Don’t Audit Me, Bro
City Council talks tasers and cruising
Albuquerque Police Department Lt. Scott Seibel, from the Valley Substation that is responsible for Downtown patrols said Central was closed because APD is trying to discourage cruisers due to complaints from residents and business owners. He said APD would be shutting down Central through Downtown a couple Sundays a month to discourage cruising. There won’t be public notice as to which Sundays because APD wants to surprise the cruisers, he said. A surprised Peña said she is a cruiser. She asked him to cough up a report with any and all calls for service regarding problems with Downtown cruisers.
“In a small city with limited things to do, cruising has become a really important part of our culture, our tradition and our history,” Peña said. “Sunday nights has been turned in to a Downtown cruising time for folks. There may be a few bad apples but for the most part they are just people who want to enjoy a beautiful afternoon.” Later in the meeting she said Damon Martinez, our United States Attorney, is from the South Valley and she thinks he likes to cruise too.Councilors were one short with Councilor Isaac Benton excused for the evening. A good chunk of the agenda items were postponed due to his absence and the absence of Police Chief Gorden Eden.
“In a small city with limited things to do, cruising has become a really important part of our culture, our tradition and our history,” Peña said.
State Auditor Tim Keller was on hand to explain and answer questions surrounding an audit looking into a $1.9 million city contract with Taser International Inc. for body-worn cameras and other police equipment. The state auditor also looked at the $2 million consultant contract between former Police Chief Ray Schultz and Taser. The city has a clause that does not allow employees to take a job with a company they did city business with for one year after the date of employment termination. Keller said there are probable violations of the Governmental Conduct Act in both matters. The findings have been sent to the State Attorney General’s office for potential criminal charges. The report says Schultz negotiated and rigged the no-bid $2 million contract to sell the city equipment. Then Schultz began working for Taser while he was on early retirement and still receiving city paychecks. Keller said his office worked with the city’s Independent Office of the Inspector General, who did a separate audit of Taser contracts. Keller said both agencies agreed to release the audit findings, which are similar, on the same day to avoid confusion. But he said the night before the pre-planned release, he was informed that the Inspector General was going to hold back its audit. Keller alluded to some sort of pressure being put on the supposedly independent inspector’s office to not release the audit findings.
Councilors Klarissa J. Peña and Ken Sanchez said they sent in the request last year for the state auditor to look into the city’s million-dollar Taser sole source contract with the city and into Schultz’ lucrative $2 million consultant contract. Councilors seemed to split on party lines, with Republican councilors Trudy Jones, Don Harris and Dan Lewis asking several times if there was any connections with Mayor Richard Berry or any of his top level administrators. They seemed to want to put distance between the administration and Tasergate. Sarita Nair, from the State Auditors Office said they did not find any email or other written communications that indicate Mayor Berry or his office knew about the shady contracts. Councilor Jones grilled Keller, who is a Democrat, about where to draw the line on government employee disclosure of outside contracts or gratuities. “This is a small community,” Jones said. Keller said for full-time employees, full disclosure of any outside gratuities is always the best bet. He went on to say that the council should always be alarmed when high-dollar sole source contracts are given out.
For the second time Councilors postponed the approval of an Executive Communication from the Mayor to pay a $4.5 Federal Court mandated contract with Dr. James Ginger. Ginger was appointed by U.S. Federal Court Judge Robert C. Brack to monitor the Albuquerque Police Department that is now under the U.S. Department of Justice oversight. Apparently the U.S. Attorney Damon Martinez advised Dr. Ginger to not attend the Council meeting even though he had been invited. The Council said they did not feel comfortable approving the multi-million dollar contract without meeting Dr. Ginger. Chief Administrative Officer Rob Perry basically said they had no choice but to either approve or acknowledge receipt of the contract. Perry was a bit agitated when he reminded the Councilors that he told the Council years ago that once the DOJ takes over a department, the city looses control on many things and this is one of those things. New City Attorney Jessica Hernandez remained cool under some tough questioning and advised the Council that they probably don’t want to get on the bad side of the DOJ. She said U.S. Martinez asked her to find out what exactly the council wants to ask Dr. Ginger. Seems like the Martinez or at least someone from the DOJ could come to a meeting to answer the Council’s questions. The Council after all pays the bills the city racks up and answers to the public when the city messes up.
Even though the Council postponed most of the items on the agenda a couple of interesting items did get approved. Those include:
—A bipartisan bill that will provide incentives to companies that offer equal pay to their employees regardless of gender. The ordinance establishes a 5% preference in the evaluation process for businesses seeking a city contract. The incentive will go to companies that show they pay women within 10% of what they pay men in similar jobs. Our city is at a 7% pay equity. Councilor Diane Gibson said, “Why not zero?” I agree but this a good start and will serve as a model for other municipalities and agencies to do the same.
—A bill setting up a brand new joint commission for persons with disabilities to advise the city on issues impacting disabled people. Kudos to Councilor Peña for initiating this commission and giving this important part of our community a voice. It is surprising that our city did not already have something like this in place.
The next regular meeting of the City Council is set for Monday, May 18, in the Council Chambers in the basement of City Hall. You can also view it on GOV TV Channel 16 or at cabq.gov/govtv.