote... Unquote, Inc. studios on Civic Plaza.
Outside, on one knee and replete with Rambo-like camo fatigues, bandana and face paint, was one ex-Mayor Martin Chavez, waiting for the explosion. It didn’t come. That grenade, known to military types as an “RPG,” had upon it stamped the three most abused letters in city politics, “RFP.”
The RFP (which stands for “request for proposals”) was essentially a call for applicants who might have taken Quote... Unquote’s job. For whatever reason, Chavez was hell-bent to destroy the QUQ people through any means necessary. Running channels 26 and 27, they survived 12 years of this. But this last attack, an eleventh-hour attempt to fire the nonprofit, was Chavez’ last shot. It was a doozy.
The RFP, as reported last week [“Quote... Unquote, Inc. Wins One,” Dec. 10-16, 2009], has been canceled by the Berry administration. Not for their love of Don Schrader and Geraldine Amato, but to avoid outcry and a legal nightmare. Here’s what I’ve learned: City Councilors Rey Garduño, Isaac Benton and Council President Ken Sanchez asked for and were granted a meeting with Mayor Richard Berry and incoming Chief Administrative Officer David Campbell at the request of Quote... Unquote. “With their own research they concluded the best and only thing they could do both legally and morally was to rescind that RFP," says Councilor Garduño.
Outside of malfeasance or financial mismanagement, there’s no legal reason to break a binding contract, Garduño adds. This isn’t how business is done, style and taste aside.
Berry and Campbell got it immediately, and good on them for it. The nagging mystery is why City Attorney (and Chavez holdover) Bob White didn’t. He opined in last week's Journal that the contract Quote… Unquote, Inc. was operating under wasn’t a contract, but an extension.
So the question begs, what was Chavez’ intent here?
There’s all manner of rumors floating around town. The one heard most often is Chavez had a desire to wire the process to favor a couple of political supporters.
Now, hardwiring RFPs to favor friends and supporters has been a source of heartburn forever because the structure can determine who actually wins. Points are awarded in different categories and fields of expertise.
The Quote... Unquote staff and board smelled a rat. According to Steve Ranieri, the nonprofit’s executive director, the way the RFP was written, and specifically how the point system was weighted, was the tip-off. Usually experience gets the most points, says Ranieri. But this time, experience only pulled down 100 points—instead of 300 or 400—out of the total 1,000. “It’s usually the main factor, but in this RFP, if you had a building and financial resources, it was worth 600 points,” Ranieri says.
What we’ve got are a number of structural problems in how the money flows from you, the cable rate-payer (on the hook for 44 cents per month), to where it lands in the city coffers, and how it's doled out to Quote... Unquote, TAL-net (run by KNME on channel 96) and GOV 16.
It’s a mess. A total and complete fiscal collapse with no semblance of rhyme or reason, just the way the previous administration wanted it. It’s also an opportunity for Berry and Co. to flex some muscle by finally getting a detailed audit done—something Councilors Garduño, Benton and Sanchez have been requesting for years—and restructuring who touches the money.
As it stands, the Council is completely out of the loop. Councilors must be in the mix here, if not by interpretation of city charter—which says the Council should be involved in all money matters—than for reasons of oversight.
Make no mistake. It’s a ton of dough. Millions. And there’s an open question on just where that money has gone all these years. Additionally, how badly underappropriated has Quote... Unquote been? No one knows. The nonprofit operates with an annual budget of $270,000, about half of what it needs, especially with its new Encantada channel on the air.
This needs to be resolved in the interest of everyone; the channel operators, the cable rate-payer and the city. Let’s also get QUQ a reliable home base, shall we?
Luckily we don’t have Rambo Chavez around anymore, nor his infantry, to load up another rocket-propelled grenade.