Alibi V.20 No.37 • Sept 15-21, 2011 

Council Watch

And the Crowd Goes Wild


“Remember you work for us!”

People shouted angrily at councilors at the Wednesday, Sept. 7 meeting. The Council failed to override Mayor Richard Berry’s veto of a bill that asks the feds to look into the Albuquerque Police Department.

A rash of officer-involved shootings, inappropriate social media postings and other allegations of bad behavior prompted the measure. But Berry axed the bill, saying the Justice Department will decide on its own whether an investigation is warranted, and the city is already cooperating fully with the feds.

“Override this arrogant and disrespectful veto because it is the right thing to do,” said Jewel Hall, president of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Multicultural Council. “Please do not fail your constituents.”

Councilors Rey Garduño, Ken Sanchez, Isaac Benton, Debbie O’Malley and Dan Lewis favored the override. Councilors Brad Winter, Trudy Jones, Don Harris and Michael Cook voted against it, saying they do not think such a probe is necessary and the city can take care of its own problems. A veto override requires a two-thirds majority—6 to 3—vote.

“We do not need the federal government in our city or telling us what to do,” said Council President Harris. Winter made a point of saying he is 100 percent behind Police Chief Ray Schultz.

Public comment lasted for several hours, with councilors hearing from community groups, as well as friends and family of men killed by the police department. A handful of people spoke in favor of APD: One man noted that officers make up the fine line between residents and “the bad and ugly.” Other speakers reminded Mayor Berry that he ran for office on the principals of transparency and cleaning house, which could include replacing the police chief.

The next Council meeting is set for 5 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 19, in the Council Chambers in the basement of City Hall.

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Flash Point

In meeting after meeting for the last several months, people have lined up and asked—even tearfully begged—the Council to rein in an out-of-control police department. The resolution to override the Mayor’s veto brought even more people and heated rhetoric to the Council’s chambers. The override failed after a gruff debate, and many attendees reacted in outrage. Tension between the administration and councilors in support of a federal probe is growing: Garduño had to raise his voice to hold the floor and speak over Chief Administrative Officer Rob Perry’s interruptions.
Councilors Winter, Cook, Jones and Harris say there may be procedural problems with the measure requesting a federal investigation.

Councilors Garduño, Sanchez, Benton, O’Malley and Lewis say the Department of Justice would shine a light on APD, and if there is nothing to hide, then our force should be in the clear. Councilor Sanchez said he feels the community has loudly supported a federal probe into the department.

President Harris surprised many when he denied Garduño’s request for a roll-call vote on the issue. In a roll-call vote, councilors must verbally announce their vote instead of quickly raising their hands.
It has been heartbreaking to watch family members and others beg the Council to do something about police shootings. There is a widening gap between the city administrators and the public here. Sometimes it’s visible: At this Council meeting, the city blocked off seating to create a buffer. The public was left with standing room, while empty seats were roped off, keeping people away from their elected and appointed public servants. City officials were on a symbolic self-created island.

It doesn’t matter if a councilor “supports” a particular individual as police chief. Having the Department of Justice examine whether civil rights violations have occurred would cost the city nothing financially. It would have also gone a long way in restoring public trust and easing growing divisions.

The mayor should not have vetoed the bill in the first place, and the vote should have been 9-0 in favor of the override. Leaders should create unity and consensus—not division and discord.
Bright Lights

Instead of trying to override Mayor Berry’s veto of regulations for electronic signs, Benton introduced another proposal. The measure lacks the ban on any new “on premise” signs. It also establishes standards for brightness and moving images. For off-premise signs, such as billboards, the bill limits them but does not ban them.
Benton said the sign industry is supportive of his bill. “This is an important way to protect the look and feel of Albuquerque,” he said. Councilors will debate electronic signs at its next meeting. In the meantime, the Council passed a moratorium on any sign approvals until it can act on Benton’s latest version. Unfortunately, for those of us who like dark skies, flashing signs and billboards are here to stay. Still, kudos to Councilor Benton for working with the industry and the city administration to come up with a compromise. While many residents may not want any more of these eye-catching signs, businesses say they need them to advertise products.

I say keep them small and make sure the signs do not add to nighttime light pollution. Our skies should be lit up with stars not daily specials.
How Do We Like It Here?

Tucked into the consent agenda was a little-known item titled “2011 Citizens’ Perception Survey.” The survey, conducted by Research and Polling Inc., primarily contacted residents who still have landline phones. A small amount of the interviews were conducted by randomly dialing cell phone prefixes. The poll was based on 36 questions posed to about 400 residents about governmental services and city conditions.
There was not much discussion by councilors, since all they had to do was accept the survey. Some of the highlights: 54 percent said the quality of life was good, and 24 percent said it was fair; 74 percent said they would recommend Burque as a place to live.

Most residents (60 percent) agree that the budget should be balanced not only through spending cuts but through increased taxes and fees, too.
ADP issues came up in this poll, too: about half of respondents said the police department is respectful of its citizens, but 46 percent say otherwise. This number alone should have prompted the Council to override the veto.

Overall, I’m not much for landline-based telephone surveys, as they don’t seem to reach a wide enough swatch of residents. Check out the full survey to see if you agree with the results.