A hefty agenda greeted Albuquerque City Councilors at their regular Dec. 5 meeting. After trimming down a huge list of potential topics for discussion and action, as well as forgoing their dinner break, the Council members wrapped the meeting up in just under three hours.
Councilors tipped their hats to two community members who passed away recently. Louis Tafoya and Roger Mickelson were familiar figures for not only taking Council members to task during meetings, but as leaders in their own neighborhoods. Both men served in their respective neighborhood associations and were ardent law enforcement supporters. Mickelson received a proclamation recognizing his contributions. The community room at Albuquerque’s Shawn McWethy Southwest Police Substation will be named after Tafoya.
Councilor Isaac Benton took the gavel from outgoing Council President Dan Lewis. Democrat Benton will preside over the meetings for the next year. Republican Councilor Brad Winter will sit shotgun as Vice President. Being the Council boss is a tough job that requires diplomacy, knowledge of open meeting regulations, and patience and composure during public comments. Republican Councilor Don Harris will lead the budget committee.
Councilor Ken Sanchez pulled a quarterly report off the Council’s printed consent agenda that shows expenditures by the police department relating to the settlement agreement with the US Department of Justice. Sanchez quizzed a police department representative about the money already spent to comply with the federal decree.
On a 5-4 vote, Councilors gave thumbs down to waiving bus fares along Central on weekends during the construction of the Albuquerque Rapid Transit project. The rapid transit line is being built along about 15 miles of Central, from Coors to Louisiana. Sanchez insisted free fares will help get people to ditch their cars and ride the bus up and down Central to support the many businesses being negatively impacted by the rapid transit construction.
Councilor Klarissa Peña supported the free ride. She said the Council should “put their money where their mouths are” to help the businesses being impacted by the project. But Councilor Pat Davis, whose district includes Nob Hill, was not in support. He said that the money to fund the waiver, about $200,000, would be taken from other programs that could directly help businesses along the construction corridor. Sanchez was well intentioned, but a majority of councilors agreed that saving a buck or two is not going to motivate city people to ditch their warm, safe cars to ride the buses up and down Central to do their holiday shopping.
Councilors unanimously approved putting naloxone (brand name Narcan), a drug that reverses opioid or heroin overdoses, in dozens of city facilities. The easy to use drug will be placed in first-aid kits in public places such as libraries, community centers, the Sunport and many other public locations around Albuquerque. The drug is harmless, cannot be used to get high and is easily sprayed into the nose of an overdose victim. Some city employees will be trained to use the drug but no one person is responsible for dispensing it. New Mexico had 536 overdose deaths in 2014, many of which could have been prevented with naloxone. These deaths were not just among heroin users on the streets; they included those taking prescription opioid painkillers, too. Naloxone is also available without a prescription to individuals at risk of overdosing, and to those at risk of witnessing an overdose. For more information visit hopeinitiativenm.org.
Albuquerque’s youth don’t have to wait until they are 18 years old to use the city’s many well equipped gym facilities and multipurpose centers. Councilor Brad Winter sponsored legislation aimed at helping get young folks moving and exercising by reaffirming their access to city-run facilities. Winter’s resolution says that 24.7 percent of adults in Bernalillo County are obese and 15.2 percent of our high school students do not partake in daily physical activity. It goes on to say that the US Department of Health recommends youth get at least 60 minutes of physical exercise daily, health advice the city endorses, per the resolution.
The City Council prints an agenda ahead of each of its meetings. The bi-weekly agenda’s Letter of Introduction is where communications, bills, resolutions and other items are detailed, thereby letting the public know these will be debated and voted on at subsequent meetings. This week’s Letter of Introduction was packed with interesting upcoming items such as calling for an outside agency to investigate police shootings; a request for a feasibility of a Downtown soccer stadium to be used by the Albuquerque Sol Football Club; establishing a city-backed forensic scholarship program; making it a priority to tackle the backlog of thousands of sexual assault kits that have never been processed by local authorities and possibly conducting study to look at consolidating the city’s police and fire departments under the aegis of the Bernalillo County’s sheriff’s and fire departments. These items and others will be discussed at upcoming council meetings.
One member of the public called out Councilor Klarissa Peña for her concerns about police officers not being more friendly to people who wave at them. He said he was surprised she was concerned about that and not about all the other problems within the local law enforcement department. Editorially speaking, Peña is correct to ask that police officers be more friendly. Weekly Alibi believes that is the little things that build public trust; being friendly and approachable are small but mighty steps to building trust between cops and citizens in this town.
Councilors deferred several items on their agenda. These deferrals included forming a Tax Increment District (TIDD) for the Lower Petroglyphs area; funding additional police service aides and establishing a property crime reduction pilot program. After much discussion, Councilors also deferred a measure outlining what to do about cleaning up vacant commercial property that has fallen into disrepair.