Aug 5 - 11, 2010 
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Council Watch

Mind on Its Money, Money on Its Mind

By Carolyn Carlson

Coming off a monthlong break, the Council slid back into taking care of business at the Monday, Aug. 2 meeting.

But it was not necessarily a happy reunion; councilors exchanged heated words with the city’s Chief Administrative Officer David Campbell about a four-year contract that would pay Mayor Richard Berry’s labor negotiator $110,000 annually. In a battle of wills, Campbell (the voice of the Berry administration) repeatedly implored the Council to approve the contract.

“This Council has approved outside legal contracts for far more money and much less consequence than this critical contract,” Campbell said. “I strongly urge you to approve this contract.”

Several of the councilors said they were not happy with the labor negotiating company Management Associates. They said they did not think the company is needed in city relations with seven unions representing 4,850 employees.

“It is not the group I have a problem with, it is with the results,” Councilor Rey Garduño said during a fervid head-to-head with Campbell.

Councilors did not approve spending the bucks. Campbell said this put the city in a difficult position, and the administration will be back to revisit this issue.

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

Got the Green?

Issue

Councilor Isaac Benton proposed that people be allowed to xeriscape their yards even if their homeowner association covenants say they must keep a certain amount of grass. Albuquerque’s water ordinance prohibits more than 20 percent of a home’s landscape area to be planted with grass. But homeowner associations enact their own covenants regarding landscaping.

Council's Take

The Council voted 7 to 2 with the majority saying it is not the city’s business to meddle in and override homeowner association covenants. Benton and Garduño stood their ground. They argued residents in some gated communities shouldn't think they can use all the water they want just because they can afford it.

Reporter's Take

Communities such as Tanoan require a yard to be at least 40 percent lush, water-sucking grass [Feature, "Thirsty Neighbors," Aug. 6-12, 2009]. They should install a gray-water system to create their fantasy oasis world in the middle of a city struggling with a looming water crisis.

It seemed the possibility of litigation from homeowner associations drove the majority of the Council into its reckless, anti-conservation decision.

Parking Lot Blues

Issue

A bill to amend the city’s requirements for landscaping, lighting, buffer zones and paving for commercial parking lots was introduced by Benton. The regulations have been in place since 2000 but needed clarification in the Downtown area. Several lot owners sued the city over the requirements. City zoning representatives said the costs for required upgrades vary widely for the property owners, depending on how they make the improvements.

Council's Take

Council members listened to the Downtown parking lot owners say they did not have the money to meet the requirements. Several councilors said the changes were needed for public safety, and all the rest of the city’s parking lot owners have already spruced up their property. Swayed by Councilor Ken Sanchez, the Council approved a cost analysis on the improvements before demanding the owners buck up.

Reporter's Take

It is understandable that small parking lot owners do not want to spend their marginal profits on what they perceive to be superficial upgrades. But these are really public safety improvements. Plus, the parking lots in question stick out like sore thumbs when driving Downtown. The owners should get it done.

Public Art Spending

Issue

The Council was asked by the city’s independent Arts Board to approve a large-scale land art project costing $180,000. The piece, designed by artist Robert Wilson, is called “Flyway.” Wilson said it honors the beauty of bird flight patterns. The 100-by-40-foot project uses recycled jetty jacks and is to be installed on the northeast corner of Coors and Bosque Meadows. Public art pieces are solely funded by voter-approved "1 Percent for Art" money. The project has been in the planning stages for three years.

Council's Take

Westside Councilor Dan Lewis tried to throw a wrench in the project by saying it was not a good use of city money in this economy. The project is in his district. He said he preferred to use the money to spruce up the Montaño Bridge and maintain other art projects. “Art is the eye of the beholder, and it is very difficult to behold this art project in these economic times,” Lewis said. In a vote of 5 to 4, “Flyway” was approved with Councilors Trudy Jones, Brad Winter and Don Harris standing with Lewis.

Reporter's Take

Public art is a tough sell. It is a grueling process full of red tape most artists detest. In this case, Corrales artist Robert Wilson won the competitive bid to install a large interactive land piece that provides an optical illusion of birds taking flight for those driving along Coors. It is a great piece that will call out to people, encouraging them to get out of their cars and walk around the steel jetty jack poles. The piece is similar to the internationally acclaimed “Lightning Field” land art installation near Socorro.
 
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