Sparse citizen attendance greeted the Albuquerque City Council at its May 1 regular meeting. Council President Isaac Benton was excused, leaving the gavel to Vice President Brad Winter. Winter, an experienced city politician, is known for running tight meetings, and this one was no exception. It was done and gone in just over two hours.
Emotion filled the room when the Godfather of New Mexico music took the podium. Al Hurricane Sr., was honored with a proclamation naming the stage and existing buildings at Civic Plaza after him. Through tears, 80-year-old Alberto Nelson “Hurricane” Sanchez Sr. thanked Albuquerque, thanked New Mexico and thanked his family. Then he said his cancer has progressed and he doesn’t know how long he will be around. “Life is very short; through your music you will live forever,” Councilor Klarissa Peña said. Al Hurricane and his extended family have been making New Mexico music for over 60 years. Al Sr., a 1954 graduate of Albuquerque High School, was a regular performer on the nationally syndicated “Val De La O” television show. He and members of his large, talented family have performed across the globe and recorded dozens of albums. His mother gave him the nickname “Hurricane” because when he was little, he was like a hurricane, always knocking things over. Councilor Ken Sanchez invited everybody out to Civic Plaza this Sunday, May 7, from noon to 5pm to honor the elder troubadour and to enjoy an afternoon of New Mexico roots music.
Jeff Thomas, from Southwest Care Center, spoke to the Council about a public health challenge baby boomers might not even know they have to face. Thomas said hepatitis C symptoms can be mild or non-existent, and many may not know they have it for decades. This is why he is reaching out to those born between 1945 and 1965 to get an easy finger stick test. He said there are treatment options available that are showing a 95 percent cure rate for hepatitis C in most people. Thomas said the state health department estimates at least 50,000 people in New Mexico have hep C, far outnumbering the approximately 4,000 people dealing with HIV. “Hep C is a public health challenge and it disproportionately effects minorities,” Thomas said. For more information on hep C testing, contact Southwest Care Center at 505-989-8200.
Councilor Don Harris gave a well-deserved shout out to Ginger Grossette and Gay Blech who for 35 years have been the engines behind the A Senior I Know essay contest held by Albuquerque Public Schools and the city. Grossette was an administrator at the city’s senior affairs department and Blech was a teacher at APS. The contest promotes relationships between elementary students and senior citizens in their lives. Students write short essays about an elder who inspires them. Every student that enters gets a certificate and a coupon for something cool from a participating merchant. “They are fabulous, they make you laugh, and they make you cry,” Grossette said about the roughly 5,000 short essays the young writers submit every year. For more information visit the city’s essay contest page.
On a 5-3 vote, Councilors approved more money for use in conjunction with Taser International. This time, they moved on a $4.4 million, five-year contract with Taser to provide 2,000 body cameras for police officers along with data cloud storage. The approval is not without controversy. The state Attorney General’s office is still investigating a 2013, $2 million, no-bid contract with the company. This is due to conflict of interest allegations surrounding former Police Chief Ray Schultz, who took a consulting job with Taser while still drawing a paycheck from the city. The second-place company, Utility Associates, filed a protest over the recent contract award, but the city’s procurement officer tossed the complaint out. Councilor Dan Lewis said there were many red flags raised by that administrative action. Meanwhile, Chief Administrative Officer Rob Perry defended the contract, saying it is needed for the police department to be in compliance with the Department of Justice mandates and they should not throw stones. Lewis countered, telling the Council there was enough controversy surrounding this company and he doesn’t think they are just throwing stones.
Several Burqueños were approved for spots on various boards and commissions. These include: Ms. Margaret Lopez to the Housing and Neighborhood Economic Development Committee; Ms. Sacheen Smith to the Americans with Disabilities Act Advisory Council; Mr. Jesse A. Lopez to the Housing and Neighborhood Economic Development Committee; Ms. Ramona Tafoya to the Old Town Portal Market Advisory Board; Mr. Idelir H. Mack to the Joint Air Quality Board and Ms. Renee Conklin to the Arts Board. Mr. Mack was present at the meeting and got a shout out from Councilor Don Harris.
Councilors approved the Lower Petrogylphs Tax Increment Development District. This TIDD’s use is restricted to building a medical campus roughly at 118 Street and Unser on the city’s far West Side. Western Albuquerque Land Holdings LLC and Presbyterian Health Services are in the early stages of planning for a medical center projected to be built within five years on a 56-acre parcel. The TIDD should generate about $64 million over the next 20 or so years for infrastructure improvements needed to sustain a large medical facility. Councilors were not in support of the collected tax money being used to fund retail development and were assured that strict deed restrictions say the money can only be used for a medical complex. If the hospital does not get built, then the money reverts to the city’s general fund.
Councilors deferred a measure asking voters to impose an additional two cents per gallon gasoline tax to fund the rehabilitation of city transportation systems. This will be taken up at the June 5 meeting. Also deferred, but only until the May 15 meeting is a measure to amend the city’s humane and ethical animal rules and treatment (HEART) ordinance, approval of an adjustment to the budget to provide money to buy property for an affordable transitional housing/behavioral health services project in collaboration with Bernalillo County, and another bill to increase funding for affordable housing projects.