City councilors voted to seek three independent investigators to look into an auto accident involving the wife of former Public Safety Director Darren White.
White announced his retirement minutes after the Council committee adjourned. He also stepped down from the Judicial Standards Commission, to which Gov. Susana Martinez appointed him in March.
It’s unclear whether the Council will continue pursuing an independent investigation, given White’s retirement.
Kathleen White crashed her car into a curb on the morning of Wednesday, July 6, and her husband showed up and drove her to a hospital himself. Mayor Richard Berry ordered William Deaton, the city’s independent review officer, to look into the incident.
Councilors on the Internal Operations Committee decided unanimously to fund an outside investigation that could cost up to $55,000. The committee included Councilors Don Harris, Debbie O’Malley, Isaac Benton, Trudy Jones and Rey Garduño, who was sitting in for Ken Sanchez. Councilor Michael Cook sat in the audience but did not talk or vote.
O’Malley said that she had concerns about Independent Review Officer Deaton conducting the investigation. She said it was not within the scope of his position to scrutinize city officials. Councilors Harris and Jones said that might be the case, but they thought it would be OK for Deaton to head the inquiry. Jones pointed out that he was already working on it anyway.
Garduño and Benton sided with O’Malley. “I think from what I am hearing from folks is that they want a truly independent review,” Garduño said. There was some discussion but no decision as to whether they should approve the funding at the committee level or wait for full Council vote.
The committee will meet again on Monday, July 25, to consider the investigation in light of White’s retirement. The full Council will meet the following week.
Ten minutes before the meeting, a local blogger at Eye On Albuquerque posted that a rumor of White’s resignation was floating around the Mayor’s Office. One has to wonder if the councilors knew what was happening two floors above them when they took their seats.
Since White’s no longer in charge of the police and fire departments, a better use of taxpayer money would be to add $55,000 to the $16,000 the Council set aside for an independent review of officer-involved shootings. This should include not only a policy evaluation but also gather the opinions of citizens, civil rights lawyers, prosecutors and criminal defense attorneys. That way the roots of the problems—not just the symptoms—will be explored.