A bucket of prickly issues awaited the Albuquerque City Council at their Aug. 7 regular meeting. Rapid immigration enforcement, election issues and transit woes were some of the matters tackled by councilors.
Councilors called Albuquerque Police Chief Gorden Eden to the podium to chat a bit about the recent threat by US Attorney General Jeff Sessions to withhold federal law enforcement funding due to the city’s purported status as a “sanctuary city.” Eden said the city has not applied for the money that Sessions is threatening to withhold. Mayor Richard Berry responded to Sessions by saying that Albuquerque is immigrant-friendly, but it is not a sanctuary city. The Department of Justice identified Albuquerque in a nationally released press statement as a so-called sanctuary city, but were wrong, he said. Eden further said Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents were given an office in the prisoner transport center for them to do their jobs, but he said that office has not been staffed by ICE since April 2014. Meanwhile, Bernalillo County responded to Sessions’ threat by saying the county is immigrant-friendly and that no county resources will be used to identify immigration status unless required by court order, and cited the Tenth Amendment of the US Constitution that recognizes the sovereign status of the states and precludes the federal government from compelling state and local governments to enforce federal laws using county employees.
City councilors said they did not like the Police Oversight Board’s plans to host a mayoral candidate forum at their next meeting. Neither the mayor nor councilors have any say over the board. An associate attorney for the board said the forum is within the POB’s duties. He said POB is charged with doing community outreach, and hosting the forum also promotes accountability, which means finding out how candidates stand on the issues. “What chutzpah the POB has,” Councilor Diane Gibson said, “It’s way beyond their scope.” One by one, councilors expressed their concern over the POB looking like a political body. City Attorney Jessica Hernandez said her department is still looking at whether it is appropriate for a city board to conduct a political forum. The POB meeting, and maybe the forum, is set for 5pm, Aug. 10, and will be streamed via Channel 16 and GOV-TV.
Further regarding municipal elections, City Clerk Natalie Howard said she was not going to allow the League of Women Voters to distribute its election guides at polling sites. The League’s guides have been allowed in the past as they are generally considered nonpartisan. The city clerk and the city attorney said they will reconsider this decision once they see this year’s election’s guide.
Second Judicial District Judge Alan Malott struck down an Oct. 3 ballot spot for the City Council’s alternative sick leave ballot initiative, saying it will confuse voters. The Council’s proposed ballot question asked voters if they want the City Council to come up with a paid sick leave plan. But voters are already being asked in a citizen-driven initiative, if Albuquerque employers should be required to provide paid sick leave benefits to all employees, including part-time and seasonal workers.
Without discussion, councilors approved a resolution directing the Albuquerque Police Department to come up with a plan to investigate itself when involved in officer shootings and in-custody deaths. The measure says APD should have an outside law enforcement agency—which does not employ any officer involved in the incident, does not share management and liaison services with APD, and is not an investigative unit of the Second Judicial District Attorney’s Office— investigate these incidents.
APD Crimes Against Children Sgt. Rich Evans and Child Exploitation Sgt. Jeff Peterson assured councilors that while the police department does not have a specific written policy for how to handle child abuse referrals, the department does follow state law and investigates all credible referrals. Evans said he believes the state Children, Youth and Families Department sends APD between 1,000 and 1,700 child abuse and neglect referrals each month. He said there are nine detectives handling the referrals after they have been initially screened by APD supervisors. The hubbub arose after the city’s Civilian Police Oversight Agency found that APD does not have a written policy for investigating child abuse or neglect referrals from the state’s Children, Youth and Families Department. The CPOA also found that APD had lied about investigating a referral concerning 10-year-old Victoria Martens prior to her death.
Councilor Ken Sanchez asked Chief Operating Officer Michael Riordan how the Albuquerque Rapid Transit project is coming along and when the actual buses will be running. Riordan said the first bus has been delivered. He said the overall project is ahead of schedule and is 65 percent complete with a target completion date of the end of the year.
Economic Development Director Gary Oppedahl said during a presentation that the city has seen a 20 percent increase in business permits over last year along the Central ART route. He said the city’s ART website has an interactive link showing the business and construction permits issued along the route.
Councilors postponed approving a resolution that will analyze traffic congestion after the project is up and running, to see if the project has helped or has hurt the Central corridor. Councilors said there are some minor changes to make and the resolution will be back on the next meeting agenda.